At Weatherford High School, lunch is a big thing.
In fact, it's a mega-thing.
Every day from 11:35 a.m.-12:35 p.m., every student in the school takes lunch at the same. EVERY student, more than 1,700.
And while it might seem like begging chaos to strike, it's quite the opposite. The halls are quiet, students are visiting with indoor voices, studying, playing games in the library, and in some cases, even napping.
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"I love Mega-Lunch (yes, that is the official name)," said senior Lady Kangaroos basketball player Anna Jefferson-Polk. "It gives you an opportunity to go study and catch up on your school work. Being an athlete, if I miss a day, I can use that time for makeup work.
"You can even sleep, and I do that. The library has those stretch-out chairs, and if you get there early enough you can get one."
Most schools have staggered lunches, such as A, B, C, etc. Even the smaller schools do this, with a few exceptions, such as Brock, but they only have about 400 students in their high school.
Southlake Carroll has a single lunch for their senior high school, but that is only for grades 11-12. Crowley and North Crowley have something called the "Power Hour," where all students go at the same time, but they are also smaller schools than Weatherford, which is in Class 6A, the state's largest enrollment classification.
The plan is very successful at WHS (and at the Ninth-Grade Center, which has around 600 students) for a variety of reasons, perhaps most notably for education purposes. There is only so much time in a student's day, and the Mega-Lunch allows a little more time for tutoring and studying.
"At the end of the day students have so many obligations," said Andy Smith, WHS dean of instruction. "The more we can do during the day to help them have more time, the better it is for our students.
"We have athletes who are busy after school and sometimes miss days for games, for example. This is a way for them to make up work without having to miss a practice. Same for students are in various clubs, band and theater."
In fact, some of the clubs will meet during Mega-Lunch, Smith said. When it comes to today's busy student, any opportunity to save time is important.
R.J. Rodrigue, associate principal at the Ninth-Grade Center, helped research Mega-Lunch and get it started in the Weatherford ISD four years ago. He said the idea arose from watching something similar at a ninth/10-grade center in the Lewisville ISD.
"I remember thinking, man, this is the kind of school I want to work at," Rodrigue said. "And now we're doing it here, and doing it quite well. We're real proud of it, the community is proud of it."
Teachers love the Mega-Lunch also. Just as it helps students with extra study time, it helps teachers get ahead in their obligations while giving them the chance to do a little extra for their students.
"We're doing one period of tutoring, but on days I don't have it I open it up so students can have that extra time," said Heather Boisjolie, a teacher. "It is also good for kids who might not otherwise ask for help because they don't want to lose their free time with a shorter lunch."
Boisjolie said Mega-Lunch also creates a more relaxed student.
"My afternoon classes, I can tell they have that de-stressed feeling, they're more focused," she said.
Assistant Principal Jennifer Shifflett said Mega-Lunch is great for the students on a social level.
"For the kids who have to ride the bus or work after school, they are limited on time they can spend interacting socially. In some schools because of this they don't have time to be social, and kids need that interaction," she said. "Spending time at lunch with a sweetheart or a best friend can make a big difference in a student's day.
"And, if there's something they're really passionate about, this is the time to focus on that, such as the guitar or ping pong club."
Smith said the library offers games for students to play, and, of course, there's always reading.
"They had a Yatzy Tournament the other day," he said.
"Sometimes it's just about personal time," first-year principal Doug Funk said. "There are kids out there, they have one or two close friends, and it's important to them to have that time together.
"We want kids to be comfortable. They can sit down with friends, talk about their day."
Senior football player Tre Johnson moved to Weatherford from Florida. At his former school he was given 30 minutes for lunch in a staggered system. He couldn't believe his eyes when he first heard of Mega-Lunch.
"I said, we get an hour, for real?" he said, chuckling. "It's always good time to have that extra time for the books. If you don't make the grades, you don't play.
"They even open up the gym if you want to go in there and play basketball or such."
Senior volleyball player London Austin-Roark said sometimes she and her teammates will take advantage of Mega-Lunch to strategize for their next match.
"We'll get together and eat lunch and go over things," she said. "And other times, it's just great to have that time to be alone. Being in athletics, there is not much alone time."
Sophomore Aaron Witcher likes to just walk around, get some exercise, and visit during Mega-Lunch.
"It's a great time to say hi to friends and just hang out," he said. "And it's nice to have that extra study time if I need it."
Rodrigue said you never know what you'll see during Mega-Lunch. At the Ninth-Grade Center, he even had some rodeo team members working on their roping skills during the hour.
"Every day they were out in the hall roping a chair," he said.
Speakers are sometimes brought in for Mega-Lunch.
"When we first started it on the senior campus, we had about 25 speakers that first year," Rodrigue said. "We even had a Holocaust survivor speak."
Students are not allowed everywhere on campus during Mega-Lunch. There are some restrictions, but they understand them well and despite the amount of students with the same free time, few problems arise.
"We explained it was a privilege for the them, and the kids get it that's a partnership," Rodrigue said.
In fact, Funk said the ultimate success of Mega-Lunch is up to the students. They police themselves, knowing it can be taken away as quickly as it was granted.
"I didn't like it immediately. There's 1,700-1,800 kids running around doing God knows what for an hour?" he said. "That's what I thought at first.
"But it creates a better climate. The kids do a great job of self-policing, and teachers play a critical role in making this thing work. I think it also says a lot about the parents, the way they're raising their kids."
Funk was toying with the idea when he was principal in Red Oak before coming to Weatherford. It was Smith, who was also at Red Oak then, who gave him the idea after visiting Plano and Richardson and seeing the program work there. He also said it is successful in San Marcos.
"I'm infatuated with it," Smith said. "And it works. I've got all these kids roaming free, and 99 percent of them are always where they are supposed to be. You'd think they'd leave trash, but they don't.
"I was wanting to do this at Red Oak."
And, according to Funk, it likely would have happened at Red Oak had they not come to Weatherford, where it was already a reality.
"At first I said to Andy, 'You're out of your mind," he said, laughing. "And then, before I came here, I was talking to Kristy (Dowd, former principal), and she kept saying Mega, Mega, Mega. Then I figured out what she was talking about. I called Andy and said 'We got Mega-Lunch. He said, 'I'm on the way.'"
So why don't more schools do this? Smith said given the success at the places where it is happening, he can see it expanding.
"I think there's a fear factor, and you have to look at your clientele, your student population and what they can control," Smith said. "It definitely works here."