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"Guess Who's Coming to Lunch" at School


Guess Who's Coming to Lunch is a great way for students to interact with leaders whose decisions directly impact their community," Helen O'Neal told Education World. Our guests are often people they read about in the local newspaper, watch on television news, or discuss in the classroom. It's an excellent opportunity for students to hear about the challenges those people have faced.

[content block] The guests ONeal refers to are speakers who meet with parents and students over lunch at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy. O'Neal is a coordinator assigned to the Cincinnati (Ohio) school by the Hamilton County Family and Children First Council, and she works with a committee of staff members, parent volunteers, and representatives from community organizations to make the Guess Who's Coming to Lunch program a success. The speakers -- school officials, politicians, and other invited guests -- gather with the audience in the Parent Resource Center and talk for 15-20 minutes and then answer questions. Everyone in attendance brings a packed lunch. Dessert and beverages are provided.

Some of our guests have grown up in the community, and are great role models, said O'Neal. Students enjoy the question-and-answer period, and the opportunity to interact with guests in an informal, familiar environment. They also enjoy the refreshments!

Some of the most dynamic guests have shared personal stories to connect with the audience, says O'Neal. Those speakers are active listeners who value audience input, and they often display a sense of humor. Each event is advertised in advance on brown lunch bags with the name of the speaker, the topic, and other important information.

Speakers are selected throughout the school year by the planning team, O'Neal told Education World. We attempt to choose people from a variety of backgrounds with various levels of community involvement. Sometimes parents express interest in finding out about a specific resource, and that leads us to an appropriate guest speaker. On other occasions, speakers are recommended by volunteers, staff, and others.

O'Neal has been impressed by the generosity the guests have shown in sharing their time and expertise with the school community. Although originally designed for adults, Guess Who's Coming to Lunch quickly became a vital part of the students education as well, introducing them to political and governmental issues. The speakers also often elaborate on topics that arise in social studies classes. In fact, the high interest in the program has been another pleasant surprise for O'Neal.

It is essential to involve parents, staff, and students in planning the details of any program like Guess Who's Coming to Lunch, she added. For example, the program requires a small budget to cover the cost of light refreshments, and teachers receive a proposed speaker list so they will be able to prepare students for the discussion.

One of our most supportive volunteers is a Holocaust survivor, and most of the parent volunteers are African American, added O'Neal. As [the Holocaust survivor] shared some of her experiences with the parent group, the parents expressed interest in finding out more about the Holocaust. We made arrangements for a visit to a local Jewish museum, and we invited one of the tour guides to be our guest speaker the following week. The rich discussion that followed was solid proof that the program works!