What’s Happening to Our Cafeteria?
The cafeteria is, for some, Pierson’s most toxic environment. More and more students are opting to leave the cafeteria for somewhere better. If you have ever walked the halls during the seventh period, this will become very apparent. Hallways, empty classrooms, and locker rooms are filled with groups of kids escaping the cafe. On any day you can easily find 35 students eating, conversing, and sitting in the first and second-floor hallways, not including the many other areas students choose.
So, why is this? I spoke to every student I found in the halls during 7th period and asked them why they decided not to sit in the cafeteria. The top answer; 100 percent of them agreed that the cafeteria is too loud. They told me kids are too rowdy and uncontrolled there. One student put it simply: “I can hear the person next to me, if we were in the cafeteria we would be yelling over a hundred kids to hear each other.” Another student explained that sitting in the hallways gives them “a chance to have a real conversation with friends,” rather than the meaningless noise they hear in the cafeteria. Around 80 percent of the students said it was too crowded downstairs. “There’s just not enough room for everyone to sit with the people they want to sit with,” one student told me.
Many explained that they were overwhelmed by the task of fighting for tables, tripping over backpacks, and navigating the mess of students. The lack of proper room and seats in the cafeteria was the main concern for many, but it doesn’t end there. The combination of loudness and crowding created a much bigger problem for some. More than half of the students that I spoke to felt that being in the cafeteria gave them genuine anxiety. “I couldn’t be in [the cafeteria] for more than five minutes without a panic attack… it’s just too much” a student confided in me. Anxiety is a growing problem for high-schoolers, and the environment that the cafeteria fosters is a prime example of an anxiety-inducing environment.
The overwhelming lack of space, lack of teacher enforcement, and the intense volume is a perfect storm for sensory-overload. Multiple students explained to me that they felt claustrophobia as well as anxiety when in the cafeteria. Out of the 35 students I spoke to, 25 of them said they had been told to leave their preferred lunch spot by a teacher or security guard before. It is concerning to know that students who take the time to find a spot to help them feel less anxious, safer, and calmer, have had this option taken away from them.
Others explained that they don’t see any need to go to the cafeteria because they simply don’t get the food there, as they buy or bring their own. Some told me the cleanliness was a top concern for them; “Its dirtier [in the cafeteria]… kids throw food or spill drinks without cleaning it up,” I was told. Some prefer to do homework or study during lunch and said that they felt unable to do that work in the cafeteria due to the noise and distractions.
No matter the reason, other eating spaces are necessary for so many students. By staggering the highschoolers’ lunches, many of these problems would be reduced. Moving two grades’ lunches to the eighth period would halve the number of people, eliminating the crowding concern. There would be smaller groups, creating more easily manageable students, and overall allowing for a quieter and more pleasant environment.