Outside the lunch box


April 14, 2011, 12:35 p.m. | By Claire Boston | 8 years, 8 months ago


Lunch bunch

Even when her class isn't in session, guitar and chorus teacher Norma Abdul-Rahim's room is rarely quiet. Throughout fifth period lunch, music permeates the air as guitar players strum in corners of the spacious classroom. Other students crowd into Abdul-Rahim's office to watch YouTube videos and chat about everything, from music to their personal lives.

This is Abdul-Rahim's "lunch bunch," a group of her chorus and guitar students who regularly spend their lunch period in her classroom. Attendees estimate that between six and 12 people show up in the classroom each day, and agree that it is a relaxing and fun way to spend their 45 minutes.

Freshman Kemari Bigbie joined lunch bunch at the beginning of second semester, seeking a community when he no longer had the same lunch period as many of his friends. A dedicated guitar student, he spends as much time as he can playing. Though Bigbie only picked up the guitar at the beginning of the school year, he is now playing as much as possible and says he savors the additional 45 minutes of playing lunch bunch gives him each each day.

Lunch bunch attracts a diverse group of students — a variety of grades, races and programs are represented in the eight students who sit in a loose circle and concentrate on their guitars. Abdul-Rahim moves from student to student as she eats, leaning in to listen to a student practice a new section of music for a minute, then praising another on a smooth chord progression.

While it is Abdul-Rahim's first year teaching at Blair, she also held lunch bunch where she formerly taught. She says this year's lunch bunch began early in first quarter, when students began requesting a place to practice and receive homework help. Gradually, students began to show up just for fun as well. And they enjoy the experience enough to keep coming back. "Even if more of my friends had my lunch period, I'd still come here," says Bigbie.

Junior Chandani Hangilipola still spends some of her lunch periods in the SAC with friends, but there are weeks when she says she will come to lunch bunch three or four days a week to sing and catch up. She says she enjoys the casual environment and chance to bond. "Ms. Abdul-Rahim knows how to relate to the students. It's an easy connection and you're not intimidated," she says.

Tricks of the trade
Sleeping and walking the dog are only the beginning of Senior Neel Kar's tricks. Casually pulling a blue yo-yo out of his pocket during sixth period lunch, Kar sends it spinning with a flick of his wrist. In a swift maneuver a moment later, he's twisting the string in a series of complicated loops, his yo-yo whizzing continuously.

Kar received his first trick yo-yo at age seven and has been practicing ever since. He brings his yo-yo to school in an effort to work in a few minutes of practice during lunch. While he generally practices by himself, his skills often pique the interest of others. "It attracts a crowd," he explains modestly.

While Kar generally practices alone, junior Enoch Hsaio often brings friends when he practices diabolo at lunch. Diabolo evolved from Chinese yo-yos, and involves juggling and throwing a spool with string attached to two sticks. Hsaio began diabolo in Chinese school, where he was on a team and learned tricks and routines.

Now, Hsaio has begun teaching is friends his skill and even started a diabolo club at Blair. During his lunches, he practices outside and teaches his friends the basics as well. "It's fun to perform and fun to teach," he says. "It's almost relaxing."

Unlike Kar, who can practice yo-yo in the SAC, Hsaio does diabolo outside. Because the art involves throwing the spool high in the air, Hsaio has to take to the less trafficked fields and sidewalks of Blair to avoid setting off sprinklers.

Hsiao says that his choice of practice location generally attracts less attention from casual onlookers. Attention, he maintains, isn't his goal. "It's a hobby of mine, and I do it to take my mind off of other things," he says. "So I don't look for an audience."

Kar, who is working to bring his skills to a competitive level, says he welcomes occasional lunchtime attention. "I'm just trying to practice, and sometimes it's good to have pressure to perform well," he says.

Flying high

Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

Just off campus, a secluded section of trees boarders a nondescript portion of Beltway sound barrier. The area is populated by mostly homeless, save for the occasional group of Blazers who take a few minutes out of their lunch periods to get high.

Despite the stringent closed-lunch policy, for some students the key to an enjoyable lunch period lies just outside Blair's 42 acre campus. Cautious Blazers intent on minimizing their chances of being caught by security cameras or wandering students know that their chance to get high without consequences is just a short walk away. For these students, smoking weed at school is an opportunity to make the rest of their day more entertaining.

Adam, a sophomore, estimates that during the first semester, he walked to the "the village," what these Blazers call the area, two or three times a week in order to get high with friends. While he smokes at school less frequently now due rumors of arrests at the village, he says coming to class high after a lunchtime joint makes his afternoons more engaging. "[Class is] funnier," he explains. "You feel more attached to what is being said and it's deeper."

While his friend Kevin, a junior, is quick to share anecdotes of Adam's revealing in-school behavior after getting high at lunch, ("One time, he came back talking about vampires and bats.") Adam says he doesn't worry about being caught at school while high. "We have really chill lunches here. People can tell, but no one cares," he says with a shrug. Instead, he maintains that the biggest risk of smoking during lunch is merely being caught leaving campus.

Mealtime masterpiece

The most distinguishing aspect of ceramics teacher Jonathan Verock's classroom is the sheer dirtiness — clay is everywhere. It covers the tables and it's tracked on the floor, rendering the white tiles a dingy red-brown. But the most dedicated ceramics students have no trouble getting a bit messy in order to work on their art.

Verock's classroom may be tucked away deep in the arts hallway, but his door is always open. Verock has held open studio time for his ceramics students nearly every lunch period for the last four years. He can rattle off a long list of regular visitors — students who regularly come for part or all of their lunch period in order to work on pieces for their ceramics classes or just for fun.

Senior Dennis Li is one regular during lunch. He began taking ceramics during his sophomore year, and found he enjoyed the class enough to devote more time to the art. "I got hooked. The more I took it the more I liked it," he explains.

Li, who dabbled in studio art previously but now focuses primarily on ceramics, says he is drawn to the art form in particular because of its quick hand-on nature.

Sophomore Rosnie Malayo, who has been taking ceramics for the past two years and says he works on his pieces regularly through lunch, says he is attracted to clay for its artistic potential. "Doing stuff with your hands is more free. Clay is a really easy medium to express yourself," he says.

While Malayo works on a piece for his Ceramics 2 class, Li sits at a wheel, carefully shaping a set of bottles. His dedication has begun to pay off — literally. He recently sold his first piece, which he made in the studio during lunch, at an auction.

Puzzle project

Four Blair teachers enter the room at the same time, and suddenly, the race is on. It's mostly silent, and physics teacher Bob Donaldson, math teacher David Stein and IT Systems Specialist Peter Hammond focus intently on the task at hand. Just one minute and 43 seconds later, they're done with the entire Monday New York Times crossword puzzle.

Donaldson, Stein and Hammond are far from professional puzzlers— but they do have a team name. Known as the Blair Puzzle Project, Donaldson, Stein, Hammond and additional members social studies teacher David Swaney and physics teacher James Schafer, meet at the beginning of fifth period lunch in order to complete the daily crossword puzzle.

While Stein and Donaldson had been doing crossword puzzles together for years, Stein says the formal project began two and a half years ago, when he needed a large data set to use for the statistics class he teaches. A fan of crossword puzzles since college, he recruited his colleagues and they formed a formal group, working together each day to complete the puzzle as fast as possible.

Stein says he can't fully explain what draws him to the puzzles. "I like putting things in little boxes," he jokes.

The Puzzle Project meets daily, but rarely for long. It's not uncommon for the members to tackle a Monday puzzle in under two minutes, or a Friday puzzle in under six. And in the digital age, the members can even work apart. To solve the daily puzzle, between two and five members log into a virtual room— no hard copy of the paper required.




Claire Boston. Claire Boston aspires to one day be as cool as Grace Coddington, Meryl Streep and Zelda Fitzgerald before she went crazy. Claire's interests include wearing neon tights, shunning serial commas and coming up with nicknames that distinguish her from the two other Claires on Silver ... More »

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