Illustration of students eating at a lunch table with an arrow sign that reads, "You"

Main illustration by Jason Ford; (all other illustrations)

Should Your Lunchroom Have Assigned Seating?

For many students, lunchtime is a chance to hang out with friends and take a break from schoolwork. For others, simply walking into the cafeteria each day can be stressful. “Where will I sit?” they may wonder. “Who will I talk to?”

But in some schools, students never have to worry about finding a seat in the lunchroom. That’s because their cafeterias have assigned seating. At Kihei Elementary School on Maui, an island in Hawaii, for example, each class is assigned to a particular table.

“The policy helps kids make friends and cuts down on the chaos of the cafeteria,” says fourth-grade teacher Tracy Kraft.

But not everyone thinks assigned seating is a good idea. Many people point out that lunch is one of the few times during the structured school day when kids can have some freedom. They say it wouldn’t be fair to force students to sit with classmates they may not have much in common with.

Should more schools have assigned seating at lunchtime?

Assigned seating helps kids meet new people.

Many schools have assigned seating to help students make friends and ensure that everyone has someone to talk to at lunchtime. School officials say that’s especially important for kids who are new to their school. 

Plus, many students choose to eat with the same friends each day. Supporters of assigned seating say it encourages kids to branch out and get to know others. 

“It’s good to step out of your comfort zone,” says Suzanne Rice. She’s a former education professor who has studied lunchtime at schools.

Some school officials say assigned seating can also prevent bullying by breaking up cliques that exclude other kids. Another goal is to keep the cafeteria calm and organized. When kids don’t have to scramble to find a seat, they have more time to enjoy their meals. 

Rice points out that assigned seating doesn’t have to be boring. For example, she says, schools could switch up assignments every few weeks.

Kids should be able to eat with whomever they choose.

Many people think students should be free to sit wherever they want in the cafeteria. The typical lunch period in U.S. elementary schools is 25 minutes. Rice points out that this may be the only time kids can hang out with their friends during the school day. 

“If they have assigned seating and they’re separated, then that can strain the friendship,” she says.

Also, opponents of assigned seating say it doesn’t alleviate lunchtime stress for students. For example, kids who are assigned to sit together might not get along. Critics of the idea add that shy students may be uncomfortable sitting with classmates they don’t know. 

Some people have suggested other solutions for making the cafeteria a more welcoming place. One solution is to have students sit at round tables instead of long rectangular ones. That way, everyone can see and hear each other better, so no one will be left out of conversations.

What does your class think?

Should your lunchroom have assigned seating?

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1. Based on the article, what does the word policy mean? What context clue helps you know?

2. In the article, Suzanne Rice says, “It’s good to step out of your comfort zone.” What does she mean?

3. Why do some people argue that assigned seating does little to reduce lunchtime stress?

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