It often goes without saying that as soon as the 11:07 bell rings, there is an immediate feeling of increased energy in the ambiance of the lunchroom. Excitement, relief, apprehension, and pure hunger flow into the cafeteria in the span of just four minutes as masses of students file into the room. Some of them sit down right away in order to secure a seat at a table with their friends. Others head straight for the infamous wrap line, which seems to always be more than ten students long. No matter your strategy, every student seeks to take advantage of their 27 minutes of freedom.

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During fourth lunch, Patty Croteau and Marie Sharis serve students tasty treats in the vibrant snack bar. (Photo by Oscar Bunting)

What tends to be taken for granted by students, however, is the positive, welcoming environment always present in the cafe. This environment stems directly from the diligent lunch staff.

“The lunch ladies at our school are always willing to help,” said freshman Kelley Ross, “which is something that students shouldn’t just expect to have everywhere they go.”

According to Cafeteria Manager Nathan Langevin, putting this feeling of contentment in students as they enter the lunch room is exactly what the staff is shooting for. “We hope that if a kid comes through and he’s kind of down for the day, the atmosphere in here picks his spirits up,” said Langevin. “We’re all here because we like what we do. We want to put out food that we would eat, and we’re going to put that extra step into that food. We’re just here to have fun and do our jobs, and that is what it’s all about.”

Two members of the beloved cafeteria team are Marie Sharis and Patty Croteau. They spend their day in the hugely popular snack bar. Talking about why the snack room is so prominent, Langevin stated, “It’s a very special place. Patty and Marie are two wonderful people…they invest so much into the students just to know who they are.”

Walking into the snack bar is like a flash from the past although it is a past long before any of the students’ time. Whether it is the rockin’ ’80s music, the retro pretzel display, or festooned walls, something about the room just makes you want to dance. You hear the steaming popcorn popping in the back, the smoothie maker whipping up some delicious combination of fresh fruit and yogurt. What is most audible though is Patty’s Pandora playlist. “They love the music,” said Marie, as “I want You Back” by the Jackson 5 comes on. “We get to know all the kids because we get to see them every single day…and 99% of them are pleasant.”

About a month ago, if you went around asking the students and lunch staff what the most popular item in the snack bar was, they would all give you the same answer: the ice-cream cookie sandwiches. These savory treats were a best-seller for a long time…until tragedy struck. “Those we can’t sell anymore. The government won’t let us,” said Patty, discussing how the dessert can no longer be sold for various health reasons. Despite this loss, there are several other delicious dairy items at the snack bar to satisfy the needs of students.  

Though there are clearly vast amounts of fun to be had in the cafe, there is a lot of hard work to be done. Mr. Messina, a computer science teacher at AHS, said, “Each staff member that I’ve observed does a lot…they’re working really hard getting food to everyone in a positive way, which isn’t easy to do.” Patty and Marie said that the preparation for the days’ lunches is a lot of work. “But we all enjoy working together, so it all comes in nicely and it makes it look like it’s easy,” said Marie.

“[The activity in] this room is constant because kids are always coming in for snacks,” she added. This is different from other counters, which are most active during the first 10-15 minutes of the lunch.

The cafeteria has seen many improvements over the course of the past year. Most noticeably, there is a brand new glass display case showing off all of the snack bar’s most sought-after items, such as the gooey chocolate chip muffins and the warm doughnuts sprinkled with sugar. Another intriguing advancement in the lunchroom is the upcoming release of an app with which kids would be able to pre-order their wraps, a step up from the paper-based system in place right now. The main issue with the current pre-orders is they are limited to fifty per day, a number which they hope to see grow with the release of the app, says Langevin. The release of the app is no more than a few weeks away, said Langevin, and it’s sure to make a dent in the wrap line.

The line problem, however, isn’t a bad problem to have. The number of students at the snack bar and wrap line, among others, shows just how popular buying lunch is at AHS, and it is a number that the cafeteria staff only hopes to increase. According to Langevin, the cafe serves around 900 student lunches every day. “The goal is 1000,” he added. Making these lunches are a kitchen staff made up of twelve people, with another four doing cold production for all eight schools in Andover. Throughout the course of four lunches, the cafeteria goes through eighty boxes of pizza, which translates to about 120 slices being served in each of the four lunches.

Regardless of how well the cafe is currently doing, Langevin still wants to improve.  “We want to be better than every other high school around here,” he said. “Just like in sports, you want to be the best, that’s kind of our theory here…we want to do it right, and do it with a smile.” And according to special education teacher Ms. Meltsakos, this attitude translates well into the food the cafe makes. “When they do the fresh haddock, it’s better than most restaurants,” she said.  

On Friday, May 4, schools across America celebrated School Lunch Hero day: a tradition dedicated to acknowledging the work of your school’s lunch staff. The holiday was created by Jarrett Krosoczka, author of the popular Lunch Lady book series, which depicts lunch ladies as crime-fighting heroes. In past years, there was a popular stereotype going around in the U.S. surrounding ‘evil lunch ladies.’

“It’s gone here, right?” Marie said, jokingly. “We don’t wear those nets, and we’re not mean and nasty.”  

In recent years, people like Krosoczka have been stressing the need to appreciate your school lunch staff. Talking about what the lunch workers mean to Andover High, Langevin said, “I hope we mean something to the school. I hope that they look at us as more than ‘lunch ladies.’ None of these people here are lunch ladies to me.”

The truth is, the hard-working people of the AHS lunchroom are much more than lunch ladies. “Everyone in this school has a positive thing to say about them,” said Cedric Gillette, who will graduate in less than a month. Gillette buys lunch everyday. Why? It is simply good food, he said. The tireless amount of effort they put into making nutritious, quality foods for students and teachers can be best summed up into one phrase: “If we wouldn’t eat it, we’re not going to serve it,” said Langevin.

On the other hand, the lunch staff’s endless devotion to the students cannot be summarized in a paragraph, let alone a phrase. “I’ve been here 18 years and I love the kids,” said Marie, “We treat you kids like we treat our own kids.”

“You are our kids,” added Patty.

When a student is having problems at school, whether it be social, emotional, or other they will sometimes go to the snack bar. This is because they know that Patty and Marie will be there to listen and talk to them if they need, making the room a place of refuge from daily school life. Patty and Marie truly care about the well-being of all the students in the school, which alone makes them, along with the entire cafeteria team, school heroes at AHS.

“So if you ever have a problem, come in here,” said Patty. “We’ll dance with you.”

By Oscar Bunting