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September 6, 2006

Locked-in lunches now for East High 9th-graders

A story from Susan Troller and The Capital Times:

Freshmen at East High School will no longer be spending their lunch hours at Burger King or the local convenience store.

A new closed-campus policy for ninth-graders went into effect today at Madison's oldest public high school.

"We're interested in getting our entering freshmen off to a good start," East Principal Alan Harris said as he explained the sharp departure from a policy that had given freshmen through seniors the ability to come and go at lunch time.

About 430 incoming freshmen will be affected by the change.

"It was a scheduling nightmare to get all our ninth-graders taking first lunch (at 11:15 a.m.), which they will spend here at school," Bea Bonet, East's ninth-grade principal, said.

But, she added, "we think it will be well worth it in terms of making sure that the kids are done with lunch in time to get to their afternoon classes."

Older students at East will still enjoy an open campus.

Bonet said the change in policy is aimed at reducing truancy rates among freshmen. She noted that ninth-graders, who are typically not old enough to drive, found it difficult to walk to McDonald's or a convenience store and get back to class within 30 minutes for their afternoon classes. Once they realized they would be late, many said they were reluctant to come back to school at all.

East, which has the highest poverty level among the Madison high schools, was rapped in June under the federal No Child Left Behind law for its 74 percent graduation rate, which does not meet the law's required 80 percent, and also for not meeting requirements in reading proficiency levels for economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

Harris said he hopes that closing the campus at lunch time for freshmen will be part of an overall effort to keep students engaged and in school, leading down the road to improved test performance and, ultimately, graduation rates.

"As my dad used to say, 80 percent of any success is just showing up," Harris said.

"We spent quite a bit of time in the spring working on the truancy issue," he added. "We found that we had our highest truancy rates among freshmen. We heard that they were influenced by older peers, and that it was hard to get back to school after lunch. So we're excited about this effort."

He said that East will be looking very closely at its truancy data mid-year to see if the closed lunch policy is having the desired effect.

Lucy Mathiak, an East parent and member of Madison's School Board, said she was enthusiastic about the change.

"As adults we recognize that students at 13 and 14 may not have the maturity to manage their time and make decisions wisely," she said. "This takes away one big distraction for kids as they are getting accustomed to high school."

Pam Nash, assistant superintendent of Madison's middle and high schools, said that the true open-campus policy that was once widespread had gradually become more restrictive.

"All our high schools are beginning to reconceptualize how we do things. I imagine all three other schools will be watching this experiment very closely," she said.

Published: September 6, 2006

Posted by Ed Blume at September 6, 2006 3:34 PM
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