Chico High

Freshmen have the lunchtime blues

When the faculty at Chico High School voted to close the campus for freshman lunch next year, Principal Jim Hanlon knew it wouldn’t be popular with students.

“The response from the eighth-graders has been negative,” he said. “But I expected that. They’ve been looking forward to an open lunch, and see it as unfair.”

Next year’s freshmen, most of whom will come from Chico and Marsh junior high schools, are used to a closed campus. They’re also only 14.

“I have 14-year-olds playing tag outside,” Hanlon said. When compared with juniors and seniors, “the maturity level is so different.”

The overwhelming sentiment among students might be negative, but not necessarily for the same reasons.

“I don’t think it’s fair for only freshmen to have to stay on campus,” said Suesue Alkhatib, a current freshman at Chico High. “Seniors should be able to go whenever they want, but freshmen, sophomores and juniors should have to earn it.”

In actuality, her feelings aren’t far off from Hanlon’s plans for the future, which would include the same intervention classes that will be held during the freshman lunch period for all students who are struggling.

That’s because this idea of a closed campus for freshmen is just part of a bigger picture Hanlon and a core group of teacher leaders have been examining for the past two years.

“I asked [the teacher leaders], ‘How would you feel about going through best-practices research so that we can have higher levels of learning?’ “ Hanlon said. Every one of them supported the idea.

Their approach took the form of three questions that they asked themselves:

1. Can we clearly identify what we want each student to learn in each class, independent of which teacher they get?

2. How will we know if they’re learning?

3. What do we do if they don’t learn?

The first two questions were answered and addressed through collaboration. Teachers of the same subject sit down regularly to discuss not only their lesson plans, but also the success of their students, and ultimately their teaching methods. A common assessment helps to regulate the program.

Better orientations, as well as intervention in the form of classes and tutorials, and time given for doing homework during a freshman-only lunch period, are the answers to question No. 3.

“We looked at the most at-risk group—and that was freshmen,” Hanlon said. “It’s a much more difficult year, as they’re adjusting.”

About 20 percent of freshmen fail at least one class at Chico High. Each failed class brings a student closer to dropping out, Hanlon said.

“Lunchtime is very difficult, with more cuts and tardies after lunch,” he said. “We want to close the campus for structure and discipline.”

Splitting the lunch period will probably not cost any more money—a big deal considering the Chico Unified School District’s budget crisis. Hanlon said the school had received a grant that would pay for a teacher to supervise the lunch period, and, through a partnership with Chico State, other qualified instructors would be present.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Hanlon said. “They need places to send their students, and we’ll have the qualified people we need to help us.”

Campus supervisors, who cruise the campus to keep order and also counsel students when they need help, say splitting lunch into two time slots will actually make their jobs easier, partly because no one will be allowed to leave campus during the freshman lunch period.

“Freshmen aren’t ready for the freedoms yet,” said Diane Kennedy, one of Chico High’s supervisors.

“They get this freedom, and it’s hard to reel them back in sometimes,” agreed fellow supervisor Joel Jackson. “They’ll be academically stronger if they stay on campus.”

Hanlon presented the proposal to the school board at its last meeting, and it is expected to come up for a vote Wednesday (May 21).

Hanlon was quick to note that while the response from students was negative, their parents were by and large in favor of the change. At a recent eighth-grade orientation, he said, when the idea came up in discussion, parents were clapping and cheering.

“Naturally the students aren’t as excited,” he said. “Change is tough.”