Two years ago, a freshman at Berkeley High School (BHS) noticed a problem: many of her fellow students weren’t eating. Concerned, she brought the issue up with her mother, Sara Rahimian, who has since taken action to modify the lunch schedule.
“The idea actually came from my daughter coming home, talking about how often people don’t have enough to eat, and asking me to pack bigger and bigger lunches so that she had food to share,” Rahimian said.
Rahimian continued, explaining how “inequities became clear” during the pandemic, with more visible differences in access to food, and other resources. This highlighted issues with the current lunch system, such as disparities in terms of a student’s financial situation and the amount of help they receive from their parents.
“There’s really a lot of inequity in kids who have the means and whose parents have the time,” Rahimian said. “Sometimes, the means is time to prepare food, to pack it for them. They have a very different experience than [students with] parents who don’t have time.”
The bell schedule committee, a staff committee that advises the principal, has taken the project under their wing, according to Berkeley International High School (BIHS) Vice Principal Harrison Blatt.
“We’re investigating the way we use time at BHS,” he said. “Lunch is an important part of the school day when students and staff can take a break, nourish themselves, and build friendships. Part of our work involves determining the best way to incorporate a lunch period into the school day.”
Blatt added that the committee is currently in the “listening and learning phase” of the work, gathering information and studying academic literature that will inform the proposed redesign.
Bonnie Christensen, Director of Nutrition Services for Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), described the constraints of the current lunch schedule, which the redesign aims to address.
“The … cafeteria is not big enough for all students to be released at the same time and also get their meals in the cafeteria,” she said. “We should be able to get these quality meals out to as many students as possible, especially those who don’t have access to healthy fresh meals when they leave school.”
Christensen added that BUSD middle schools and elementary schools have a lunch structure with several periods, an option that could be considered for BHS. However, she explained that this would create significant challenges for administrators when scheduling classes for students. Christensen also said that teachers and teaching minutes must be considered in the lunch periods.
“Schools are in the business of educating and often focus on that business almost exclusively, we know that this isn’t enough,” Christensen said. “Schools need to look more broadly at how we support the child throughout the day as each aspect is impactful including meal periods.”
Modifications to the lunch schedule would lead to success in students’ physical, social and emotional performances, according to Christensen.
Paola Bedolla Garcia, a junior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), described her experience with the lunch schedule. Since she doesn’t have time to pack her lunch the night before, she must go off campus to get lunch during the break, which often doesn’t give her the chance to eat.
“I rarely [have enough time to eat lunch],” Bedolla Garcia said. “[Missing lunch] makes me really tired and really, really hungry. I tend to also be really cranky, and I don’t want to listen to people. [This] most definitely makes it harder to get through my classes and do my work.”
She added that the lunch schedule can be especially difficult for athletes.
“[I] have been in a bunch of different sports, and I know how important lunch is,” Bedolla Garcia said. “If you just take that out, that’s actually a huge bunch of nutrition that you’re not getting out on the day. That is just really, really bad, especially for people who have practice after school, and they can’t eat after school.”
Magnus Wolff, another junior in BIHS, echoed these sentiments, describing how the lunch schedule is rushed.
“The problem is that a lot of people eat off campus,” Wolff said. “We don’t have enough time to get food and actually sit down and enjoy our food without being late to our next lesson.”
Rahimian summarized her vision for a lunch break where students have the time to eat and socialize without stress. At a time when the school is considering a revised bell schedule, she encouraged students to take the opportunity to express their support for a longer lunch break.
“If the students and families don’t advocate soon, we will miss this opportunity. It will not happen for [the] next school year,” Rahimian said. “What we want to do is encourage the students and everybody to advocate for using this moment, when we’re revisiting the schedule, to increase the amount of lunch, maybe break it up into multiple periods so that more kids could be served [and] it’s not such a short intense window.”