There are many times in classes during the day that students feel empowered at my school, but this discussion pushed my thinking deeper and past the classroom to a unique answer. Students at my school are empowered at lunch.
Our campus, of 3,500+ students, has one common lunch period. You are probably thinking we have the world's largest cafeteria. Actually, we don't. At lunchtime the entire first floor of our building becomes our lunch area and food is sold not only in the cafeteria but also in many satellite locations on the first floor. However, what happens at lunch isn't all about nutrition.
During the 43 minute lunch period students not only have a choice about what they eat, but who they are with, where they are working, what they are working on or in many cases what they are learning about. Individual choice is empowering. At lunch 115 student run clubs/organizations meet at scheduled locations & dates. Each club applies and is approved by the school and has a faculty sponsor. The focal point of organizations that students are a part of varies greatly. The interests of student lead clubs include, but are not limited to: careers, philanthropies, hobbies, cultures, the arts, and academics. Organizations throughout the year compete for space within the building to hold luncheons to raise money for charities, to host professional speakers, or conduct and participate in competitions. The break in the middle of the day allows students to shift gears and engage in activities in ways that are different from their academic class periods.
Teacher’s classrooms are open for academic support during lunch, however it is not uncommon to find students simply hanging out with a teacher because they want to spend time with them. Relationships matter and time is critical for bonds to form. Students are empowered through relationships. The common break mid day allows for time to be spent with others. Counselor’s offices are also popular destinations, as students know this is a great time to spark a conversation or seek advice.
At a scholarship interview last week, a senior shared her experience of joining a club as a freshman and how it established a connection that made her love coming to school. She spoke about how the organization she was a part of offered a place for her to be comfortable be herself and that in turn gave her confidence interacting with other people. The club connected her to the larger school and gave her a platform to experience leadership. She shared about having opportunities to coordinate communications, gather resources, and organize people in authentic situations allowed her to grow. Connections empower students.
We spend a lot of time discussing curriculum, course work, and rigor and not very much time talking about extra curricular, real life events, and student’s choices. When students are self-selecting and making choices according to their true interests they develop passions. When a student becomes passionate about something, that is when self directed learning begins to happen.
The choices, relationships and connections that students make at lunch empower them. I have always loved the energy that I feel on our campus at lunch, and through reflection I now better understand why it's my favorite time of the day.
In what ways does your campus empower students?