20 Aug 2014
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High School Students Skipping Lunch for More Class

Schools try to discourage practice, saying students need a break. But hundreds go without a lunch period; they eat in class with teachers' permission.

High School Students Skipping Lunch for More Class

Don’t call today’s high school students slackers. At least not all of them.

Administrators at Niles North and Niles West high school say hundreds of students have schedules so packed that they do not include a lunch period.

“We have a nine-period day, and we do have students who take nine classes,” said Kaine Osburn, principal at .

In , which includes Niles West and high schools, upwards of 300 students don’t have a lunch period on their schedules. A few are trying to arrange their schedules so that they can come in late or leave early, Osburn said, but most simply want to take advantage of the opportunities available to them, whether it’s an extra fine arts elective or another honors level course.

Rishi Patel, a junior who is in Osburn’s homeroom class, has both. Taking choir makes his schedule perhaps more crowded than many students, and he also chose to take accounting this year, an elective that carries an honors-weighted grade.

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Patel, from Skokie, said he could have had a lunch period this year — he had one on the first version of his schedule — but then he added accounting.

“None of my friends was taking a lunch this year, so I would have ended up tutoring in the literacy center or something anyway,” said Patel.

Considered it almost wasted time

When he had a lunch period last year, he said, he and his friends would finish eating within the first 15 minutes and spend the rest of the time sitting around talking. In some ways, it was worse for him academically.

“Sometimes I would leave some of my homework, because I thought I could get it done during lunch,” he said. “Then I would end up rushing it.”

Patel said he has no difficulty finding time to eat. Some students in District 219 get what’s called a “homeroom lunch,” or permission to go to the cafeteria to buy food during their homeroom period. Others pack a bag lunch and eat in homeroom or in another class, with the permission of the teacher.

Area principals and counselors said they try to counsel students out of coming up with a schedule that is so demanding there is no time for a lunch period. Not only do students need to eat during the day, they said, they also need to take a break.

Not just in Skokie

“We really try to encourage them not to do that,” said Audrey Haugan, principal of in Des Plaines. “And if they still want to, then we have their parents sign a form saying that they know their son or daughter does not have a lunch period.”

The district has an interest in making sure students have some downtime, she said.

Not many students in Maine Township High School District 207 — which includes Maine West and and high schools in Park Ridge — go without a lunch period, said David Beery, the district’s director of communications. There are some at each school, he said, but actual numbers were not readily available.

Niles North and Niles West high schools also require students whose schedules do not include lunch to get permission from their parents, said Lee Milano, a guidance counselor at Niles North. But rarely do parents object.

“If their student wants to do it, the parents are usually all for it,” Milano said.

Lunch can be more stressful than relaxing

While Osburn and Ryan McTague, principal at Niles North High School, said they don’t encourage students to give up their lunch period, they acknowledge that many students think differently. Some, like Patel, are fitting in with their friends and building up their academic credentials. Others might be more focused on academics than the social scene at lunch, and find it more stressful than relaxing.

The topic came up briefly at a recent District 219 school board meeting, as the district was trying to figure out how to schedule an afternoon slot for a summer school class. Board members recommended that there be a break between the last morning class and the afternoon class to allow students enrolled in both to take a lunch break.

The issue could come up again later this year as the district discusses whether to revamp the school day, and if so, how to do it.

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