Once controversial, Lunch and Learn working at West York High, officials say
About a month in to West York Area High School's Lunch and Learn program — which was narrowly approved by a 5-4 school board vote this summer — things are going more smoothly than anticipated, said district officials.
The program — which creates an 80-minute block in which upperclassmen can eat, socialize, make up work and have extra time for clubs or activities — received some pushback before its approval in June.
A number of residents said the district was initiating it prematurely — before fully addressing concerns that the program would give too much freedom to students, create issues for athletes and, most importantly, exacerbate ongoing discipline problems.
That has not been the case so far, as disciplinary infractions on the whole are down from the same time frame last year and students are responding positively to the extra options.
"I thought that we would get there eventually," said school board President Todd Gettys, who was in favor of giving the program a try. "I didn’t think it would have the impact it did so soon."
Principal Carrie Jones gave an early status report at a Sept. 17 board meeting — which included surveys from students and faculty. After 14 days, 58.5% of faculty gave it a four out of five for overall satisfaction and 32.1% gave it a five out of five.
Cleanliness and behavior were high points, with more than 80% of the 53 faculty respondents giving Lunch and Learn a four out of five or higher.
The number of infractions for cutting detention, leaving school without permission, being tardy or having an unexcused absence were all down significantly through Thursday relative to the same period last year, Jones said.
As of Thursday, however, the total number of detentions and suspensions had increased to 216. It was 196 over the same period in 2018.
The most notable change was in fighting. Fifteen students were involved in eight fights as of Oct. 10, 2018. There hadn't been a single fight at the high school during this school year as of Thursday.
The district faced backlash earlier this year about bullying among students, and school officials have said addressing those issues is a work in progress and will not happen overnight.
A number of initiatives put in place after Superintendent Todd Davies took over in 2017 aim to change the culture of the school, after years of reported issues — which saw renewed attention this year after a more recent bullying incident on a school bus.
Jones said behavior overall is better after Lunch and Learn, but part of that is credited to other variables, such as extra homeroom time at the start and end of the day — where students are under teacher responsibility instead of gathering in the lobby.
"When you have 800, almost 900, students standing around, that can cause issues," she said.
But students are still receiving punishments for bad behavior, which is reflected in the detention and suspension numbers, Jones said. And some board members agreed that serving detention during Lunch and Learn has been an effective tool.
"They’re keeping the people that are causing the problems from being a part of Lunch and Learn," said board member Donald Carl, who voted against the program in June.
Carl said it's been going more smoothly than he predicted, thanks in part to the administration being highly visible during the block, but he doesn't know how sustainable that will be long-term. The real test will be when freshmen are transitioned into the program, he said.
Board member George Margetas supported Lunch and Learn in June. He is not worried about the change because the upperclassmen seem to be enjoying it a great deal.
"As a freshman, you’re not really going to buck that trend too much," he said.
Out of 264 responses to a student survey — not including freshmen — 99 rated the program a 10 out of 10 and only 28 gave it a five out of 10 or below.
Socialization with peers and teachers was a big part of how students spent their time, and Jones added that more students are eating lunch — with an average of 67 more meals per day.
On campus during Lunch and Learn on Friday, Oct. 11, students commended the extra time for homework, more open spaces, fewer incidents and the ability to choose how to spend their time — which made them feel more grown-up.
"Personally, I work 4-9 (p.m.), so I don't have time to get all my homework done at night," said Alyssa Bunnell, 17.
Library aide Lyndsay Riedel said students typically come to the same places, which helps staff get to know them. A minimum of 50 kids per day go to the library, and there have been frequent book checkouts.
"I was just hoping for a chance to bond with students in a different setting," said physical and safety education teacher Josh Fry.
Gettys said Lunch and Learn is not a "fix-all" but has contributed to some positivity in the school environment.
"Sometimes it’s not a bad thing for the school district to try something different even when people think it’s radical," Margetas said.