Yet Another COVID Issue: Where do I Eat Lunch?

How the 9th and 10th Graders got Banned from the Cafeteria

Imagine peeling back tinfoil to reveal two soft pieces of bread with layers of turkey and cheese and getting a waft of a sweet cafeteria cookie.  As you go to take a bite, you realize that you are surrounded by sweaty uniforms and gym mats.  Well, that’s the reality for the 9th and 10th graders trying to enjoy their lunches.

Wrestling Room
The Wrestling Room During Lunch- Where’d Everyone Go? (Julia Blake)

According to the Darien Board of Education, in 2018, the Darien High School Cafeteria underwent an expansion adding 95 new seats to the cafeteria.  With a budget of $1.3 million, the project was faced with several setbacks which added to that overall budget.  The design team went above and beyond creating a sleek design that not only looks better but functions better as well.  Besides adding more seating, the renovation added acoustic upgrades, additional storage, and multi-purpose spaces.  This expansion was the perfect solution until the pandemic hit.

To follow social distancing guidelines, tables and chairs were removed. The problem began when in order to make up for the lost seating, Admin decided to set up tables in the gyms.  The wrestling room, located near the locker rooms, is a dreary place to be.  Not a single window to the outside world is in sight. Makeshift tables are set up for health classes and lunch.  The walls are lined with beat-up CPR dummies.  Harsh fluorescent lights make it feel straight out of a horror movie.  Freshman Isabel Alini said “It’s Stinky.”  English teacher Mr. Ivan Crowther is one of the many teachers assigned to monitor the gyms during lunch.  According to him during the nice weather, “The wrestling room has been empty in terms of students eating lunch.” Sophomore Annelise Enters said “You couldn’t pay me to eat in the wrestling room!”

If you’re lucky, a sophomore might get away with eating in the cafeteria, but campus monitors are on patrol during the busy lunch waves, just like how they search for any juniors who try to sneak in the parking lot.  Seems like there’s a trend: a big lack of “premium” space.  Lunch should be stress-free and simple, but it has become a hectic race for anyone hoping to find a good table. Junior Victoria Carusso said, “I can’t get a parking pass and sometimes I don’t even get a table at lunch in the cafeteria.”  

“You couldn’t pay me to eat in the wrestling room!””

— Annelise Enters, Sophomore

Matthew Hellman, a senior at DHS, thinks there is a possibility for sophomores to eat in the cafeteria.  “It depends on the lunch wave how busy it is.  I think there could be room for at least sophomores in the cafeteria,” Hellman said.  It’s interesting that the students eating in the cafeteria notice the available space, but does Admin?

I had the opportunity to speak with Assistant Principal Mr. Mark Mazzone about the assigned lunch spaces. Mr. Mazzone said he knew eating in the gym “wouldn’t be popular”.  He also explained how the wrestling room “was never the intent” and Administration was  ”expecting to use the North and South Gym[s] like last year” but “there was an unexpected roof leak”.  Mr. Mazzone emphasized that Administration’s “number one goal was to keep everyone in school.” Which reminds me that they didn’t do this to torture us, they have the student’s best interests in mind even if we don’t realize it.  

While assigning lunch waves for the core subjects, Mr. Mazzone said “we knew first and second [lunch waves] were going to be big”.  He also added that “minis got in the way of us being able to pinpoint the number of students in each lunch.”  He explained that many students in mini-free periods tend to eat in the first or second lunch wave, which made them even bigger.  

“Expect changes after quarter one””

— Mr. Mazzone, Assistant Principal

Take heart: Mr. Mazzone also said to “expect changes after quarter one” which makes me wonder if that could mean accommodating more students in the cafeteria.  Although Mr. Mazzone was not able to give me a definitive answer, he said it’s “definitely a possibility”. 

A solution? Many students have taken it upon themselves to find other places to eat.  From the sky bridge to the tables outside of the guidance offices.  While the wrestling room is the equivalent of a dungeon, don’t worry because after talking with Mr. Mazzone I learned that it is temporary.  For now,  if any freshman or sophomores are considering eating in the cafeteria, I’ll warn you that the upperclassmen are not afraid to kick you out!

Here’s another reason we shouldn’t eat in the gym- germs! This Washington Post article gives more details: Your gym is teeming with invisible members: Germs. Here’s how to avoid them.

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