At 11:31 a.m., the bell rings releasing students for lunch. But, instead of scampering to the school cafeteria, the students dart to local businesses surrounding campus.
Shorewood High School students enjoy the freedom of open campus lunch, and the local businesses aren’t complaining.
“It’s kind of a fun time,” said Sendik’s store manager Jean Knoeck, “We’re super busy, you got to go in your fast mode, and get them in and out real quick.”
Daily, students flood the intersection of East Capitol Drive and North Oakland Avenue in large groups to visit their favorite lunch spots such as , , and Subway.
Additionally, the 50-minute lunch period affords students the opportunity to participate in different activities including clubs, extracurricular activities and homework help.
Districts have the authority to grant open campus privileges to high school students who demonstrate “a high level of maturity and personal responsibility” according to state law. SHS Principal Matthew Joynt said he sees the policy as an opportunity to teach independence and responsibility.
“I have really bought into the tremendous benefit that there is in the ability to teach responsibility to students in using their open campus and being able to run all of the clubs and co-curricular activities that are there.”
However, there are some people who aren't exactly thrilled about the off campus lunch policy. Some business owners say some patrons avoid local businesses during the student lunch rush and the school food services department cringes over the news some students don't enjoy the food the department prepares.
Only about 100 students go through the cafeteria line on a good day, said Barbara Marr, food services director and Taher Inc. employee
“It saddens me to see the kids go to Subway, bring their Subway here, and eat it here,” Marr said.
When asked about the cafeteria food, many students answered in similar fashions.
“School food is pretty nasty usually,” said SHS student William Shields.
Shop owners welcome extra business
“From freshmen ‘til seniors, we get the opportunity to meet them and watch them mature,” said Vedo’s Pizza owner Mary Marti, who sees herself as a mother figure for high school patrons.
Marti’s stern look alone can remind students her business is “not a playground” which she says puts students back in their place. She also makes sure none of the students leave her small pizzeria hungry.
“Everyone has to eat, and my big thing is that if someone comes in here with no lunch money they’re still going to leave with something,” said Marti.
Students find it hard to pass up Vedo’s Pizza when Marti offers $2 slices of pizza. It’s a favorite of many students and the line is always out the door during the lunch rush.
Another local favorite and SHS lunch hot spot is Sendik’s. With a wide variety of food available, students flock to Sendik’s for paninis, soup, salads or pasta.
SHS student Mary Sellars’s favorite off campus meal is Sendik’s paninis. “Sendik’s has really good food. The paninis — that’s a treat.”
Local businesses are not the only ones aware of the students during lunchtime though. Many Shorewood residents know to avoid the area during the SHS lunchtime.
“I know some of the adults don’t necessarily like it,” said Knoeck, “But the customers kind of come in around the time the students are going to come in.”
Students have now become part of the lunch routine for the businesses in the area that appreciate the rush. If Shorewood ever closed the campus for lunch, not only would the students rebel, but the businesses would most likely fight back too.
When asked if Joynt would ever consider closing the campus for lunch, he said, “That would be a really tough thing to consider in this community…the community has embraced the ability to teach responsibility through open campus lunches.”
With no complaints from businesses, students show they can be trusted with the freedom.
“Students are always going to be faced with making decisions for themselves and dealing with the consequences of those decisions…we’d like to work with that student ages 14 to 18 to make the right decision then, instead of sending them off to college where they have to make more choices,” Joynt said.
'The small challenges'
With the good, there is always the bad. But the challenges that accompany SHS open campus lunch are not as bad as one would think.
The most severe of the challenges is the litter problem. Food containers and wrappers can be found all over campus since students are not restricted to eat in the cafeteria.
“Much to the chagrin of our custodial staff, we have a cafeteria but really the whole campus becomes a cafeteria. One of the challenges is the cleanliness of the campus,” said Joynt.
Skipping class is a typical high school problem, but Joynt said that it is not a “major issue” at SHS. “We’re lucky,” he said.
To try and increase the number of students getting lunch in the cafeteria, SHS partners with Taher Inc. to give students more variety and a healthier lunch.
Taher Inc. is a contract food service management company providing food services in 10 states according to their website.
“We make sure they get all the nutrients that they need. Not only for their growth, but to help with their studies and to help with their bodies,” Marr said.
Food service employees are trying to serve more “from scratch” or batch recipes to lure students back to the cafeteria. Taher Inc. also implements a “Harvest of the Month” special. Three fruits or vegetables that students may not be familiar with are included in dishes throughout the month.
The batch recipes are starting to take off with some students according to Marr.
“The fish tacos that we had, they thought it was really great and I was like wow that’s not something I would think kids would really like," she said.
Joynt agrees too and said, “In changing that plan, the company that took it over (Taher Inc.) has really worked hard and brought some kids back to the cafeteria.”
Students still don’t think the school lunch is very tasty.
“I don’t eat it and haven’t eaten it for a long time,” said SHS student Andrew Clokey.
Josee Langeness had a homemade nachos meal and said, “It wasn’t enough to fill me up.”
Nevertheless, Marr stands by her food.
“From a money standpoint and tuition standpoint, it’s the best deal goin’."