By Mary Sitek
On any given weekday when 11 a.m. approaches, classroom work is suspended. Books are closed, papers and pencils are put away, and lunch and recess are about to begin at St. John the Evangelist School in Duluth.
Down the halls can be heard the prayer of blessing before meals, and then the clamoring for snow clothes commences. It’s time to play or eat, and everyone is ready. Lunch begins.
Each day the teachers of the little ones escort their classes to lunch and help with trays and silverware. Father Rich Kunst reminds them of the “magic words” — please and thank you. The ritual is the same every day as the children find their favorite spots to sit and visit, laugh raucously and sometimes start or settle disagreements with friends.
Sometimes they get reprimanded for the noise level breaking our eardrums or for wasting their food or for refusing to eat anything. Sometimes it’s a learning experience concerning hurting a classmate. They’ve learned that “tattling” is the least favorite solution to a problem (unless it’s really important), and the threat is always the same: “You handle it, because if we have to, you won’t like it.”
Another instruction is an atmosphere of unity: “In our lunchroom (classroom, school, etc.), we don’t call each other names; we help each other, etc.”
The lunch room is a cacophony of voices and stories where food is the least of the things going on. A choreographer could enter and observe the energy and exuberance of our school and create a dance of life spun from the imagination and enthusiasm of our kids.
And something new has occurred this year that hasn’t happened in the past. The fifth and sixth graders, who used to eat during a different time slot, now have the same lunch period as the kindergarten and first grade. They eat in the social hall, separate from the little ones, to give them some privacy. They are, after all, the “big kids.”
One day, one of the sixth grade boys, Andy Stingle, stopped by the kindergarten table to say, “Hi.” Instead of joining his classmates, he just hung out with the kindergarten.
A whole new chapter in St. John’s lunchtime was born. Shining eyes began to turn to the big kids, who one by one started joining their little buddies to share a half hour, show them good manners, pay attention to someone having a bad day and just generally to “hang out” with them.
The kindness and generosity of our fifth and sixth graders to our little ones is truly one of the most beautiful experiences to observe in the lunch room. It is one of our volunteer’s favorite hours of the day. It rivals, she says, working with individual students or groups of students or helping in the office.
Where else does a pastor take time from his busy schedule to supervise the lunch room? Father Rich appears, and the noise level rises by decibels as all of them clamor for his attention.
Soon, at his goading, the food they’re eating takes on a whole new dimension: At his insistence, the spaghetti is angle worms; the chicken fingers become gorilla fingers; bacon arrives from his backyard bacon tree. (We think Father Rich doesn’t have enough to do!) The kids hoot and holler at his imagination, and the little ones fall for the descriptions, wondering what they’re really eating. Father Rich brings a level of fun to the lunch room the rest of us cannot, and we appreciate this gift that is uniquely his own.
Similarly, what principal serves students their lunches every day and then stays to supervise them, because, like the pastor, she, too, wants to be with them? Before you know it, the half hour ends and grace after meals is recited together. Even the kindergartners have it memorized.
Lunch is over. Trays are emptied and stacked, words of thanks to Mrs. Curtis, our exceptional cook, are heard, and the afternoon begins at St. John’s school.
Lunch is the one place that the students come together every day.
It is such a beautiful slice of life, a place different from their classrooms, where their own gifts are given and received in special ways, where they can witness the love and support of Father Rich and Mrs. Fredrickson, and partake of Mrs. Curtis’ tasty lunches. It truly is a special part of the day!
God Made Us a Family
We need one another.
We love one another.
We forgive one another.
We work together
We play together.
We worship together.
Together we use God’s word.
Together we grow in Christ.
Together we love all people.
Together we serve our God.
Together we hope for heaven.
These are our hopes and ideals.
Help us to attain them, O God,
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Mary Sitek is a volunteer at St. John the Evangelist School in Duluth.