Ashe County High plans massive lunch overhaul

By Adam Orr -

WEST JEFFERSON-Lunch is going to take on an entirely new look at Ashe County High School next fall.

In fact, if you catch kids during their new one hour SMART lunch period, you might think you’ve stepped onto a college campus. And that’s part of the selling point, according to Ashe County High School Principal Jason Krider.

“This is really an exciting program we plan to implement at the high school,” Krider said. “Students will have an hour between second and third period when the entire school will go to lunch, broken into two groups.”

SMART stands Students Maximizing Achievement through Resources and Time, Krider said. The main idea is to offer students freedom and flexibility during the school day during a one hour free form lunch period. Envision up to a dozen separate zones throughout the school where students can eat lunch, hang out with their friends and take care of pressing matters they can’t squeeze into the rest of the school day.

Students would be able to munch on sub sandwiches, for instance, in a redesigned second floor media center, or bring their lunch back to the classroom to catch up on school work or even relax by shooting hoops in the school’s auxiliary gym.

Krider said it’s about offering students freedom, responsibility and choice – something the typical high school experience lacks.

“In high school, it’s all about structure, structure, structure,” Krider said. “This is a time we need to change that.”

While the SMART lunch system will be a new innovation for ACHS students, it’s a concept that has been tried by multiple districts across the state. Krider and a group of students and school and district officials viewed the concept’s pros and cons at area schools, including East and West Rowan High Schools.

And they liked what they saw, according to Ashe County High School student Addie Fairchild, who accompanied school officials to check out the program.

At least half her classes this semester are college level Advanced Placement courses that ask more of students in both time and effort than a typical high school class. Fairchild said she envisioned using a one hour SMART lunch period to relax and study for upcoming tests.

“We’re taking a lot of rigorous classes with hours of homework,” Fairchild said. “And it’s hard this time of year with those (AP) tests. It’d be an hour to relax or study some more. We saw what this could be for us.”

ACHS student Jacob Key said the concept’s key selling point for him is the ability to collaborate with other students during the school day and meet his responsibilities for the Science Olympiad and BETA Club talent competitions. As an athlete, it’s not always easy for him to meet with his partners after school. A one hour smart lunch would solve that problem, he said.

Fairchild said the concept is closer to the kind of freedom that college students enjoy versus the typical high school experience. She said offering that kind of choice and responsibility to students in small doses could also help prepare them for their next steps after high school.

District teachers, including Ashe County High School English Teacher Josh Beckworth, also told the Ashe County Board of Education the program offers numerous benefits. He said students and teachers place so much emphasis on using class time solely for instruction that logistical issues – think applying for scholarships – get left behind, a problem he believes a SMART lunch system could address.

“There is a great benefit to non-AP students here, too, though,” Beckworth said. “Focused intervention – students who are struggling in class you can focus on them.”

Jennifer Treva, a teacher in the school’s exceptional children’s program, told board members a SMART lunch could help spend additional time with her students and help them map their transition options following high school.

“Special education students, most are riding buses and this would give us some extra time to meet with them,” Treva said. “We’ve got to look at transitions and what they’re going to be doing after high school. Right now there’s not a lot of time to do that. Everybody should have a bright future.”

Beckworth said such a system would also be a more equitable solutions for students without driver’s licenses, many who currently don’t have the luxury of using after school time to make up assignments like many students who can drive.

But the program could also pose drawbacks as well, and could play havoc with the work schedules of the school’s current cafeteria staff. Martha Turner, the district’s child nutrition coordinator, told the Ashe County Board of Education she has no firm answers as to how her staffing would be affected by a move to a SMART lunch system.

Turner said other schools have moved from a full time cafeteria staff to a mixture of full and part-time personnel, though she said she’s working to make sure current cafeteria employees won’t see a change in their status. A SMART system would mean her personnel would likely be scattered throughout the school during the lunch period, adding logistical headaches for staff.

Ashe County Board of Education Member Lee Beckworth also said he hopes the move to the new system, while a smart move on paper, doesn’t turn out like the district’s tinkering with bus schedules back in 2011-2012. The district had attempted to roll out a more sophisticated bus routing system, but hiccups in the implementation led to long delays for bus riders and the system was scrapped shortly after it went live.

Superintendent of Ashe County Schools Phyllis Yates said the plan could be a smart way to help students.

“I’m from the old school and I want things to be 1, 2, 3 – orderly,” Yates said. “But I’ve also heard others talk about the way this has worked in their systems and what struck me was the enthusiasm from the teachers. We’re not going to let child nutrition fail, but we can work together and I’d like to see where it goes.”

Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.

By Adam Orr

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