Underused Power-up Hiding in Plain Sight

It’s noon, and most of ACA is going on break. Ann Heppner isn’t. Instead, she’s preparing for what many ESes describe as a “tremendously helpful” class, one that can be “miraculously beneficial” for students’ grades. Mrs. Heppner walks into the classroom and greets her  two-person class. This is business as usual for any one of ACA’s “Lunch and Learns.” 

The Lunch and Learn program has been around for several years. Mrs. Heppner and Mrs. Monte started it in 2016 to help students who needed individual instruction. The program has grown into a time-tested, easily available, and free resource that both teachers and students have credited as a source of increased grades and reduced stress. Despite this, teachers continually report low attendance.

The average ACA Lunch and Learn has two or three students, with frequent instances of single-student classes, according to Science teacher and ES Denise Monte. Although some departments do better than others— Mrs. Heppner says there have been cases of ten or more kids in a science Lunch and Learn— the spotty attendance overall has prompted the school to close some branches of the program. Mr. Wynne ran the history Lunch and Learn last year, but said Admin had to shutter the program as well as the language arts branch because “there wasn’t a huge demand for it.”

All teachers and ESes interviewed agreed that Lunch and Learns are a great asset to those who use them. In an email, Science teacher Julie Pen was direct: “I KNOW that it positively impacts their learning and improves their grade, because they are able to get individual —and free— help. Private tutoring is expensive… (and) teachers are compensated for the extra time they spend teaching students.”

Students who take advantage of the program are equally positive.

Students who take advantage of the program are equally positive. Gracelyn Pen, a sophomore who frequents Mrs. Whittet’s Monday and Wednesday math Lunch and Learn, said the program has “been extremely helpful for me. It is great to have a few extra minutes of instruction since math is harder than ever for me this year.”

“For students to ignore the opportunity of Lunch and Learn and expect to ‘catch up’ with a teacher at another time is a bit unreasonable,” said Mrs. Heppner. Sarah Head, ES and teacher, noted; “I have students who need to attend Lunch and Learns, and, well, don’t,” while Mr. Wynne said, “I often recommend that students attend, but I feel they rarely follow up.” 

“I think a lot of students tend to avoid Lunch and Learn because of other commitments, (e.g. clubs or friends), said Gracelyn, continuing: “Kids who buy school lunches on a particularly busy day often don’t have much lunch time left in general by the time they have their food. I speak from experience; once I couldn’t attend Lunch and Learn simply because lunch was over when I got my food.”

“Students,” Gracelyn noted, can “struggle to ask for help. That can happen for a variety of reasons, whether they don’t want to acknowledge that they need help, they’re not sure how to get it, or they think it won’t make a difference.”

Mrs. Head theorized that direct invitations can help get students on track— a sentiment Gracelyn echoed: “Mrs. Whittet invited me to Lunch and Learn after I started getting frustrated. Once that door was opened, I had no problem getting the help I needed.”

Mrs. Swanson stated that the Administration has limited ability to rope students into the program. “It is optional, after all. What we need are student voices. No students are going to say they love it, but they can help others take advantage. We can badger you guys to do this all we want, but to a certain extent it’s up to you. We have to develop your ability to get help for yourselves when you get out into the world.”

“Lunch and Learn benefits students and benefits teachers,” says Mrs. Heppner. “Our goal is to teach students, and the Lunch and Learn helps us support students in learning.” 

Admin say there are no plans to further shrink the Lunch and Learn program— for the few who use it, it will continue to be a resource for learning and a recourse for focused work in an otherwise bustling school.


Holland, Drew. “Re. “A Question for the Charter.” Received by Tazwell Brandabur, 11 October. 2019

Monte, Denise. Personal interview. February 19th, 2019.

Swanson, Julie. Personal Interview, 13 Nov. 2019

Head, Sarah. Personal Interview, 13 Nov. 2019

Pen, Julie. “Re. “A Question for the Charter.” Received by Tazwell Brandabur, 11 October. 2019

Heppner, Ann. “Re: A Question for the charter.” Received by Tazwell Brandabur, Nov 13th. 2019.

Wynne, Chad. “Re: A question for the charter.” Received by Tazwell Brandabur, Nov 13th. 2019.

Pen, Grace. “Re. Lunch and Learns.” Received by Tazwell Brandabur, Nov 13th, 2019.