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Are We Going To Eat Snakes for Lunch?

By Kathy Jordan

Jeff brought his parents into the media center at Open House. I went up to introduce myself to them and as we were talking, I felt that there was some unanswered question between us. Finally, Jeff's mother said, "Every morning Jeff talks about having to come to the media center at noon for snakes. I can't understand what he's saying. I don't know if he needs to bring his lunch or buy it. He thinks he's going to eat snakes. He's probably all mixed up. What is he talking about?"

It was hard not to chuckle as I explained about our media center luncheons. It was a very different concept for these students. Some first graders, like Jeff, were having difficulty picturing just what would happen.

All of the children in first through sixth grades at this school have been invited to choose a topic they like. They are issued an invitation, to eat their lunch in the media center with other children who are also interested in that topic and with me, the media center director.

It's a special lunchtime with interesting people in a quiet place. We have a red and white checked tablecloth, napkins, and a centerpiece. Some of the students in fifth and sixth grade make nametags for each child keeping with the theme of the luncheon. A nearby table holds a selection of books and pictures about the topic of the day.

The students bring their hot lunch, brown bag, or lunchbox into the media center at their normal lunchtime. Introductions take place and then we begin snacking and sharing. Generally, conversation flows as at a party. People listen, share stories, and are eager and polite. Some children prefer to listen more than talk. Some talk more than listen. We all find our comfortable place in a non-threatening atmosphere.

After eating, we clean up and may remain talking or looking at books until everyone is finished eating. Then we move into the sunken pit area for a film, video, or story about the topic of the day. The children usually have ten minutes or so left to get a breath of fresh air and play with their fiends. I can relax a few minutes with coffee, and my friends in the teachers' lounge.

My reasons for starting this luncheon program are several:

1. The tiny teachers' lounge is a crowded place to eat, the cafeteria is too noisy, and going out to eat is too expensive. Why not invite guests into a relaxing place to eat lunch with me?

2. The children at my school are super kids. I only work at this school two days a week, and I want to get to know them better.

3. I believe in minimizing grade barriers. First graders and fourth graders can be friends and can have a lot to share with each other.

4. If I take time to find out students' interests, maybe I can help them find appropriate materials in the media center, help them learn and grow.

5. Perhaps this small thing will help one troubled child realize that school is not such a bad place, and yes, teachers care.

Every luncheon is different, unpredictable, and a real break in the routine. "Bats" was a very quiet lunch with two young boys. "American History" included a larger group of serious readers who shared books all during lunch. "Rabbits" found a delightfully animated discussion about pet rabbits between five children who were normally quite shy. At "Snakes" we played disco music while we ate and talked about the snakes they had caught. The "Teachers" luncheon saw many interesting points raised on why teachers act the way they do. At "Wild Animals" we enjoyed a Walt Disney video of the African lion. We heard the "Monster Mash" at "Haunted House." "Science" was an extremely pleasant lunch with everyone contributing to the conversation. At "Monsters" we laughed a lot.

The students have enjoyed having something special just for them. Videos and stories seem to have more impact when they're for two to ten children who have an interest in the topic. They are able to contribute and share their interests because of the smaller size of the group. It seems possible that manners, self-concepts, oral language, and interpersonal skills may improve through media center luncheons.

Out of 175 first through sixth grade children at this building, 174 have chosen to participate in the media center luncheons on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Many who have already been in for lunch are anxious to come in again, but they'll just have to wait until we get finished with cats, horses, farm animals, deer, ducks, mysteries, dogs, and cars. I love walking down the halls of this building. A few students who have been in for their luncheon come and hug me or hold my hand. Many smile and say, "Hi, Ms. Jordan." Others ask "When's horses?" "When are you having cats?" "What's for lunch this week?" And, "We don't have to eat snakes, do we?"