By Benjamin J. Gohs, Editor
Is a rushed lunchtime affecting Boyne City Middle School student health?
That is the concern of Jennifer Clasman-Ammerman, a parent of two Boyne City Public Schools students.
“I believe lunchtime protocols and time allotted is a serious issue that needs to be addressed,” stated Clasman-Ammerman in a letter she planned to read to the Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education at its Monday Feb. 11 meeting. “I am not the only parent that believes there is an issue with lunchtime.”
When approached for comment on the morning of Monday Feb. 11, Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little said, “These concerns have not been brought to me at this time by parents nor formally to the Board—that I am aware of. Like many things we do, striking the right balance of eating time and outside time can be challenging due to the different needs of students in this area.”
Clasman-Ammerman said she recently attended lunchtime at the middle school, walking through the hot lunch line to experience the situation for herself.
“For three years now, my children have complained they don’t have enough time to eat,” she said. “Lunchboxes come home full, my son complains of stomach aches, my daughter has headaches from hunger. They are starving after school and asking, ‘when is dinner?’”
Clasman-Ammerman added, “So, we eat dinner right after school and then snacks for the rest of the night. I feel guilty that I waited so long to experience their lunchtime but, like many working parents, I stuck my head in the sand—not capable of dealing with more issues and assuming the school knows what is best.”
Boyne City Middle School Principal Mike Wilson said all grades get 30 minutes for lunch total—15 minutes to eat and 15 minutes to play outside.
And, he said this issue has been brought to him before.
“We have looked at the schedule every year to see if we can slip a few extra minutes into lunch to give kids more time to eat,” he said. “Unfortunately, we always run into a snag with our shared staff. Meaning, the high school would need to change their schedule to accommodate ours.”
The concerned parent said the last thing she wants to do is demonize the school system but, rather, she hopes to start an important conversation.
“I moved to Boyne so my children could attend BCPS,” she said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Boyne schools are a step above the rest—I hold this position even as a concerned parent. I know that the staff care deeply for our students and try their best to create a nurturing environment.”
However, Clasman-Ammerman said her lunch experience at Boyne City Middle School was, “rushed and stressful.”
“I did not have time to finish all my food and my stomach hurt after because I was eating so quickly,” she said. “I asked the children I was sitting next to if they felt they had enough time to eat. They all said ‘no.’ My middle school daughter carries snacks around all day to stave off hunger until she can get home. It affects her mood and concentration. My elementary school son gets a stomach ache every day after lunch from trying to eat so fast.”
She added, “An elementary girl, who doesn’t want to be singled out, has anxiety and lunchtime is so stressful for her that most days her lunchbox comes home untouched. A sixth-grade girl, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of getting in trouble, sneaks food on the playground because she is hungry and scared to say anything. An eighth-grade boy who wishes to remain anonymous, because he doesn’t want to be singled out, drinks two boost shakes at lunch instead of eating solid food because there isn’t enough time and doesn’t want to get a stomach ache.”
Clasman-Ammerman said these experiences make her wonder how many children are sitting in the classrooms hungry or with stomach aches from a rushed lunch.
“Fast eating is a terrible habit,” she said. “It increases the risk of obesity and wastes food… Stressful eating situations also make already stressed children even more stressed. We all know that hungry, stressed out children will not be able to focus and learn.”
Clasman-Ammerman, “We ask so much from these children. We ask them to sit for long periods of time and not talk to each other. Then we rush them to eat their food so we can send them outside for much needed exercise. So, now the children must decide, do I talk to my friends or do I eat lunch?”
Clasman-Ammerman said that, when she was in school, lunchtime was a time to relax, socialize, and eat.
“Lunch was a pause in our day. A chance to make friends, to discuss our classes, to eat and relax,” she said. “It has become a time of scarfing down food as fast as possible so they don’t starve for the rest of the day. But they are still hungry and they are missing important social time.”
Clasman-Ammerman is also concerned about children who receive food assistance.
“For them, this meal might be the only meal they have access to. And again we are rushing them,” she said. “We all know that mental and physical developments suffer when the body is deprived of food. We have a school system full of stressed out and hungry kids.”
She added, “I’m not saying that making lunch longer will alleviate all the stress, but it’s a step in the right direction and something within our power to change.”
Wilson said he understands there is a concern by some but that there isn’t much the school can do about it.
“[O]ur lunch schedule has been like this for years and we always have a few people that would like to see it changed,” he said. “With that said, if we were to extend our lunchtimes then, yes, it would affect our instructional time—there is no way around this without adding time to the day.”
Clasman-Ammerman pointed to the story of a school principal in Arizona in 2015 who changed lunch and recess approaches.
“He gave students 30 to 35 minutes for lunch after a long recess. After implementing the system, he saw three years of academic growth in a two-year period,” she said. “I wonder how much better our students could be doing in academics if they were given the same opportunity.”
Clasman-Ammerman added, “It’s worth, at the very least, having a conversation over. I encourage the board to go eat hot lunch at the elementary and middle school. Walk through the hot lunch line, sit down and try to finish your food in the time allotted. Ask the children if they feel rushed to finish, if their stomachs hurt after, if they are still hungry.”
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