A bell sounds for the first of five short 20-minute lunch periods at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. It’s 10:45 a.m., two faculty monitors stand by the doors, and here they come, approximately 114 teens from all grade levels looking carefully planned casual in baggy layers, sweatshirts, sandals, sneakers, clogs.
And it all happens in slow motion.
No running. No pushing. No shouting, jostling, or any hint of potential for disturbance. It’s just an orderly group walking, sauntering, slouching, a little scurrying here and there as they come into the cafeteria in much the same way they might enter a classroom — quietly and with intention.
There are brown bag lunches and trendy plastic lunch pouches, but many head to the lunch counter where Bernadette (Bernie) Cormie, cafeteria manager, keeps an eye on things. There’s an impressive variety of health-conscious choices: roasted chicken, beef tacos, cheese quesadillas, vegetarian and cheese pizza, salad, fruit, vegetarian wraps and Island-grown steamed corn from Morning Glory Farm. The kids zoom in.
Who sits with whom seems to be established, along with what table they claim. However random it might appear, there is an underlying pattern that suggests otherwise. The kids head for specific tables as if they’ve been reserved for them. Many tables are mix and match integrated, others all girls who all wear their hair long and shiny, or all boys. He-said-she-said conversations are carried out in confidential tones. The kids who sit one or two to a table connect to the world on their phones, looking as if the secrets of life are being texted.
Whatever the grouping, it has a familiar air and stirs old memories of when a social hierarchy and quick-fix teen labels (the popular table, the scholars, jocks, geeks) added a lot of pressure to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Not here. Lunch at the regional high school seems to be just one more stop on a booked-up day. It’s relaxed and calm, even among the kids who are enjoying the sunny morning at lunch tables set up on an outside patio.
So you stand invisible in the middle of the cafeteria having not a modicum of relevance as students move around you. No nod, nor smile, or quizzical stare — nothing for you to do but watch the digital wall screen that flashes bright red-letter names of everyone who is celebrating a birthday today. You will not be sitting at the popular table today.
Island youngsters are a wonderful blend of innocence and self confidence. On the one hand they grow up in a safe and intimate small town environment. Many know their teachers, law officers, bankers and the like in a social context. Everyone seems connected to everyone else. It fosters a comfort level that affects the kids just as it affects the adults. We often take exception to the rules because, after all, it’s us. So we exit where the sign reads enter and enter where the sign reads exit.
But there is a consensus at the high school about lunch period protocol.
Principal Steve Nixon is matter of fact: “The kids are very well behaved at lunch. It’s a break in the day and once the students get into the process they grab their seats and eat. Our lunch periods are very short, 20 minutes, so the kids are pretty efficient in doing what they have to do,” he says.
“The bottom line is that kids behave the way they do because we have great kids here.”