Food for thought: pizza at 9: 25 a.m. No time: High enrollment and other factors have forced schools to spread out the time they serve lunch, forcing some students to eat at midmorning or starve until after 1 p.m.

April 06, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

It's 9: 25 a.m. at Broadneck Senior High School. Time for lunch.

Andy Villwock, an 11th-grader at the Anne Arundel County school, eats pizza. He has been at school since 7: 30 a.m. "I don't eat breakfast at home. There's no point," the 11th-grader ,, says.

For students in the metropolitan area, it's not unusual to be eating pizza and cold-cut subs at an hour when many of their parents are pouring their first cup of coffee from the office pot.

Growing enrollment, complex bus schedules and the array of high school course offerings has forced more schools to start lunch earlier -- and end it later. At Carroll County's Liberty High, lunch starts at 10: 30 a.m. At Howard County's Waverly Elementary, where school begins at 9: 15 a.m., some children don't have lunch until 1: 25 p.m. At Jessup Elementary in Anne Arundel County, sixth-graders don't have lunch until 1: 15 p.m. -- and teachers decided against a snack time.

Some students have forsaken breakfast so they can eat an early lunch. Students with late lunches complain that they can't shovel in a big enough breakfast to carry them five or more hours. Many students nosh their way through the school day, littering halls with crumbs and wrappers; others compensate with 2: 30 p.m. fast-food runs on the way home.

None of this, educators say, is good.

"When a child is hungry and their stomach starts to growl, they are thinking about food," says Paul J. Pinciaro, professor of health education at the University of Maryland College Park. "And then are they concentrating on their algebra? No, they are concentrating on food."

Not that schools want it this way. The State Department of Education prefers cafeterias able to accommodate the student body over two or three lunch periods, says Yale Stenzler, executive director of the Interagency Committee for State Public School Construction. But in the metropolitan area, only Harford County has kept mostly to more traditional lunch times.

Baltimore County, for example, has 20,500 more elementary school students this year than in 1983, says James Kraft, a facilities manager for Baltimore County schools. But of the 11 schools that gained modular classroom and bathroom additions last year, none had their cafeterias expanded.

"Enlarging a cafeteria is just not as high a priority as providing seats for those kids," he says.

Thus the reality for kids: pizza at 9: 25 a.m.

Katie Bauer is an 11th-grader at Anne Arundel County's Broadneck High, which has one of the earliest starting times for lunch in the region. (Anne Arundel County schools overall capture that distinction.) She doesn't eat pizza at 9: 25 a.m.; she is picking away at a raisin bagel with cream cheese.

"This is my breakfast," she says. The problem: Her day doesn't have another lunch. By lacrosse practice after school, nearly five hours later, she is starved.

Broadneck teacher Virginia Crespo says she can tell which students have the earliest and latest lunch from two things: noise and distractibility.

"They are rustling candy wrappers," she says. "And what are you going to tell them about fruit, an apple? You can't tell them to put it away." One noontime class had so many hungry teen-agers that she started with a five-minute snack time so they could settle down the rest of the period.

Says Laurie Butler, a Broadneck 11th-grader who admits to an occasional nibble during or between classes: "I usually bring crackers and chips."

There is no major health risk inherent in an early or late lunch, but the caveat is that a good breakfast and nutritious snacks should fill in, health experts say. Hungry students are likely to grow crabby and distracted, and have trouble learning -- the theory behind federal programs that subsidize school breakfasts and lunches for poor children.

During his freshman year at Carroll County's Liberty High School, Colin Bisasky, now a senior, had the last lunch period, 12: 30 p.m. -- five hours after the school day started. What he learned was the value of a big breakfast, he says. What he could have focused on better was Decision Making in Contemporary America, the class immediately before lunch.

Sugars and carbohydrates fuel the brain.

"You get a fluctuation of blood sugar levels, the brain can't process as much, as fast, as well," says Mr. Pinciaro, the University of Maryland professor.

Many elementary schools compensate with a midmorning snack for youngsters assigned a late lunch. For example, at Howard County's Waverly Elementary, where school begins at 9: 15 a.m. and the last lunch starts at 1: 25 p.m., children take a snack break.

At Columbia's Phelps Luck Elementary School, some teachers let late lunchers eat a snack -- but require that it be something healthy. That is harder to enforce as the students get older.

"It's almost like a game, how many of these little mini-doughnuts can I eat in English without getting caught?" says Gene L. Streagle, director of Howard County high schools. "There's a lot of Pop-Tarts -- you can hear the wrappers."

Students bring their disrupted eating schedule home, says Rita Lowman, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs.

Her daughter, Jennifer, 17, has the last lunch -- 12: 25 p.m., five hours into the school day -- at North County High School. Too often, Mrs. Lowman says, Jennifer grabs cookies or chips instead of waiting on the lunch line, since she has just one class after lunch. Then, Mrs. Lowman says, her daughter is "coming home and eating everything she can find."

"I am in the process of preparing dinner and she is starving because she didn't eat lunch," Mrs. Lowman says.

By dinner time, of course, Jennifer isn't hungry for a big meal.

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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