Leonardtown, MD — St. Mary’s County Superintendent of Schools Scott Smith observes that all of the restaurants in the county are able to serve everyone who wants lunch between 12 and 1. If they can do it so too can the school system, he said during the school board’s regular March 30 meeting. And they are going to try just that next school year.

The school system will be launching in the three high schools what is called the One Lunch program similar to what is done in all Calvert County high schools and most of Charles County’s high schools. Currently the high schools have four, 45-minute lunch breaks. Under the new program there will be just one, a one-hour lunch break for each school between 12:15 and 1:15.

Smith says under the current system the students waste time hanging out in the cafeteria in an environment that is not conducive to study. They are wasting a lot of potential productive time. And some are eating as early as 10:30 a.m. and as late as 2 p.m.

With One Lunch the emphasis will be on grab-and-go nutritional lunches such as sandwiches, wraps and salads that the students can take with them to classrooms. There will be tables set up around the school and in courtyards (only for seniors) Lunch will not be allowed in a number of area such as the media center and computer labs.

According to Assistant Superintendent Maureen Montgomery, students will have a broad array of choices as to where to go during the lunch hour. Some options detailed in a Power Point Presentation to the school board include:

• Go to teachers for extra help
• Make up tests and quizzes
• Work on school work or homework
• Use the Media Center
• Make necessary appointments
• See their guidance counselor
• Attend club meetings
• Work on projects
• Attend peer mediation if necessary
• Attend review and/or remediation sessions
• Mandatory tutoring
• Participate in sports activities in the gym
• Socialize with friends
• Students may use their cell phone but not the camera function

Smith said the 100 teachers in each school will be divided in half, with each teacher getting a half hour for lunch and a half hour duty assignment for the above activities. They will have walkie talkies to keep in touch with each other.

Smith said he did not anticipate any change in the requirements for school lunch staff, only their duties will be changed in what he called a paradigm shift. Instead of putting out four lunches, they will be involved in lunch prep for one lunch, and prep for the next day and clean up after lunch.

Board member Cathy Allen expressed concern that the grab-and-go offerings may just reinforce the fast-food culture. But she was told that the traditional hot lunches would be offered to students as an option, But Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Jeff Walker said students who don’t normally eat lunch may be attracted to the new grab-and-go nutritional offerings.

Lunch in the schools is handled with an enterprise fund. Walker says there may be an initial shortfall but he expects things will level off quickly.

Leonardtown High School Principal Mike Watson was instrumental in initiating the program at Patuxent High School in Lusby while he was assistant principal and then principal there, subsequently bringing the idea to St. Mary’s. He had intended to make a presentation to the board but was unable to do so because of illness.

Department Chair of Guidance Counselors at Leonardtown High School Sarah Crowder filled in for him alongside Montgomery during the board presentation. She said both the teachers and students will benefit in the relationship-building that will result from the One Lunch program.

The grab-and-go lunches were tested at a recent student drug summit and proved to be a hit. The school system will initiate a test period for several days in June after the seniors have departed. The first three days of the new school year in August will operate under the old four-lunch-period system and then beginning with the first full Monday the new One Lunch program will kick in.

Parents will get an opportunity to learn more about One Lunch at information programs at the three high schools: April 5 at Great Mills, April 7 at Leonardtown and April 12 at Chopticon. Rising freshmen have already had orientation nights.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com