Making Lunch Time a Positive Experience

Empathy -

Photo of Jessica Norling
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Written by

Jess Norling


Make a copy of this document. Answer each reflection question in 1-2 paragraphs. Save it as a PDF and post it in your district’s collaboration space on


Who are you? How does your identity and role affect how people interact with you?

I am a science teacher and mom.   It makes it easy for people to interact.

Which Empathy activity did you complete? Reflect on how it felt to complete the Empathy activity. Please post any videos, notes, or artifacts from your Empathy activity. 
I talked to lots of students and had them brainstorm with me about the problems at lunchtime.  These are my typed up notes.
Pizza is good but often runs out toward the end of the line
Food is generally better than elementary food
Long wait times (10 to 15 minutes)
You have to run to the line
Two key pad to punch in student number
One problem stops the whole line.
Gum and seagull poop on the ground
Litter everywhere
Seagulls dive bomb and poop on students
Students do not throw their garbage in the can / some cans get full toward the end of lunch
Seating/ tables
Students like eating outdoors, walking and talking or sitting in “Their” spot.
Not enough tables or benches
Want more cover to protect from rain and seagulls,
Really crowded
Courtyard needs more tables
Want covers for the tables
Could tables be wheeled out for lunch?
Need more balls, soccer, basketball, volleyball
Wall ball
Grass is covered in goose poop
Balls go on the roof
Super crowded all in one gym
Can’t hardly move
Overhangs get crowded
Comfortable and warm
Everybody wants to  go inside
You have to wait in line
Need a bigger library
Rain day staggered lunch
Separate 7th and 8th grade lunches using flex
More lines
More key pads
More trash cans
More tables, benches, covered
How do you collect information on students’ experiences, emotions and motivations at your school? What do you do with this perspective?
I talked to small groups and took notes.  There were a lot of students that had the same perspective on the problems.  I then typed up the all of the problems.

Empathy – description of the problem.

The problem that I wanted to focus on was how to make lunchtime be a more positive experience at Thornton Junior High.  I brainstormed with student groups during lunch time as well as surveying three of my classes about the problems they experience during lunch.

Problems with the physical space:  Most students complained about the seagulls which dive bomb them in order to get trash and food scraps on the ground.   There are a limited number of garbage cans.  Garbage cans often get full toward the end of lunch.  Students throw garbage on the ground.  There are only a few tables which are very crowded and very few benches.  The tables and benches need covers for when it rains.  Many students sit on the ground under the overhangs to eat.   There is a line to get into the library because it is warm and comfortable. 

Rain:  When it rains all of the students have to crowd into the big gym, there is hardly room to move.  There are no covers for any of the tables or benches.  There is very little space under the overhangs.

The line:  There is only one line for all of the students and only two key punch machines.  If there is a problem with the key punch the whole line is stopped.  The students spend between 10 to 15 minutes in line.  There is a lot of cutting, where friends allow a group of friends to cut.

Food:  One lunch costs $4.00.  Pizza often runs out toward the end of the line.  Need more vegetarian options.  The salad bar is just a big bowl of lettuce.  The fruit is not good tasting, students claim that it is good about 25% of the time.

Playing:  Students want to have more soccer balls, basketballs, volleyballs.  Students would like to have wall ball.  Balls go on the roof.  The grass is covered with goose poop.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Adha Mengis

Hey Jessica Norling ,

I'm so excited that you use lunch time as a chance to peek into the student experience. I think lunch time is ripe for re-design because there is so much opportunity to bring structure and intention to lunch time. I can't wait to see what kind of ideas you think of during the brainstorm (ideate) phase of the design journey. Thanks for sharing your Empathy reflection!