A Powerful Idea for a Productive Student Lunch

Guest post by Brad W. Staley

With so many things competing for their time, students often struggle to fit everything into a single school day. As administrators, we want to give them enough freedom to explore a variety of school offerings while still maintaining order.

At Northside High School in Jacksonville, NC, we decided to try something new to afford students more autonomy to make the most of their day. We call it Power Hour: A one-hour lunch period in which students can use the time as they wish.

Power Hour Benefits

We have seen many benefits to this flexible lunch program:

  • Students have more time to participate in clubs and activities
  • Students without after-school transportation can participate in more offerings
  • At-risk students have additional tutoring opportunities
  • Campus-wide visibility is increased as administrators do not hold meetings, parent conferences, or other business during this time
  • Special education teachers can provide more IEP services

We also developed a new program availablelunch at school during Power Hour, which includes character education lessons, guest speakers, student productions, music events, movies, and class meetings. The character education sessions can be made mandatory as a behavior intervention, which can coordinate with a school’s PBIS plan.

Why the Students Love It

The reviews are in, and Northside students are loving Power Hour:

  • Personal electronics can be used for personal purposes
  • Students benefit from increased physical activity
  • Students can take care of business in the main or guidance office
  • Students have freedom to make choices, leading to more individualized opportunities

Power Hour Challenges

As with every new program, we have encountered some challenges along the way:

  • With increased student freedom, new procedures must be taught and reinforced
  • Overhauled procedures take significant time to become ingrained in the school culture
  • Tutoring programs must be structured so students can attend tutoring for all classes
  • With increased student traffic, a detailed teacher duty schedule is critical—see a sample here
  • Feeding all students in 60 minutes poses challenges for seating, wait times, and student supervision
  • Allowing students to eat outside the cafeteria means custodians must have a plan in place to manage trash and students must be held accountable for disposing of their trash properly

In order to maintain instructional time, the school day was extended by a few minutes and class transitions were reduced by one minute. To accomplish this, we worked hard with district-level leadership to coordinate bus times and school begin/end times.

Lessons Learned

During our first year with Power Hour, we came up with several ideas and innovations to make things run more smoothly:

  • We changed to a more specific tutoring structure with a homeroom on Fridays to take care of fee-collection, character education, administrative tasks, and to watch our school news program.
  • We now ring a bell at the halfway point of Power Hour, only allowing students to transition during this time, limiting free movement.
  • We implemented a lunch detention program concurrent with Power Hour—allowing minor behavioral issues and tardy students to stay in class more, which keeps in-school suspension numbers low.
  • Students now wear barcoded ID tags. Scanners were purchased for all high-volume areas (gym, track, weight room, media center) and students must scan into these areas for tracking and accountability.
  • Students with early-release from school now have a second ID card that they must show to the teacher on duty in order to leave campus.
  • Teacher duty stations were changed to add coverage in the most high-traffic areas.

Considerations for Bringing Power Hour to Your School

Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about implementing Power Hour for your students:

  • As with all changes, stakeholder buy-in takes time. The school administration must be willing to persevere to make it successful.
  • Communication is key. Establish a system of regular teacher and student feedback to create a needs-assessment. Take a look at these sample surveys to help solicit feedback:
  • Collect data and use it to drive adjustments. Use these documents as a guide:
  • Identify the key staff who will drive the change and make the logistics possible. These include the cafeteria manager, custodians, district-level leadership, bus coordinators, etc.
  • Visit some schools where there is a similar program happening. The information gathered during our visits was critical to our success.

Some additional resources that we used include an informational slideshow, handbook, and our kickoff meeting/FAQ slideshow. I hope you find these helpful should you considering bringing an initiative like Power Hour to your school.

Now tell me, how are you maximizing instructional time at your school? How can you modify your daily schedule to create additional opportunities for student access to programs? Please share in the comments!

Brad W. Staley is the assistant principal of Northside High School in Jacksonville, NC, and the 2016 North Carolina Assistant Principal of the Year.

9 Comments

  • So glad that Power Hour is working at your school. We have had it for five years now and it is wonderful!

  • Roger Wittaker says:

    Could others who’ve had success with Power Hours weigh in? I would love to implement something like this in my school but can anticipate concerns from stakeholders. It would be great to be able to show other successful examples.

    • We have had Power Hour for five years and have had over 300 visits to our school from folks who have come to see it in action. It is a game changer and I would highly recommend its implementation.

  • Jennifer Simmons says:

    Great job Northside with your Power Hour program! Your post comes at a perfect time as we are gathering information and looking at a possible plan for implementation. The information in your post, and the attached documents, is very detailed and extremely helpful.

    Congratulations on AP of the Year!

  • Marilyn Boerke says:

    Any pushback from parents concerned their younger student would be at lunch at the same time as older students?

  • Clint M. Ross (MO APOTY) says:

    Wow Brad, this is an incredible idea! What an undertaking it must of been, but once implemented, I can see the vast benefits that it entails!

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the resources and the post. Another good example of how we can change the way we do school.

    K. Myers

  • Patrick Frerking says:

    Our school is going “Power Hour” in August 2017! I would appreciate powerpoint and documents which were presented to students for an orientation to the new lunch

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