FALMOUTH — With 150 students scheduled to eat lunch at the same time at Falmouth Elementary School, officials would like to have at least five lunch aides on duty to ensure an orderly and safe process.

But with classes starting next week, the school is still short of the help it wants, according to Principal Gloria Noyes.

Falmouth Elementary School is in need of lunch aides as classes get underway next week. Courtesy / Falmouth School Department

Recruiting people to work as cafeteria aides is difficult because most job seekers desire more hours per week than the lunch aide position offers, Noyes said.

In addition, the cafeteria can be a noisy place, and being a lunch aide requires applicants to be fingerprinted, which not everyone is willing to do.

Still, she said, there are benefits to the job, including “making positive connections with the children.”

With 900 students, Noyes said Falmouth Elementary provides six lunch periods per day. Aides are asked to work two-hour shifts that include setting up tables, monitoring behavior using the school’s positive behavior interventions and supports model, ensuring that children are eating, assisting with opening drinks and other food items and helping with clean up and composting.

Noyes said the helpers are also responsible for supporting the transition to recess and ensuring that students with food allergies are seated at a special table to avoid contact with prohibited foods.

She recognizes that “it’s difficult to find people that want to work (only) two hours a day in the middle of the day,” which does “limit the pool of people who can do this work.” Along with regularly scheduled lunch aides, the School Department is also in need of kitchen substitutes that can cover shifts as needed, the Falmouth Nutrition Program website says.

Noyes said while it’s hard to find lunchroom helpers, the district has not tried offering more pay. In a recent post on the Falmouth Elementary website, she said starting pay for a lunch aide is about $13 an hour.

She said in the past, part-time educational technicians often covered lunches, but “we received feedback that it was very hard for them to be in this lively environment with 900 students for two hours and then go back and support student learning.”

Noyes said, “we restructured and now (are) trying to get the lunch aide positions completely separate this year to provide the students with the same five or six adults daily to create more consistency with expectations and the culture and climate of the lunchroom.”

She said it’s simply not possible to ask school staff to cover lunches, although administrators often try to make time to visit the cafeteria whenever they can.

“With such a large school it puts a huge demand on the staff to cover many duties,” Noyes said. In addition to the six lunch periods, the school also has 10 different recess blocks daily and staff also have many arrival and dismissal duties, too. “Our teachers eat their lunch when their students eat or when the teacher does not have recess duty,” she said.

Relying on volunteers to provide lunchtime support it also problematic, Noyes said.

“We love our parent and community volunteers, (but) … the challenge with having volunteers is, we lose consistency with the management of the lunchroom and ensuring consistent messaging for behavioral expectations,” she said.

As school gets underway next week – classes start Sept. 3 for grades 1-9 and Sept. 4 for kindergarten students and grades 10-12  – Falmouth Elementary will also be rolling out a new, complimentary mid-morning snack program.

Each snack bag will have milk, juice or fruit, and a grain-based item, according to Martha Poliquin, the School Department’s food services director. She said the snacks will take into account common food sensitivities.

The goal is to “to ensure that all students are ready and able to learn,” by providing for their overall wellness, she said. “Offering a complimentary snack to any student who needs or wants one, in addition to our breakfast and lunch programs, is one way to do that.”

Poliquin said the snack program was initially rolled out at Falmouth Middle School during the 2018-2019 academic year and said it went so well it’s being offered at the elementary school this fall.

“There are many reasons that a student may arrive at school without having had breakfast or bringing a snack or lunch, reasons not always related to finances or food security,” Poliquin said. “We hope the mid-morning snack program offers assurance to students and families that we are always here to provide for our students when or if the need arises.”

“The Falmouth Nutrition Program is here to feed and nourish our students. That is our mission and our passion.”

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