In mid-January, GDS shifted from lunch in the lower/middle school garage to small clusters of up to eight students in classrooms. While student reactions have mostly been positive, some are not as enthusiastic. Students are glad to socialize with people of their choosing out of the cold but remain concerned about COVID-19 and are frustrated with some of the system’s restrictions.
Students are allowed to sign up to have lunch in a classroom with people of their choosing as long as they follow COVID-19 precautions as a part of the new policy created by the GDS COVID response team. Examples of precautions in each classroom include plastic shields surrounding desks, a HEPA filter turned on high and an open window. Students are also monitored by teachers on Zoom for fifteen minutes of silent eating during the period.
Junior Felicia Paul appreciates the new system. “I don’t have to be freezing cold! Indoor lunch is more of a cozy, normal environment,” she said.
Junior Julie Steele agreed, saying, “I like it so much more than outdoor lunch because you can hear people talk and it feels like a normal day of school.”
Students who prefer the indoor system recognize the health concerns inherent in eating inside. Paul described feeling “a lot safer” outside “because it’s obviously more ventilated.”
Sophomore Jacqueline Metzger is not going to school in person and believes the health risks outweigh any benefits of the new system. “As it’s getting warmer, I don’t understand why students should be kept indoors when there is a pandemic going on. It deters me from going in and I think it deters a lot of people.”
“GDS is doing everything possible, considering we are inside. The window’s open and the filter’s always on high,” Paul believes, even with the safety concerns. “Everyone’s really good about making sure they’re sitting at their desks with the divider up, which makes me feel safe.”
While Paul said students in her room follow the rules and remain seated, freshman Nico Greene had a different experience. “People from other rooms go into your room, which is annoying.”
Junior Julie Steele does not have health concerns about indoor lunch. “I don’t care if I think it’s safe myself. I care what the doctors think is safe.”
Currently, teachers are required to monitor lunch over Zoom during the fifteen-minute silent eating period and then may leave. Paul described the discomfort inherent to this supervision: “The silence is awkward enough and having someone staring you down while you’re eating is even more awkward.” Although she understood the health reasons for lunch supervision, she wished the teacher would leave after the room was done eating, so she could talk to her friends privately.
“I think the teachers could be less strict about watching over you after the silent period,” Steele said. “It feels too monitored.”
Unfortunately for students who want more privacy, teachers may start monitoring lunch more strictly. Assistant Principal for Student Life Quinn Killy said, “We’re on the edge of having to have teachers stay in the rooms because kids aren’t following the rules” regarding social distancing and staying seated. However, he has hope for more relaxed supervision. “The more we can follow the rules and be safe, the more flexibility we can have.”
Another concern students expressed centered around the process for signing up for indoor lunch. Paul did not end up in a classroom with her closest friends. She explained, “the sign up process was rushed. There was not a lot of time to coordinate.”
Simon also expressed frustration: “There’s a lot of us in a smaller room. I wish they had organized the rooms as big, small and medium when signing up,” so bigger groups could sign up for bigger rooms and smaller groups could sign up for smaller ones. In a small room with eight people, Simon said, “you can’t maintain a 6 foot bubble” when students move around. For students with concerns about their room or lunch sign ups, Killy said there will be multiple opportunities to sign up for new rooms.
Students also recommended moving lunch to the field when the weather gets warmer. Paul stated that eating “where we can enjoy the fresh air would be really nice.”
Metzger agreed. “The ideal lunch situation is outside on the field with marked X’s where people could sit.”
Killy hopes that outdoor options will be available later in the year. He explained, “I’d love to make [student life within COVID] as good as I possibly can.”