BRHS students are tired of eating on the floor School is in need of a cafeteria
The students attending Bethel Regional High School (BRHS) have no cafeteria to sit down and eat a hot lunch.
“It still blows my mind that we have a high school with no cafeteria and kids eating on the floor and not in sanitary conditions,” said Thor Williams, a parent of a student at BRHS and also a former Bethel city council member.
The school has an enrollment of 294 high school students, according to the Alaska Schools Athletic Association school listing, not including the 7th and 8th grades.
In several issues of the WarriorBeat – the school newsletter for BRHS, there have been op-ed articles about the students wanting a cafeteria.
“A typical lunch period at Bethel Regional High School consists of roughly one hundred students eating their delicious food on the unsanitary floors of BRHS,” wrote (former) student Audrey Leary in the May 2010 edition of the WarriorBeat. “We are one of the few schools in America that does not have a cafeteria for their students to eat in. is this right?”
According to Leary’s article, students were eating lunch at the limited number of tables set up in the lobby. Many still ate on the floor, sitting by their lockers, sitting on the few benches available in the A wing, or even eating outside depending on the weather.
“It is difficult to find a comfortable and clean space to eat our lunch,” she said. “A school is never a proper school unless it has a sanitary place, along with sanitary food, to provide for the people who play a big role in the school. Cramped quarters, dirty floors, limited tables and lunch commuted from another school is not how a school is supposed to be set up.”
Originally, BRHS was built as a boarding school. The cafeteria portion was in the dormitories. The following is a brief interview with BRHS Site Administrator Janelle Vanasse:
Ms. Vanasse: Because BRHS was built as a boarding school the cafeteria portion was in the dormitories and of course it hasn’t functioned that way in a long, long time. So there’s been all these different kinds of attempts at lunches. The good news is we are back to serving a regular school lunch. It is cooked over at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik and brought over. But where we’re at is, we’ve got lots of kids eating a school lunch and we have no place to eat. So they get served out of the concession stand and then they eat in the halls. And now we’re trying to drop the curtain in the gym when we can and give them a little gym space too, but every time we use the gym space we are having to reduce the amount of use of the gym for what it’s meant to be, so it’s been a pretty tough road. Our plan is to get a cafeteria. When BRHS was renovated a few years ago, the kind of money that was provided did not allow for any change in the footprint of the building. So you could not change the building, you could only renovate the existing pieces so there’s not cafeteria now. And since then our Advisory School Board has put it as our top priority. We’ve asked the big board to make it a priority and students have lobbied to make it a priority. So we have currently the LKSD school board, (who) has put it on their request list for state funds, state school funds.
Is there no hope of turning the old cafeteria back into a cafeteria? For a long time after the school became not a boarding school they used that. What they found was kids didn’t go over there to eat and so the reason they stopped using it is because kids didn’t feel like that was part of their school and very few kids would go over there and eat and it actually reduced the number of kids eating a school lunch. Since then that space has been cut out - a board room is part of that what used to be a cafeteria, there’s a classroom that used to be part of that cafeteria, and so even if we tried it wouldn’t be a large enough space. And the kitchen over there, although it can be functional it is pretty… it wouldn’t be the best kitchen to be working in.
Since when did you start going back to hot lunches? We started a hot lunch, I think 4 years ago we tried doing some things, but it was just last year that we were able to do a hot lunch where Ayaprun (Elitnaurvik) is cooking for us and so everyday we can produce a hot lunch. So last year was our first year where Ayaprun was cooking our food for us. They cook our main dish and our vegetable and then its transported in these hot boxes they’re called, and then we have a steam table we put it in and serve it out of.
Are kids eating the hot lunch? We are having about 160 kids eat a hot lunch a day. We used to have sometimes as little as 90 so we’ve increased it quite a bit.
So now it’s up to the LKSD Board to request funding? Well, they’ve requested funding and then my understanding of how that works is all those funding requests for state construction funds are prioritized now at the state level and then the legislature determines how many of those projects are funded.
If they build the new cafeteria, where do you envision seeing it? I would really like it to be between the gym, the A wing area, and the school building on the south side. So essentially if you look where that breezeway is now, on the south side, that would just go out into a big cafeteria there. That way if the community needed to use that space too, the gym and the cafeteria would be pretty close to each other like for Cama-i and all those other activities. It would be just so awesome.
Representative Bob Herron also gave us his viewpoint about the proposed cafeteria:
What are they doing for funding to get that built?
Capital projects – it’s a process and so for that kind of add-on to the school it would qualify under major maintenance and then the school district would submit a project request to the Department of Education and then it would be ranked appropriately. Before I got elected to the legislature I was on the Advisory School Board and that was a request even back then, and so it’s not a new idea and it’s a needed addition to the school.
It’s my understanding that the Advisory School Board forwarded that request to the full board. I think that the process of getting into the State for this upcoming legislature can always happen. A request can go to a senator or a representative, but it would have more strength is if the ASB and the administration took it to the LKSD full board, ask them to put in a request and then in the following year because I think you have to give your submittals during the summer, is that they could put a request into the state and then it would be ranked in major maintenance request. So that’s how it has to be done.
There’s two avenues. It can be a direct request to the legislature, not going into the Dept. of Education process but I would encourage parents, the local ASB, is if that’s what they support, is they make the request to the school district full board and hopefully that board would look favorably on putting a cafeteria in BRHS.
When you were on the ASB, you said it was a request back then, when was that?
I was elected in the fall of 2008, so I was on the ASB in 2007 and part of 2008 until I went to the legislature. So I resigned in Jan 2009. So it’s been around a while – the idea.
The JROTC room used to be the original cafeteria, do you remember that?
That was, of course, part of the regional dorm. Well, they have a plan. They figure they could do it for about $4 million. It’s a big number but if it doesn’t get into a process, then it has a real difficult time. But the cafeteria inside the high school would be a good deal because there’d be parts of the day where it could be used as a multipurpose room. I’d support it.
Currently, on the State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Capital Improvement Projects (FY2013) School Construction Grant Fund Initial Agency Decision list, the BRHS Cafeteria is #12 with a total funding request of $5,128,734. The list was released on November 7th, 2011.