Common Lunch Period Proposed For High Schools In Jackson

Members of the Jackson Board of Education discussed plans for a common period that would extend the lunch hour to 60 minutes but would allow students to use half that time for other activities. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – A 60-minute common lunch period for students is on the table – discussed at length during a recent Board of Education meeting.

  The common period would include lunch for all students in the school but would also allow for half that time to be spent either receiving help by a teacher in a subject they need to improve in or time with other students – an extracurricular activity such as a club or athletics. They could also use it for study time.

  Superintendent Nicole Pormilli brought up the subject with the public and Board of Education members. “This has been a long-term plan we’ve been looking at for three years, which is introducing a common lunch period which will be implemented in our high schools in the 2022-2023 school year.”

  “This was actually four years in the making. This was a proposed idea presented to the Board of Education two times previously. Unfortunately it was postponed due to the pandemic,” Assistant School Superintendent Dan Baginski said. “I’m excited tonight to present this fantastic idea.”

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  Some time was shaved off from each of the class periods and the home room period to create the 60-minute common period which will include lunch “and also the opportunity to do all these other things. Between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock and the 5th period used for teachers would no longer be on the schedule anymore. That would end at 1:39 p.m. On shortened days or delayed openings, we never served lunch in the past so we would knock out the common period on those days,” Baginski said.

  Baginski said students would have lunch at any point during the 60-minute period. “Lunch would be available for purchase at the cafeterias as they are now and there are vending machines at different locations in school. He noted that the concept allows for students to take more responsibility for their own time management. Eating would be prohibited in the classes.

  He said a key component was allowing for extra help for students. “They will be able to seek extra help during the common period because the teachers will be available three days a week for half of the period. Teachers will establish the time and location and students will have to adjust their own time to make it and they will have the opportunity for drop in assistance if the teacher is available.”

  The extra help could be held at a lecture hall or media center and two study areas, one being a quiet area where students are expected to be quiet to get work done and a social study area where students would be able to have polite conversation and to work together collaboratively.

  Baginski said the concept began with a committee that was formed to perform some research. “They surveyed staff and after that they made a recommendation to have a common lunch period. It necessitated quite a bit of logistical planning and changes within the food service, security and administration. We took a full year to plan that.

  “Having the extra year only strengthened our planning and made us more ready for next September,” Baginski noted. He added that greater awareness needed to be brought to parents and students to prepare them for implementation next fall when the schools reopen.

A graphic shown on one of the Jackson Memorial High School auditorium walls illustrates ways that a common period in schools can be beneficial for students. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  He added that there were a number of positive impacts that students could have through the common lunch period. “It really is about connecting kids to school in different ways and giving kids opportunities they never had in the past because they couldn’t stay after school. This includes getting assistance in classes with their assignments.”

  Baginski said staff would be assisting with this new concept with an “all hands-on deck approach” with students having the ability to see guidance counselors, case managers, nurses and para-professionals. “Students can avail themselves of many different resources.”

  Also helping out to keep the environment safe and clean would be the school resource officers, custodians, secretaries and aids. “With everyone being able to support students during that common period,” he added.

  Students could take part in co-curricular clubs or athletic team activities which Baginski said would be a supplement to the regular activities of these clubs and teams. “It is a nice way to keep kids connected and a greater opportunity for participation for those students who could not participate due to the times they were held.”

  High school principals Kevin DeEugenio and Geoff Brignola later provided an overview of how the common period would work.

  DeEugenio said the last time the high school schedule was changed was 1996 when a block schedule was adopted. “There was a lot of naysayers when we moved to a block schedule. It turned out to be a huge success. We were way ahead of the curve from 26 years later as most schools in Ocean and Monmouth counties have moved to a block schedule in one way, shape or form.”

  “Point Borough High School has this in place, Howell High School and Wall High School – so we can actually see this in action. We saw students get extra help in classes,” DeEugenio said.

  Board member Erica Osmond wasn’t completely sold on the idea and asked about what additional staff might be required to implement the plan.

  Baginski responded that “we will not be adding staff” repeating the concept involves “all hands on deck.”

  Osmond noted that while the common period “gives them (students) the option to seek help and encourages them to it will not require them to.”

  Brignola described the situation as a “hard nudge” noting that teachers are in touch with parents. “I think we’ll have success.”

  Pormilli added, “our teachers are in line with their students’ will.”