Sikeston High School has closed campus lunch for first time since 1974

Sunday, August 22, 2010 ~ Updated 3:38 PM
A Sikeston High School student goes through the lunch line in the cafeteria. When the first day of classes began Wednesday, the high school campus became completely closed during lunch for the first time in 36 years. (Leonna Heuring ~ Standard Democrat)

SIKESTON, Mo. -- For the first time since 1974, all Sikeston High School students are eating lunch under the same roof.

With the new school year that began Wednesday came the final phase of the high school's transition back to a closed campus.

In 2008, the Board of Education voted to close all campuses during school hours by the start of the 2010-2011 school year.

Since that decision, the district has slowly implemented the closed campus policy. For the 2008 to 2009 school year, students in 11th and 12th grades could leave the campus during the lunch period but ninth and 10th graders had to remain on campus. Then during the last school year, only the seniors were allowed to leave during the lunch hour.

Tom Williams, high school principal, said Thursday it was too early to tell what kind of effect the change would have.

"As of day one, the lunch periods have run well," he said. "Students have 24 minutes per lunch, and we have about 235 students per lunch period."

There are four lunch periods from 10:25 a.m. to 12:11 p.m.

Last school year there were two 40-minute lunch periods to serve the students eating on campus. When the campus was open, Williams estimated 200 to 250 students would stay on campus to eat lunch.

Food service employees said so far the transition has been a smooth one.

"It's busier, but everything is running smoother," said Sabrina Grimes, head cook for Aramark, which provides food services for the school district.

Despite not being able to leave the campus, students still have a variety of food to choose from, Grimes said. She said pizza, tacos, chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, sub sandwiches and salads are among the foods offered daily. A different hot plate lunch special is available every day, she said.

Greg Colwick, an Sikeston High School graduate and former school board member, was a freshman when the open campus discussion began in the 1970s.

"The last two graduating classes were over 300 people, and the lunch shifts were so crowded, we had to split them," Colwick said.

By the time Colwick was a senior, the Student Council petitioned the administrators and school board about doing a trial basis for an open campus, he said.

"When the second semester began in 1974, they tried it, and everything went pretty smooth," Colwick recalled.

And the open campus worked for 36 years, Colwick said.

"One of the reasons it worked was [because] it was tightly monitored by administrators and, in my experience, nobody wanted to lose that privilege," Colwick said.

While the open campus policy continued to be closely monitored over the years, Colwick said safety concerns arose. He said at that time, there were discussions about closing the campus. Colwick, who's nine years on the board ended in April 2008, wasn't on the board when it voted on the issue months later.

"The overall benefit that parents are looking for is the safety of their child, and leaving the campus is a safety issue for most," Williams said of why the campus was switched back to being closed.

At least some of this year's high school students don't seem to mind not being able to leave the campus for lunch.

Senior Crystal Bley said she's glad the campus is closed. It reduces the risk of students being involved in car accidents, she said.

"Plus, you only have 30 minutes to eat. You have to eat in a hurry, especially if you could go off campus," Bley said.

Senior Brittany Kennard said she's not upset about the closed campus policy but admitted she'd like the choice to walk somewhere for lunch once in awhile.

"I wouldn't be in that danger of driving, but I have a friend who lives close by, and I could've walked there sometimes for lunch," Kennard said.

The teens also noted by not being able to go off campus for lunch, that could hurt some of the local restaurants' business.

And they found a positive to having shorter lunch breaks. Kennard said: "There's a lot less people in the lunch period so it doesn't take as long to get your food."

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