The name Lunch Bunch alone brings a smile to Julie Mumford’s face. Julie’s role as a school counselor focuses on providing mental health resources daily to kids who are going through a hard time. While this is always rewarding, she looks forward to moments to connect proactively with students who may not engage with her otherwise throughout the week.
Lunch Bunch is a social group that gives all students who choose to participate an outlet to build a supportive community within the school outside of their regular friend groups. The group started in 2019 as a way for Julie to get to know Lower Division students and is one of the many ways Park focuses on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in helping students foster positive relationships with their classmates and discuss managing everyday problems. In the past, homeroom teachers would elect a handful of students to participate, but this year, students self-selected, and the program is open to everyone! Over the years, Julie has identified the areas of greatest need for students, and this year has focused on Grade Four as the emerging leaders of Lower Division.
“It’s easier for me to talk in a smaller group and people feel comfortable sharing about anything. I can connect with classmates I don’t normally have the chance to.”A Grade 4 Student
Students join Julie and other classmates for various reasons: a quieter place to talk while eating lunch, some want a small group setting to work through monumental events in their lives, and others want to share their weekend plans and see what their peers are up to, the list could go on. Switching up their weekly routine of assigned seating in the lunch room is a bonus! “Every student in Lunch Bunch uses the space to hang out and connect with peers. There’s something magic that happens at that lunch table!” Julie lets the students guide the conversations and only jumps in to get the group back on track when they have gotten off-topic, as children are prone to do! Julie continues to be impressed with this year’s Grade Four student’s maturity and thoughtfulness in discussing their emotions.
This community encourages students to build relationships with Julie and each other, where they feel comfortable asking for help at any time. Lunch Bunch provides a middle ground where students can be vulnerable and Julie is present to give an adult perspective. She will occasionally share stories of when she was in elementary school, using these lessons to start conversations if students feel particularly quiet. It’s crucial to Julie that students know she is there to help, not to punish or judge them as they ask for advice on talking to their teacher or classmates. “Pre-teens are less likely to seek support as they enter middle school. It is helpful to connect with students preventatively, so they know who I am and that I am always here if they need me.”
“This has helped me get out some feelings I didn’t know what to do with. Talking to people the same age as me is helpful.”A Grade 4 Student
The two Lunch Bunch groups typically meet twice weekly during lunchtime for four to six weeks. Students who participated in the fall were so excited about the program that Julie extended the meetings to ten weeks. “We are creating space amidst the lunchroom chaos, and now there are so many kids that we can’t fit around the table. I’m thrilled that the group is appealing to Grade 4 and everyone is eager to participate.”
The most recent Lunch Bunch group wrapped just before Spring Break, and a new group of students will claim the lunch table this month. Julie is excited about what is next, “I can’t wait to see how this group evolves!”