‘Working lunch’ program showing positive early returns

By Cristin Morgan | Published Wednesday, October 5, 2011

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“On time, every time,” Principal Jason Cochran said.

That is Decatur High School’s new motto in regard to students’ class work. Because of this motto, the school started a new program this year – working lunch. When students have missing assignments, they go to working lunch to complete them.

Cristin Morgan

Cristin Morgan

“Every morning, teachers receive an email with the list of students who are missing work, then when the lunch bell rings, the teachers escort the students on the list to the library,” Cochran said. “Next, they take roll, then they get out their work and finish it.”

When students finish the missing work, they turn it in to the teacher or administrator who is supervising them, then work on something else until the bell rings.

“You must continue working at all times,” Teri Ulberg, assistant principal, said. “You have to be writing or reading the whole lunch period.”

Since it’s lunchtime, they also have food available for the students.

“Students are allowed to bring their own lunch or we provide a meal that meets all federal and state guidelines,” Cochran said. “We give the cafeteria a count in the morning, and they produce it in the afternoon.”

The white paper sack includes a cheese sandwich, orange, milk and a rice crispy treat.

“I think it’s a very good program except the food,” junior Lindsey Provan said. “It’s not a full-course meal; it’s not enough to fill you up.”

Another negative mentioned are errors. With nearly 900 students in the school, there are errors with the process.

“The hardest thing is human error,” social studies teacher Natalie Cobb said. “If you make a mistake, the kids get in trouble and have to go to working lunch when it’s not their fault.”

If a teacher notices it’s their mistake before the working lunch, they can email the administration, and the students will be taken off the list.

“It has fluctuated as teachers learn the process and as we are gathering data; there are still errors we are trying to manage,” Cochran said.

Even with errors, data shows students are improving.

“I think it’s very beneficial,” Provan said. “I’ve been getting my work done faster, and I’ve been doing it well. I’ve actually been trying.”

The school’s failure rate for the first three weeks of school declined 40 percent from last year’s first three weeks. And failing multiple classes for the first three weeks decreased 70 percent compared to last year’s first three weeks.

“The goal of the teachers and administration is to revive the students with a menu of options once they walk the stage at graduation,” Cochran said. “If they want to be a plumber, a beautician, attend trade school, junior college, or a four-year university, we want it to be their choice.”

Preparing students to make choices starts with accountability and responsibility, not just with class work, also with tardies and extracurricular.

“Our motto, ‘On time, every time,’ is the foundation of being successful in the future,” Cochran said, “and we need to reflect that all the time.”

Working lunch is a consequence for students who don’t turn in their work on time and a consequence that can result in student success.

“I think it’s a great program and working,” Cobb said. “My students’ grades have gone up from last year to this year. And nobody is failing because they’re all turning in their work.”

Cobb isn’t the only teacher who sees a difference. Biology teacher Kristina Bird agrees.

“The program is really making the kids accountable for their homework,” Bird said. “I have very few zeros in my grade book.”

Statistics show the program is difficult to maintain.

“Schools have tried it everywhere, and it’s such a large endeavor … it takes a lot of time and commitment to pull it together,” Cochran said. “Administration has helped put it together and make it happen. It’s a little more work for the teachers, but I believe the student accountability piece is beneficial in the classroom.”

Teachers are putting more time in to help the students.

“I think it’s working; the kids realize they’re responsible for their work, and they are taking it a little more seriously,” Bird said.

Provan agrees the program is beneficial.

“The school has a very good program,” Provan said. “Working lunch was a very good idea.”

With improvement continuing and more to come, staff and students agree that working lunch has helped Decatur High School overall.

“I hope the students learn the values of ‘On time, every time,’ to help make choices for a successful future,” Cochran said.

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