Cafeteria Cry for Help


Leah Valencia

GTJHS Cafeteria

Governor Thomas Johnson is only one of many high schools across the county affected by cafeteria understaffing. The lack of staff combined with the dense student population and minimal cafeteria space has made it take a long amount of time for students to receive their lunch. Principal Kibler said that there are approximately 500 students per lunch shift, which she gave as a reason as to why Patriot Hour has not yet been brought back. She states serving “2,000 in 55 minutes” is “not going to work”.

Students have expressed their frustration with the long lines. One student, Eli Lubanga, stated that even “towards the end of the lunch shift it’s still long”, while another student Natali Camacho commented by the time she gets to the front of the line, “I won’t have time to eat and I’ll end up eating in my classroom”.

Principal Kibler stated that GTJHS does not hire its own bus drivers and cafeteria staff, and they are instead hired by Transportation or Food Services. She stated, “We know we need more people back there but we don’t have the power to hire them”. The cause of the shortage is a combination of lack of funds and human interest. The pandemic has been a major factor, as many bus drivers and food service workers were laid off and had to seek out other jobs to financially support themselves. According to Kibler, kitchen staff workers left to work in the restaurant industry, or in hotels and banquet facilities. The pay rate has increased this past year as an incentive, which has helped but human interest is still lacking.

Robert Kelly, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at FCPS, weighed in on the understaffing issue. He confirmed the understaffing is “an issue happening across FCPS, some schools are very understaffed”. He also mentioned that the positions for cafeteria workers are advertised on the FCPS website page, and while interviews are being conducted, “we are still looking”.

Some students are unaware of the issue, and believe understaffing is not the biggest factor in the time it takes to get their lunch. Lubanga commented, “…we actually do have a lot of cafeteria staff, more than we’ve had in the last two years…because of the pandemic…people are coming back into the workforce”. Another student, Paul Orejimi, stated, “It is an issue of space”.

A solution has not yet been reached, but students have weighed in with their own suggestions. Lubanga suggested “A bar. As in picking your own food and then you go up and pay for it.” Orejimi said that an “order system” could be implemented, where one can “say what you want prior… then they [cafeteria staff] can just give it”. He also suggested prepayment, because, “having to put in your pin takes time as well”. Students have different perspectives of the problem and therefore different approaches to the solution. Camacho said it would be better if “the school can maybe add another line or another place to buy lunch”. She stated it is an issue because “the hallways always get so crowded there are a lot of people cutting the line”.

Kibler had her own suggestions. She said that, “In my ideal world, we would have three lines open and an al-a-carte line for like snacks and drinks and those kinds of things so kids wouldn’t be cutting in front”. She also proposed a long term solution: an internal work study program. This would mean that seniors would find work within the school system. She admitted how it would not work if they were employed in high school cafeterias, but stated that “our middle schools and elementary schools could certainly employ our seniors”. This would be beneficial because it would both work with their school schedule, and the pay would be better in comparison to “Roy Rogers or McDonalds”. Kibler said that she suggested this “this time last year”, so there is still much progress to be made to solve this understaffing.