May 31, 2008

What Should Schools Do to Limit Cafeteria Noise?


Lunchtime for elementary and middle school students means not only food but socializing outside of the classroom. Sometimes, however, noise levels in cafeterias can rise above an acceptable level, making it difficult for teachers and other school aides to keep control.

Schools try to find the best way to let children be themselves and have some freedom to talk but, at the same time, keep control.

Several companies make "traffic" lights specifically for schools to monitor noise levels in cafeterias or at assemblies. The full- size, plug-in lights have a microphone-sensitivity alarm. As the noise level rises, the green "good noise level" light changes to the yellow "warning" light, and when the talk level becomes too loud, the red "too loud" light comes on and an alarm sounds.

South Bay Elementary School in West Babylon, N.Y., uses a traffic light to control noise in the cafeteria. The Long Island school has used the tool for about six years, Principal JoAnn Scott said.

"The intention is not solely to reduce the noise level but to make the students aware of their noise level and for them to take steps on their own" to quiet down, Scott said.

The school uses the traffic light as a skill-learning opportunity, Scott said. The goal is the "transfer of the responsibility to the students and not have the adults be the noise police," she said.

So far it's working. Children have started to "police each other," she said.

But officials from several Bergen County school districts said such electronic monitors aren't necessary.

Edgewater Schools Superintendent Ted Blumstein said the district tried the traffic light years ago.

Officials thought children "would police themselves," he said, but after six months the light was turned off.

"What we found was that some of the older students in elementary school thought it was a novelty" to have the red light go on, "so they would be louder" on purpose, he said.

The district has reduced noise levels in the cafeteria by adding an additional lunch period so there are fewer children in the cafeteria at one time, Blumstein said. Cafeteria monitors also raise their hands to get the children's attention.

Students in the Eleanor Van Gelder School quiet down within 20 to 30 seconds, he said.

The two Hasbrouck Heights elementary schools control excess noise in the cafeterias by having adult monitors raise their hands in the air or sometimes by flicking the lights on and off, Schools Superintendent Joseph Luongo said.

"I would say, the simpler, the better," he said.

When an adult raises his or her hand, it's a "universal symbol" in elementary school to be quiet, he said. Children are taught from kindergarten that a raised hand means to stop talking, he said.

Students usually quiet down in 10 to 15 seconds when they see a raised hand, Luongo said.

Ridgefield schools also use the raised-hand approach, Superintendent Richard Brockel said.

"I've always believed that kids are doing what they do naturally at lunch, which is socialize and get noisy," he said. "I'd rather have them do that at lunch than in the classroom."

Having established rules helps keep the noise level down, Paramus interim Superintendent Eugene Westlake said.

"I think you have to set the standard in September," he said. "Once the children know what their boundaries are, what the rules and regulations are, then they will behave."

(c) 2008 Record, The; Bergen County, N.J.. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.