A Different Take on Activity Lunch

A picture of the school cafeteria from September 19, 2018.

Over the span of a week, things are always the most sluggish on Wednesdays; it’s called Hump Day for a reason. So, a lunch break that’s 15 minutes longer than usual and combined with all your friends at school is a real treat. In addition to its recreational value, it gives clubs a chance to meet. This is Activity Lunch at Pullman High School, and as student M.O. put it, “It’s something everyone looks forward to every single week.”

But that changed. Over the summer, the school’s administration with input from club advisors voted to reduce Activity Lunch from every Wednesday to the first Wednesday each month. There are several reasons why they did so.

Why Activity Lunch was removed

One reason was that “literally hundreds of kids were leaving,” according to Principal Mr. Pollestad. Once students are off campus, the school cannot feasibly keep track of what they do. He went on to say that, alternatively, closing the campus wasn’t a viable option, lest students feel trapped inside the school and begin to resent Activity Lunch.

Moreover, Mr. Pollestad said that truancy and tardiness was statistically highest on Wednesdays. In addition, there were more substance abuse issues off-campus as measured by the increased disciplinary actions regarding that taken on Wednesdays. Mr. Pollestad also had teacher input. He asked the teachers who were advisers for clubs if their clubs were “using their time effectively” during Activity Lunch. Only two teachers stated that they use the time regularly for club meetings.

Taken as a whole, this evidence pointed to a necessity to reduce the number of Activity Lunches per month. The school further justified this Activity Lunch reduction by saying there were seven Collaboration Days, which always fall on Wednesdays, in the school year, with roughly one month separating each. For the most part, then, they were removing two Activity Lunches a month, as opposed to three.

How students responded

Upon hearing this news, I sought to determine just how many students were affected by Activity Lunch reduction. I started a digital petition for just this reason. An excerpt of it reads,

“Several major clubs meet during Activity Lunch, including Key Club, JSA, DECA, FFA, and ASB. These clubs will either be hindered by being reduced to monthly meetings or have to reschedule meetings before and after school, which will conflict with zero period classes, sports, and other clubs.”

A screenshot of the digital Activity Lunch petition that circulated from August 23 through August 28, 2018. <https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/694/711/415/.>This is certainly true for me. I participate in ASB, which used to alternate weekly between morning meetings and Activity Lunch meetings. I also am in Blue Orchestra, which is held during zero period. Last year I left Orchestra early twice a month to attend ASB meetings. This year, however, I must do it three times a month, which is more difficult. This Activity Lunch reduction has also made it impossible for me to attend JSA meetings regularly because the Activity Lunch meetings conflict with ASB, and the after-school meetings conflict with my other activities, like Science Bowl, Knowledge Bowl, and this newspaper, the Paw Print. Weekly Activity Lunch was a crucial aspect of my schedule.

This sentiment was echoed in other comments on the petition. One student, Z.A., said,

“I am the president of a club, and Activity Lunches are a great way to pile people who can’t attend every meeting.”

Another student, C.M., said, “This time is perfect for clubs which are less demanding than bigger ones like sports, and without this time those other clubs, such as World Language Club, might not be viable.” Still others pointed out that Activity Lunch can be used to make up tests for classes, for again, students are involved in several programs that meet throughout the day. More information about the petition, including comments, can be found here.

The petition demonstrates that many students are reeling from Activity Lunch reduction. However, there is reason to believe Activity Lunch reduction is only a precursor to removing Activity Lunch entirely. First of all, according to Mr. Pollestad, the school didn’t get rid of it entirely to ease the student body into this change. Otherwise, it’s not ideal to have it even once a month, in the administration’s eyes. After all, it still poses a safety threat to the school, as pieced out earlier in this article. Luckily, the school thought it would be too harsh to toss Activity Lunch in the trash this year. But thus far, we haven’t given them much reason not to do so next year.

For example, the petition reflects a fundamental difference in student attitudes towards Activity Lunch and its intended purpose. The petition included this optional question: “Why is this important to you?” The 135 people who chose to answer it had a variety of responses, but there were two general categories: those who said it mattered for their clubs and those who said it mattered for their free time or recreation. 34 students belonged to the former group while the other 101 belonged to the latter. Therefore, as far as the school is concerned, 75% of the petition’s signers do not use Activity Lunch for its intended purpose. Coupled with its safety hazards, it’s clear to the administration that Activity Lunch isn’t worth the while.

Case study: Spirit Week

There is, however, a caveat. It was planned that Spirit Weeks would retain their week-long Activity Lunches. “Spirit weeks are a great reason to have it,” says Mr. Pollestad. He confirmed that Activity Lunches used for school spirit activities were fulfilling their purpose. This led to an idea.

“Tell us what you think will keep people in Activity Lunch,” said Kiran Srikanth, the Executive ASB President, to a group of students on Friday, September 21. This was at one of two student meetings this year about weekly Activity Lunch. Kiran reached out to me after reading the petition on concentrating an effort to bring back Activity Lunch.

We began this process at the first student meeting of the year, which was after school on Thursday, August 30. Some 40 students attended. We went over the reasons for reducing Activity Lunch and outlined what we could do to get it back. The first meeting established our general goal; what we lacked was a concrete action plan to introduce during Activity Lunches this year to test how effective they were. With this in mind, we held a second meeting on September 21st, at which a group of students brainstormed just how to engage students during Activity Lunch. After all, the problems with Activity Lunch could be addressed if students were occupied with school spirit.

We planned to put our ideas into effect this year during Activity Lunches to examine what engages students and what doesn’t. “We want to show that’s it’s actually having an effect,” said Kiran. Of course, we couldn’t put anything into action during Spirit Week—plenty of activities were going on during lunch. At the end of Spirit Week, I talked to ASB Staff Advisor Mrs. Willy, and she shared some interesting statistics from the 5-STAR student app. Mrs. Willy used the 5-STAR app to check in students for points in Spirit Week’s class competition. Now, it was known that different people participate in Spirit Week to different extents. But the sheer proportion of students who did not do a single thing for Spirit Week (or at least, didn’t check in) was notable. Consider this table:

Class Percent of class that didn’t check in for any Spirit Week events
Freshmen 17.6%
Sophomores 22.0%
Juniors 20.4%
Seniors 28.1%

Keep in mind that the decision to reduce Activity Lunch did not take the freshmen, who are new to PHS this school year, into account. Of the three remaining classes, approximately one in four students did not check in for any activity for Spirit Week. And hundreds of kids still left campus at lunch. With this kind of turnout for something as well-established as Spirit Week, it is naïve to assume that any new spirit events introduced during Activity Lunches will engage a significant portion of the school.

The future of Activity Lunch

It’s clear that the reduction of Activity Lunch has not changed the attitudes towards Activity Lunch that got it reduced in the first place. Students continue to take this luxury for granted, making its survival unlikely. We ought to be grateful that the school isn’t closing the campus, that they are respecting our freedom. We students as a whole, however, did not respect the intended purpose of Activity Lunch.

Melody Gebremedhin