Overcrowded schools also mean overcrowded hallways and lunchrooms. Maintaining control as students congregate and socialize in crowded areas can present a problem; solving the problem offers schools an opportunity to involve the larger community and to improve perceptions of what goes on in those schools.
Crowded hallways and lunchrooms are common at the middle- and secondary-school levels -- simply because students are larger and because it is the nature of adolescents and teens to travel and socialize in groups. Since many schools house far more students than they were designed to hold, areas such as the lunchroom pose a supervisory challenge. Without adequate lunchroom space to serve all the students, and with no vacant space in which to transition students between four 30-minute lunch periods, we needed to find a way to enable teachers to have their own lunch breaks while maintaining adequate adult supervision in areas where students eat and congregate. For budgetary reasons, hiring part-time workers was out of the question.
The Solution:Everyone deserves a lunch break. To ensure that our staff members had time to eat their lunches without supervising students, we enlisted the assistance of a core of adult volunteers from our community to supervise student lunches. Some volunteers help one day a week; others commit to one day a week, but also pop in on other days. Armed with walkie-talkies and an identification badge, the volunteer monitor areas where students congregate during lunch. If students become disruptive, the volunteers are trained to radio for an administrator's assistance. We don't expect our volunteers to be any more than eyes and ears.
The volunteers' presence has made an amazing difference! Students recognize the school board member who monitors the lunchroom on Tuesdays as Tommy's mom. Others see the community person who volunteers on Wednesdays and Fridays as Pastor Chris from the local church. The Monday volunteer is Susan's grandfather. The Thursday volunteer is Sara's mother. Another Tuesday volunteer is Mel, a local businessman and the soccer coach for many of the students. Students know that the adults are in the area keeping an eye on things. Many students take a moment or two to chat with the volunteers. To the students, the volunteers are mentors and role models as well.
Often, educators think that volunteers are best suited for assisting with classroom projects, helping with mailings, or distributing textbooks, lockers, or pictures. Parents and community members will volunteer for other activities, however, if you ask them to perform a specific task and train them to do that task.
Bringing in volunteers to assist in monitoring our lunchroom and hallways has had many unexpected benefits. As parents and community members, the volunteers gain a firsthand perspective on what goes on in our school. The volunteers, in turn, strengthen our community's perception of our school; they share with the wider community accurate information about all we do to make our school a place where students feel safe as they grow and learn.
About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. Six principals comprise our How I Handled team; two of them are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals. Team members remain anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.