When I was a freshman, I attended a rambling, old brick high school that covered most of a city block. We had an entire class period for lunch, and I remember those lunch periods fondly. There was no hot lunch program, so my friends and I grabbed our sack lunches and sat under the trees outside whenever the weather permitted. We moseyed over to the little store across the street for candy. We talked and laughed and relaxed, and one of the things I remember best was learning that I could tell stories that made my friends laugh. It was a wonderful discovery and one that I built on in the years to come.
The following year, the new high school opened. There was a hot lunch program, so lunch changed from one leisurely period to three rushed sections of around 25 minutes each. We spent most of our short lunch period standing in line, getting our food, hurrying to the auditorium to eat, rushing to clean up, finding time to go to the bathroom and our lockers, and then getting to class. Lunch period became a hectic time. For my sophomore through senior years, I have no more fond lunch memories. I remember no more lunchtime discoveries about myself.
I think about that when I think about the push lately for longer school days and longer school years. I'm not a proponent, at least if it means simply adding more of the same to the school day. Kids don't need more of the same, in my opinion. But if it means bringing in an emphasis on music, art, physical education, and creative time in the classroom, then it might be different. If it means slowing down and allowing kids to eat, play, let off some steam, and nurture friendships during a longer lunch hour, I can see it. If it means truly enriching the school day rather than simply adding more test drill time, I can see it.
But, sadly, I worry that that's not what proponents have in mind. I'm afraid their eye is on the tests, rather than on the kids and what they might really need. Sometimes a little more time to do a little less can be a good thing.