First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON -- Mary Lindsay Noble, a senior at Lumberton High School, has taken her lunch to school nearly every day since the first grade. But she's even tempted by the school's new cafeteria and its menu.
“They have great cookies,” Noble said. “And even though I bring my lunch every day, I still get a piece of pizza sometimes.”
Lumberton High School's cafeteria wasn't so special a few years ago. Up until the 2000-2001 school year, the cafeteria was virtually the same as many of the students' parents would remember it: A slow-moving line along a counter, where servings of the day's menu items would be handed over as each student passed by.
Not so today.
“That was about the time we merged the ninth-graders into the high school, so we knew we had to do something to accommodate the extra students in the cafeteria,” Principal Greg Killingsworth said. “We have five lunch periods to handle within about two hours.”
But serving the school's 2,200 students in the quickest possible way was only part of the plan. The school, in conjunction with the school district's effort to serve more nutritional meals, wanted to put new items on the menu and inject some school spirit.
The result was a move away from the single-file, single-line shuffle along a food tray assembly line toward a scaled-down version of a mall food court.
When all of the planning, implementing and dust had settled, the new school cafeteria had -- at opposite ends -- Pirate Cove, a serving line that offers hot meals, and The Galley, a line that offers primarily fast-food items. Along with a revamped menu, there is also a window-filled atrium, new seating areas and school-related painting on the walls.
“This is a lot better than we had at Lumberton Middle School,” C.C. Evans, a freshman, said. “There's a lot more to choose from, and it's pretty neat the way it's set up.”
Killingsworth said that, since the new cafeteria was unveiled, a lot more students are purchasing meals there.
“Kids weren't eating lunches before, and that's part of what helped us move in this direction,” Killingsworth said. “A lot of factors affect education, and food is definitely one of them. We're told a well-fed student's test scores can go up by 10 percent.”
Serving up success
Killingsworth said the school now serves about 1,900 lunches per day, an increase of about 50 percent over three years ago. The school also serves about 225 breakfasts each day.
“It really is kind of like a mall food court,” Tracy Sloan, a freshman, said. “It's a really cool setting and there's a lot of variety.”
That variety includes the usual hot meal and a la carte lines, but also features salads, pizza and fruit drinks. One section is set up like a ballpark concession stand.
“The thinking behind the changes was that we wanted to offer students something appealing and nutritious,” Killingsworth said. “And we still had to be able to serve all those students quickly.”
Each of Lumberton High School's lunch periods lasts 25 minutes, and none of the students have off-campus lunch privileges.
“The whole thing is designed to herd them in and
herd them out; we can serve everyone in 10 minutes,” Killingsworth said. “Now, other school districts are amazed we can feed the number of students we do in such a short amount of time.”
That amazement has turned into interest -- interest in how Lumberton High's feat can be duplicated.
“We've had inquiries from other schools districts, and we've had some visits from other districts to see it in action,” Jack Morgan, child nutrition director for Robeson County schools, said. “We may also do something similar in the other county schools.”
Almost inadvertently, the new cafeteria and the short amount of time students have for lunch have created another advantage for school officials.
“It's helped a lot with the discipline problems, too,” Killingsworth said. “The students have to concentrate on getting their lunch and eating, not with who looked at their girlfriend funny or something.”
The school's seniors, who are the last to experience the old cafeteria, give the new cafeteria a four-star rating.
“Versus what we used to have here, it's a lot better,” said Matthew Thomas. “It's easier to know where things are and a lot faster to get through the lines.”
“It's real nice with the different sections,” Noble said. “I think most of the students really like it.”
Among the freshman class, Evans and Sloan said the favorite item in the cafeteria is the cheese fries; the seniors, like Thomas and Noble, prefer the pizza.
“Myself, I really like the jalapeno pretzels,” Killingsworth said.
When Lumberton High School's cafeteria opens, its vending machines shut down. Students can still get vending machine-type items at the concession stand, but also have the choice of fruit items. In addition, not a single carbonated drink can be found in the cafeteria at any time -- despite the fact that the drink coolers are promoting Pepsi.
“A lot of people don't realize it, but Pepsi also bottles fruit drinks and bottled water,” Killingsworth said. “And, to be honest, we sell a lot more water than we do soda.”
The cafeteria also sells milk, teas and sports drinks.
And Killingsworth isn't so sure leaving the vending machines operational during lunch would matter much.
“They're no competition, really,” he said. “Look at what they can get in here.”
Killingsworth said nutrition has been an important buzzword for school districts over the past few years, but the fact that many more students are buying their lunch satisfies more than their appetites.
“Getting them to eat at all used to be a big challenge, so seeing so many going through the lines is a good thing,” Killingsworth said. “But this is also big business -- not so much to make money, but to give students the best, most nutritious meal we can.”