Lunch. You know when it’s happening—the swift travel of a congealed student mass exits Wilson Hall with haste to the dining hall. Arguably one of, if not the most, important part of an upper schooler’s day—students critically pick up the sustenance they need to refuel their energy reserves and keep up with their coursework.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the dining hall staff dropped off boxed lunches to advisory classrooms, delivering upon a commitment to safety guidelines. However, students also reconciled with a lack of hot menu items, smaller portions, and a consensus that such a system could not replicate the dining hall experience.
There was much excitement, therefore, upon the announcement that students would be returning to the dining hall for the 2021-22 academic year. Finally, students could once again look forward to a diverse array of menu items made available in a convenient fashion.
To account for persisting virus concerns, student diners had to be spaced safely. The result? Contrasted against the pale greens of the grass and leaves in the quad now sits a familiar sight to underclassmen: a large white tent. Pitched above several rows of outdoor tables, Third and Fourth Formers are expected to spend their lunch in the outdoor setting.
For many, the exterior arrangement of this year’s lunch is a welcome change from last year’s restrictions—a much-needed positive.
“Lunch this year has been pretty good for me,” Fourth Former Russell Yoh said. “We missed out on being able to get our food from the cafeteria last year due to COVID, so it’s really nice to be able to do that again.”
For Yoh, the changes have been enjoyable.
“So far I’ve enjoyed eating lunch outside under the tents,” Yoh said. “It’s right outside the cafeteria, so it’s not a far walk, and it’s nice to get to be outside to eat.”
Third Former Lucas Sim agrees, settling under the tents with his friends each day.
“Overall, I’d say that sitting at the tents is a comfortable experience,” Sim said. “Personally, I sit at the same tables every lunch, and so my friends and I usually bring our bags just to lay claim to that area.”
Recognizing the present conditions, students like Sim accept the lunch situation as it is. For the time being, the conditions pose few obstacles to eating lunch and meeting with peers.
Still, open-air lunches are not problem-free.
“Sitting outside can have its downsides of course, especially with allergies and insects roaming the area. That tends to be an annoying factor of sitting outside,” Sim shared.
Others in the community are less satisfied with the current organization of the outdoor lunches.
“It’s not particularly good,” Fourth Former Chase Shatzman said. “There are a lot of bugs around the whole place. And despite a [split lunch block], it’s very crowded during peak times. Though it’s outside, it’s on the grass, which is inconvenient, especially in the rain. It’s not the cleanest, either.”
The tight-packing of students limits distancing ,and a lack of physical structure can make it difficult for students to dine comfortably. In fact, seating becomes sparse at the peak of the lunch window.
“Some days I really want to sit outside for lunch, but there are few seats left,” Third Former Aaron Bonaparte said.
The tight schedule and seating plans can present challenges when one lunch period is heavier populated. A concern that reigns paramount with the Third and Fourth Formers’ current outdoor seating arrangement falls on to the points of the weather. Without the protection of a sheltered building, the students are exposed to the elements and interruptions in their lunch plans.
“I know when it gets colder, it’ll become less convenient to eat outside,” Yoh said. “When that happens, we’ll probably be a little more uncomfortable when eating and will have to bring some more layers.”
Even before the colder temperatures of winter approach, the rain has already created disruptions to the tented facility.
“I do find it a little annoying when stepping through the marshy dirt after rain, and when it rained to the extent where we had to relocate to the wrestling room, I found it bothersome,” Sim said.
The wrestling room is currently designated as the temporary dining location for inclement weather. This distance creates long walking times and a disorderly operation of lunch between the cafeteria and eating spaces.
Surrounding environmental complications in the outdoor lunch periods, many simply feel as if they do not have answers.
“I find the uncertainty of not knowing where we could be due to inclement weather to be quite frustrating, and I know many Third and Fourth formers feel the same,” Fourth Former Jai Bonaparte shared. “And while I’m aware that the school will come up with a plan for us as the weather gets colder and more inconvenient, the silence we are met with whenever we ask questions about the topic, I must admit, is not at all reassuring.”
In creating further improvements to the outdoor setting for Third and Fourth Form lunches, students have differing opinions. From increasing student autonomy to permit dining around campus like those of individual advisories last year to creating some spaces in Wilson Hall, and even placing false floors atop the Quad surface beneath the tents and enclosing the space for inclement weather, there are many ways students see a resolution.
“I would definitely love it if there were more places to eat around campus,” Aaron Bonaparte said.
Others think the existing system requires little to no modifications.
“I could go with a few more napkin dispensers here and there, and in times of uncooperating weather maybe the school could provide umbrellas if it’s not too much of an expense,” Sim said. “[Besides] seeing that I don’t see that much need for change.”
Largely, all students recognize the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Sim said, “The staff I think is doing a great job of accommodating our needs, and I understand [that] complications may occur.”