"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Training A Future Workforce that Never Stops to Eat


BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. — High school students in this well-to-do Westchester suburb pile on four, five, even six Advanced Placement classes to keep up with their friends. They track their grade-point averages to multiple decimal places and have longer résumés than their parents.

But nearly half the students at Briarcliff High School have packed their schedules so full that they do not stop for lunch, prompting administrators to rearrange the schedule next fall to require everyone to take a 20-minute midday break. They will extend each school day and cut the number of minutes each class meets over the year. Briarcliff currently does not require students to have a lunch period.

In a school where SAT scores are the talk in the hallways and more than half the seniors are accepted to their first-choice college, Briarcliff’s principal, Jim Kaishian, said mandatory lunch is intended to reduce stress on teenagers so caught up in the achievement frenzy they barely have time to eat or sleep.

This year, 12 percent of Briarcliff’s 665 students have no free periods, while an additional 30 percent have classes the entire time the cafeteria is open.

“We see kids rushing to eat; we hear about stress levels going up,” Mr. Kaishian said. “We’ve watched as some kids implode and bend under the weight of having to go period after period without a break.”

Briarcliff is one of several high-performing campuses that is confronting the lunchless, alongside other stress-reduction measures like starting school later or limiting the number of A.P. courses each student can take.

At Horace Mann, a prestigious private school in Riverdale, the Governing Council passed a resolution in March saying: “All students, regardless of whether they want a lunch period, should have time to eat lunch outside of class.” In Chappaqua, Horace Greeley High is rolling out a new schedule this fall that lengthens classes, with a 30-minute free block in the middle of the day so that “students will have more time to eat in a less stressful way,” according to the superintendent, David Fleishman. . . . .

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