The school cafeteria is more than just a place where kids eat their lunch. It’s the place where they can socialize and just relax. But for some kids, the lunchroom brings with it anxiety, especially when cliques are in the mix. The decision of who to sit with at lunch can become the hardest one of the day, creating anxiety and making some kids feel out of place and even alone. This dynamic is why some schools are trying out the idea of cafeteria assigned seating.
At the University School of Milwaukee in Wisconsin, kids are randomly assigned to an eight-person table, which rotates depending on the day’s schedule. Each table has a mix of kids from different grades and a teacher who’s there to get the table talking. The idea is for kids to get to know one other and meet new friends, some of whom they would have never spoken with had it not been for the assigned seats.
Is Assigned Lunchtime Seating a Good Idea?
For the most part, National Public Radio (NPR) reports that lunchtime seating at University School of Milwaukee has been getting a positive response from students who say there are no longer kids sitting alone at lunch.
Kari Collins, PhD, director of Mental Health Services at Montefiore’s School Health Program in The Bronx, New York, tells Parentology assigned seating allows kids to talk to colleagues from different backgrounds.
“I think it’s a great idea in terms of developing social skills, opening students up to other students they never thought about talking to,” Collins says. “It offers a lot of opportunity for socializing and growth.”
University School of Milwaukee’s Dean of Students, Charlie Housiaux, recently told NPR “forcing students to get out of their social comfort zones builds relationships that improve the school culture.”
The benefits of assigned lunchroom seating brings have also been witnessed by Jerimya Fox, LPC at Banner Behavioral Health in Arizona. Fox tells Parentology he believes assigned lunchroom seats are beneficial, although those displaced by cliques may be upset in the beginning and there may be some awkward situations.
Fox also says lunchroom scenarios mimic the social interaction of adults. “That’s where kids are learning social cues, when to interact, and when to hold back.”
Can Assigned Lunchroom Seats Help Battle Bullying?
If assigned lunchroom seating erases cliques in the lunchroom and improves a school’s environment, can it also address bullying?
According to a 2017 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 20% of students ages 12-18 experience bullying.
Collins says assigned lunchroom seats help kids learn about people they wouldn’t normally interact with which can help reduce bullying. “They get to see them as real people, not people to bully and stereotype,” Collins says. “When you get to know someone, you get to know them as a real person.”
Fox adds that assigning lunchtime seats also protects kids who may not be the victims of bullying, but witness it happening. “Oftentimes people forget about other kids who witness bullying; they can feel powerless.”
Fox tells Parentology, “At no point do we want children to think bullying is appropriate in any way.” He says kids need to understand and recognize bullying and be able to combat it, address it, and deal with the situation. Assigned lunching seating just may be the step towards making this happen.
Assigned Cafeteria Seating Lunchtime Cliques: Sources
National Center for Education Statistics
Kari Collins, Ph.D., director of Mental Health Services at Montefiore’s School Health Program in The Bronx, New York
Jerimya Fox, LPC at Banner Behavioral Health in Arizona