New lunch aims to enhance academic opportunities  

By Lana McIlvaine and Hannah Posner

Riverside’s administration changed SMART lunch to Pirate Block to help students utilize educational opportunities.

This year, two 45-minute lunch periods replace last year’s hour-long, campus-wide model.  

“It was so that we could maximize on the time we had for instructional differentiation,” Assistant Principal Darryl Bradshaw said. “Part of [SMART lunch] was for clubs, but the other part was for remediation and classroom tutoring.”

Multiple administrators said students were not using SMART lunch for its intended purposes: tutoring and clubs.

“About 75% of our students were not utilizing the tutoring piece,” said Bradshaw. “During SMART lunch students had an option to engage in extra exposure to lessons if their grades were not well. If their grades were not well, the students still did not take part in tutoring opportunities…Pirate Block schedules it for them.”

“I don’t think [SMART lunch] was serving its purpose of offering tutoring and academic interventions for all students,” said Assistant Principal Dr. Will Okun. 

Contrary to the rumors that SMART lunch was removed because of too many fights, Bradshaw explains that fighting and safety only made up about 30% of the issue.

“[The decision for the lunch change] wasn’t just for safety and also it wasn’t just for fights…You also had elements like trespassers. You had students that were leaving campus that didn’t have passes, different cars that were on campus, and then you also had tardiness in between classes,” he said.

Riverside used the new safety measures on Friday, Sept. 8, when two fights occurred during B lunch.

“There was a fight in the girls bathroom in the cafeteria on Friday that prompted us to end lunch early and return all students to their fourth period block,” principal Gloria Woods-Weeks said in her weekly phone message to Riverside families. “All students were given the opportunity to eat lunch and I am pleased to report that no child was seriously injured.”

Bradshaw also noted that the administrative team made sure students had multiple places to avoid congestion in the cafeteria. 

“Microwaves were moved, corridors were opened up,” he said. “So now students will have access to [a] courtyard here versus just being restricted to the student patio.”

One new feature of Pirate Block is social-emotional learning on Wednesdays. Riverside now has access to Character Strong, an online curriculum designed for social emotional learning and character development.  

“Character Strong is centered and built around creating a community of people that care about others in their community,” said assistant principal Gregory Goble. “It affords opportunities in a small classroom environment for students to really talk about and flush out some of the challenges that they’re dealing with on a regular basis and how to address some of those challenges with regard primarily to social emotional learning.”

The Character Strong website includes curricula for elementary through high school. 

“Our curricula and professional learning are grounded in research and focused on fostering the Whole Child with vertically-aligned lessons that teach SEL and character, side-by-side,” according to the Character Strong website. 

Administration sought outside opinions to develop the new lunch schedule.

“We had a few meetings with parents, with student representatives, teachers, school administration, and we determined different schedules that would be able to accommodate our enrichment, which is tutoring as well as our club schedule,” said Bradshaw. “And the one that we decided on is the current schedule that’s in place now.” 

The selected students were recommended by school counselors and were involved in various programs or clubs. Parents who helped with the planning were from the Parent Teacher Association. The administrative team refused to provide names of students involved.

Senior Co-President of Student Government Riley O’Connor said that Bradshaw did come to a meeting and explain the situation to the club. But after initial contact, Student Government did not receive any information about when the meeting was being held.

“[Bradshaw] asked us to come put a team of people together from SGA to sit at meetings and propose ideas. And then we didn’t really hear anything after that,” said O’Connor.

Administrators did not share the names of the students who attended the meetings with The Hook.

Despite the changes, there was one priority when creating the new lunch: maintaining clubs and tutoring during the school day.

According to Okun, Riverside remains the only high school in Durham offering both tutoring and clubs during the school day. The Pirate Block system was created to maintain lunchtime clubs and tutoring while making sure students take advantage of the tutoring opportunities. 

“The disadvantage of [SMART lunch] is the allure of eating with your friends every day was too much,” said Okun. “We couldn’t figure out how to get students into classes for tutoring who needed tutoring when the other option was to eat lunch with their friends.”

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