Buddies Program Brings Companionship to the Cafeteria

Melissa Anderson is always looking for ways to improve her students’ lunch experience – she had wondered if inviting extra adults to eat lunch in the cafeteria would help smooth out the process. As it turns out, she was right on. The idea for the “Lunchtime Buddies” program came to Anderson, the foodservice director of Holdingford Public Schools in Minnesota, about a year ago.

Soon after the Lunchtime Buddies program started, discipline referrals almost vanished, children’s behavior improved, there was less food waste, noise levels were down and students showed more respect for each other and for cafeteria rules. According to Anderson, the students who were the most likely to have behavioral issues during lunch were also some of the most accepting of having Lunchtime Buddies. It became so popular that students were vying to have buddies sit at their table!unnamed

In Holdingford, about 580 elementary school students come through the cafeteria each day. There is only one person specifically hired to watch the 150 to 180 kids who eat lunch at each sitting. Having the  Lunchtime Buddy helps with the number of eyes on students and provides extra hands to help those that need assistance, but also gives them a chance to enjoy social time with the Buddy.

What started out as an event by invitation turned into voluntary participation – and now school staff members are signing up months in advance to have lunch with the kids. Many teachers and staff are choosing to enjoy lunch with their students, rather than in the break room.

According to Anderson, School Superintendent Chris Swenson believes that when you’re having a bad day, having lunch with the kids will cheer you up quickly. Bringing students and faculty/staff together to eat lunch provides a different connection outside the confines of the classroom. All departments and teachers at all grade levels are invited to sign up for lunch periods with current students, those they taught in the past or students they’ve never met.

Since the Lunchtime Buddies’ meal is free, Anderson began looking at outside sources to help pay for the costs. Working with the school principal and the Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports Department (PBIS), she was able to get the program funded until December 2018. Even the Holdingford Lions Club donated over $300 to help fund the program for another four months. Anderson hopes to continue getting great response from local organizations willing to donate funds and the enthusiasm from the staff and faculty to continue to participate!

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