The West Tisbury School’s community lunch is bustling. The gym is full of rows of long tables each set with plates, flatware, real glasses and linens. And music is being played by recording artist Willy Mason, he’s headlining this gig. It is his alma mater after all.
The entire kindergarten through 8th grade is here, that’s 350 students plus about 100 staff, and 30 parent volunteers, many of whom helped cook.
The West Tisbury School does two of these community lunches a year. Chilmark School does them too. It seems like it’s becoming a trend.
Besides its festive atmosphere, I asked the principal of the school, Donna Lowell-Bettencourt why would you change up a fairly rigorous lunch schedule for 350 students to have them all eat together instead? Because, I can see its lot of work, kind of like herding cats.
"Right now the way we split our school is kindergarten has their own lunch, first and second grade, third and fourth grade, fifth and sixth grade and seventh and eighth grade. But an eighth and a second grade student sitting next to each other,” Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt said.
She added, “Anything like that where you can bring the kids across grade level together it’s really what we’re trying to do. But to bring everyone together is a huge gift.”
It’s a heart-warming scene to watch as the little ones find their way to their tables and the big ones greet them.
On the Vineyard, 40% of the public school students receive free or reduced lunch.
This lunch is no different it costs the same as any other school lunch, that’s $3 and even though it’s special the school can swing it because a lot of the local food is donated.
At my table, 6th grader Rodeo from Aquinnah is our expeditor. His job is to run the food from the kitchen.
“I think we’re waiting for a first grader, right? Yeah that makes sense. We got kindergarten, second, third, fourth, seventh and sixth so I don’t know either a fifth grader or a first grader,” Rodeo said.
He added, “It’s all mixed up for different grades so different people will get to meet each other that’s kind of the point cuz like middle-schoolers are so far away from the kindergarteners so it’s a chance for everyone to get to meet each other and meet new people.”
Today’s lunch is home cooked and served family style out of the cafeteria. Island grown chicken, kale and other vegetables from the school garden and from the gleaning program that were processed over the summer, then frozen until needed, are all part of the menu.
This all made me wonder, how do you throw an all-school community lunch if feeding the whole community is daunting, or maybe your school cafeteria isn’t cooking from scratch and Willy Mason is booked on tour? I asked Rodeo, if you were going to talk to students at other schools, if they wanted to do this what advice would you give them?
"You definitely have to be willing to do it. So if you wanted to do it, like be willing to take time to help out. It wasn’t that bad you know we had our amazing chefs cooking the food and then we helped make nametags for everyone, we helped set the tablecloths. But as long as there’s sort of a plan set out you just have to do what you need to do.”
I asked what he’d say to a school or kids at school that didn’t have as many farmers around.
"It really helps having farmers but school, you know, we have our own garden, we get a lot of stuff from there, and it doesn’t really matter, it’s just how much you want to do it and if you’re actually dedicated to it.”
There are new foods that he’s trying because of the event too.
“I really like the salads. I love Brussel sprouts and I tried some of the sauce so I just sort of mixed and mashed.”
I then asked him if he would want to keep doing this here? Or if he’d take it to the high school.
“I think it would be great if all schools and not even just schools but if communities did this.”