Cheeseburger in paradise

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Cassville students, teachers find solace at lunchtime

The last year has brought so many changes to the local school districts, many that were not so much fun, but one change showed to have some positive consequences.

Jimmie Barton, Cassville middle school principal, said one of the challenges of the start of the year was dealing with times of the day when students would inevitably be in close quarters and in great numbers, posing a threat of spreading COVID-19.

“The seventh- and eighth-grade students eat together in the cafeteria, and for the last couple of years, we have used the intermediate cafeteria for the sixth-grade classes,” he said. “With Level 1 re-entry, our focus was to limit exposure and quarantines. So, we came up with a plan.”

Half of the sixth grade-class would eat in the cafeteria and half in their homerooms. The same would go for the seventh- and eighth-grade classes for groups separated into groups A and B. The groups would rotate between homeroom and cafeteria every other day.

“The less we put the students together, the less quarantines we would have,” Barton said. “Eventually, we stopped sending them to the cafeteria. The homerooms became an informal, study or quiet time.”

Barton said administration expected some complaints about the setup from students or from teachers— but they got none.

“When we would turn 430 plus students loose in the cafeteria and in the courtyard, it created more opportunity for trouble,” Barton said. “For the 2020-2021 school year, we saw zero disciplinary actions at lunch time or in the courtyard.”

Barton said staff saw that students learned to really like the peace and quiet.

“Eating in homeroom with 16-20 other students was quiet, and they could even do work if they wanted to,” he said. “We also saw a lot more mentorship because of this.”

Barton said another part that students seemed to like was the lessened social pressure they felt.

“They didn’t worry about sitting in groups or sitting by themselves,” he said. “There was all around a very low level of stress.”

When staff started to see these positive trends, Barton decided to reach out to the students directly.

“I made a quick and easy one question survey,” he said. “I asked, ‘For the rest of the year, would you like to eat in the cafeteria, or in your homerooms?’”

Barton said 80 percent of the seventh- and eighth-grade students said they would rather eat in their homerooms.

“The teachers had no adverse reactions to the students being there,” he said. “We had been talking about returning to the cafeteria sometime in the spring, but no one really cares to do that — they liked it the way to was.”

Barton said he was shocked at the response from the students being so high.

“So, we scrapped the idea of returning to the cafeteria,” he said. “We did put in partitions in the cafeteria and in the future will look to keep those numbers low in the cafeteria.

“We have the ability to make changes and modify what we do based on what the students want.”

Barton said this is a good idea, so why wouldn’t the school use it.

“I know Mr. Ray and Mrs. Cosper will have more discussions about this topic when it comes to next year’s plans,” he said. “I am retiring this year. I anticipate changes based on a meld of the options put together.”

Barton said staff usually see incidents before and after lunch in the courtyard and hallways.

“It is a lot of students coming together in a transition time,” he said. “That transition time is when we generally have the most disciplinary actions.”

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