Education Matters: Sleeping through lunch

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

On the recommendation of the Associated Student Body, Torrey Pines High School offered students an incentive to do well on last spring’s statewide achievement tests by promising an extended lunch period if the school’s Academic Performance Index score rose.

The idea seemed to resonate with the kids, TPHS principal Brett Killeen said.

The API score rose by 10 points, an extended lunch – from 35 minutes to 80 minutes – was offered on Oct. 26, and the kids were thrilled. Right? Well, not quite.

To maintain the minimum number of required instructional minutes, the school had to find a way to give students the extra 45 minutes for lunch as promised, without losing classroom time. “We have to be careful with those instructional minutes,” Killeen said.

The controversial solution was to eliminate one late-start day and exchange it for the extended lunch day.

As one student told me, it wasn’t really a reward of something extra; it was a substitution.

“I don’t think it’s fair that they took away [a late start day],” said student Julia Yacker in the Torrey Pines High School student newspaper, The Falconer. “Everyone thinks that school starts too early.”

Complicating the matter is that only juniors and seniors are allowed off campus for lunch. So the 9th- and 10th-graders had to remain at school for the 80 minutes.

“Freshmen and sophomores are basically confined to the media center or quad for an hour and a half,” said 10th-grader Morgon Williams in The Falconer.

One senior, who enjoyed a leisurely lunch off-campus with his friends, said it was more like a punishment than a reward for the 9th- and 10th-graders who had to stay behind. And even though he had a long lunch, he wasn’t sure it was worth trading in the late-start morning.

Killeen called it a celebration but said the closed-campus rules still applied. For the students prohibited from leaving, he said the school’s ASB offered free food and planned a number of activities on campus Oct. 26, which included a dunk tank with Killeen as the target.

When the long-lunch incentive was offered, most students didn’t realize they would be sacrificing a late-start morning.

“Back then it was all kind of theoretical,” Killeen said. “We didn’t know in our calendar where we were going to be able to put it.”

After the positive API gains were recorded, the issue was discussed with department chairs, he said, and it was decided that, to preserve the instructional minutes, “the best route to go would be in lieu of a late-start day.”

On late-start days at Torrey Pines, school for the students begins at 8:55 a.m. instead of 7:40 a.m. Held nine or 10 times annually at TPHS, the late-start days allow teachers to come together at 7:40 a.m. to collaborate and conference.

“Basically we gave up one collaborative time for staff to accommodate kids’ extended lunch,” Killeen said.

He acknowledged that some students were upset about losing a late-start day. “I know there can be different sentiments about that, but they really did want this idea of the long lunch,” he said.

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