This I Believe
by Brenda Sutter, Lead Teacher
I believe in eating school lunch family-style. I believe in table cloths and cloth napkins, in kids and adults sitting down together, taking time to eat and talk and be. I believe in bowls of food on each table, as opposed to long lines of students passing by the lunch counter to get food dumped on their plate by lunch ladies in hair nets. This seems like a small thing to believe in, but I think its part of something bigger.
At lunch the other day I looked around to see a table of kids sitting around a red table cloth with a steaming bowl of student made soup, a basket of brio bread and a beautiful green salad full of walnuts and feta. It was a mental snapshot moment. A ninth grader, a twelfth grader, a tenth, a fourth, a first and two kindergarteners sat together, talking and eating. Older kids scooped soup for younger ones. Two high school boys were having an intense discussion which they interrupted to pass the bread to the kindergarteners. I tuned in on their conversation. They were talking about cooking – “The trick is to cook the bacon first.” Eli was insisting.
At my table (a white table cloth with orange napkins) a second grader was telling about a birth she had attended. She talked about how small the new baby was and her own important position in the event. Her mother is a midwife. I got to talk with her at length while we ate together. I was amazed at her knowledge and her life experience. This was something I hadn’t known about her. I found myself glad to know about this area of her expertise. And I began to think about how we validate what she and other students come to school with. Education isn’t just something we DO to them, it’s something we discover with them. Eating lunch with our kids gives us time to know things about them and to share something of ourselves.
Across the room my daughter presided over her tribe’s table (green table cloth, checked-yellow napkins). She had kindergartener Ruby on one side of her and her little brother Alex on the other. She and Ruby were teasing each other. They have a little lunchtime game that they play together. Ruby likes Katie to guess what animal she is that day.
It occurs to me that most twelfth graders don’t eat with kindergarteners, so they don’t develop strong bonds and silly rituals with the little kids at their schools. And most kids don’t get to eat lunch with their siblings. Segregation by grade means you never get a chance to be close to those who are younger or older than you are. You never get to be the one who is responsible, or the one who is nurtured. It’s everyone for themselves when you’re all in third grade. There’s no big person next to you who might be able to reach something for you, or mediate your dispute, to draw you into conversation, or show you that leadership can be strong and kind. This mixing, this creation of community brings a wholeness to our lunchtime and it reflects our beliefs about education in general.
Recently, my high school students and I read the essay Solving For Pattern by Wendell Barry. The gist of the article was that good solutions shouldn’t cause more problems than they solve, and they should solve for more than one problem. How to get kids to eat nutritious food and how to create community are two big ones that our lunch program works on. Our eating together is an important ritual that connects our gardening, our cooking, our eating and our beliefs into a glorious whole every day at 12:30. Come join us for lunch.