Lunch, with a generous helping of recess

Is there some reason, Marc Crail wonders, why middle-school-age kids couldn't have some fun during their lunch period?

While many middle schools treat lunch period much the way a high school would, some schools are working harder to offer younger kids more age-appropriate activities - and to let them have a good time.

Middle-school students "may look pretty grown up, but on the inside they crave some of the same things third- and fourth-graders want," says Dr. Crail, superintendent of Kent city schools in Ohio. That includes a lot of physical activity and a chance to enjoy free time.

That's why the Grade 6 to 8 Stanton Middle School in Kent includes recess as part of its lunch period. Students who want more activity can play intramural sports, while those who prefer can stay in the newly designed cafeteria and talk or play at the small four- and six-seat tables.

"We moved away from prison-style tables to make it feel more like a restaurant or dinner at home," explains Crail. "We wanted to avoid an institutional feel."

At the A. I. Root Middle School in Medina, Ohio, kids can participate in sports outside or play board games inside during lunch. They're also free to play songs from a juke box, or even to perform on the stage built into the school's new 'cafetorium' - a combination cafeteria and auditorium. The facility allows the school to turn lunch time into an informal mix of lunch, recess, and assembly.

But the idea is simple, says Tom McKenna, principal of the Grades 6 to 8 school. "These are kids. Lunch ought to be fun."

Sometimes the period is also informational. "If we have news they need to know, like something about their upcoming trip to Washington, we use the stage to communicate it to them as they eat."

But more often, he says, the kids like to be on the stage themselves.

"They love to lip-synch," McKenna says.

One problem McKenna claims he never has is finding teacher volunteers willing to use their lunch hours to participate in sports and games with the students.

"The teachers love playing basketball and having fun with them," he says.

Of course, all of this doesn't leave a lot of time for eating, but as Crail points out, younger students don't need a lot of time for that. "Kids eat in 10 minutes," he says. "If you keep them sitting after that, the food starts flying."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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