Opinion: We need longer lunches

With recent schedule shake-ups, a lunch extension seems to be a no-brainer

You emerge from your 3rd-period class. You just turned in a test that went about as poorly as it could have. Tears are streaming down your face, hot with shame and embarrassment, and there’s a stubborn knot in your throat that sends pain shooting through it every time you swallow. “At least it’s lunch,” you think to yourself as you approach the cafeteria. You enter the lunch line, eager to drown your sorrows in cafeteria food. 

And then you wait.

And then you wait some more.

And then you wait even more.

And by the time you’ve made your way through the line and grabbed a slice of cheese pizza as big as your head, it’s just about 1:19, and you’d better start heading over to your next class. You sigh to yourself, take a couple bites of your pizza and start to walk to your 5th period, tears still staining your clothes.

 As it is now, the Oak Park High School lunch schedule is unacceptable. It is insultingly short and hopelessly inadequate for stressed-out OPHS students in desperate need of a break from their long and laborious days; it deals a crippling blow to the school’s club infrastructure and it limits the newly opened Wellness Center’s ability to adequately assist students.

The officially sanctioned lunch period runs from 12:44 to 1:19, providing 35 minutes to get food, eat and socialize if they have time. In theory, the 10-minute passing period offers students effectively 45 minutes of lunchtime. However, students are often lucky if they gain 5 minutes from the passing period. Besides, students shouldn’t have to rely on deliberately designed transitionary times to allow us to scarf down our food.

Recent schedule changes have ravaged the delicate balance between work and play at OPHS. Periods were recently raised to nearly two uninterrupted hours, and the flex time introduced to preserve student autonomy has been implemented with mixed results. Many teachers respect this meant-to-be-free time, but just as many seemingly see it as an opportunity to extend lectures.

Aside from required scheduling, students are often encouraged to take a 0 period, and after-school activities can have students staying on campus long-past sunset. Near 12-hour days are common among the student body, and lunch serves as the only extended interruption from the academically intense rhythm of these days.

35 minutes is insufficient to make up for the toll taken by the long days. Additionally, it often works out that much of a student’s time is spent in the lunch line, which progresses at a snail’s pace due to an epidemic of students saving places for their friends. This adds up to imbue each lunchtime with an unparalleled absurdity. Our one period of prolonged respite is reduced to an exercise of pure survival, resigned to the basest layer of human experience.

Alongside just the time needed for students to wait in the lunch line, activities including lunchtime clubs might increase the need for a longer lunch period for students. 

With nearly 90 officially sanctioned school clubs, OPHS prides itself on having a rich extracurricular environment. However, many of these clubs meet at lunch and are heavily restricted by the period’s brevity.

Club officials generally provide 10 minutes at the start of lunch for students to get food, and end meetings at the first hint of a bell, meaning club meetings are strictly limited to a maximum of 25 minutes. For clubs centered around complex topics such as neuroscience and philosophy, trying to cram any meaningful discussion into this narrow time frame of each meeting is a Sisyphean task.

Student clubs and groups do not only require more time during lunch, but many require classrooms and school spaces in order to function on a week-to-week basis.  

The Wellness Center is OPHS’s shining new addition for the 2022-2023 school year. It is a triumph in the battle against our school’s notoriously high-stress atmosphere, serving as the first clear message for many OPHS students that our administration values student wellbeing. However, it cannot operate at its full potential if lunch hours are not meaningfully extended.

Many students can only find the free time in their schedule to visit the Wellness Center at lunch, but this poses several challenges. Students who feel the pressure of their precious free time ticking away are less likely to stop by, and those that do are likely to find their time cut short by the chime of a bell.

As the debate over a replacement schedule rages on, it is high time we open the long-overdue discussion of implementing a lunchtime extension. By giving students a substantial break, allowing clubs to flourish, and increasing the viability of a visit to the Wellness Center, longer lunches would do wonders to preserve the mental health of OPHS students, all while posing a minimal impact on the school day. Administrators rearrange our schedule seemingly at random. If they can add hours of work to our school day, can they not add an extra 10 or 15 measly minutes of rest?