Different Ways to Have Lunch With Students During School

Getting on the school campus during lunch is a great way to hang out with your youth group kids on their turf and meet new kids. I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of kids simply by meeting friends of kids I already know.

Different schools have different policies for visiting students on campus during lunch, but they generally fall into 3 categories (from my experience). If I’m missing any, please let me know.

1. Off Campus Lunch

This is usually the easiest situation: the school allows students to eat lunch off campus. This way, you can meet students at a local fast food restaurant or you can pick them up and give them a ride. Sometimes schools will only allow a certain class off campus (like the seniors), so be aware of different rules like that.

Meeting new students is done in a fairly neutral environment (not really their turf or yours, but it can seem a lot like theirs when they swarm the restaurants). I would suggest mixing your off campus and on campus lunch visits with the intent of meeting new kids.

It’s also generally easier to actually eat lunch yourself in this situation. Bring your lunch on campus doesn’t always work.

2. On Campus Lunch at an Open Campus

kids_at_lunchIf the school does not allow students to leave campus for lunch (like most of the schools where I am currently doing ministry), then getting on campus to visit with them is the next best thing. Generally, open campuses will allow visitors to sign in at the office and go hang out during lunch. Being seen on campus is an important part of outreach, even if you do not talk to the students who see you.

Bringing lunch to the students is another way to make the visit more effective, though it can get costly if you’re buying for a lot of students. Not to mention, you could get mugged by the students!

Some schools straddle the fence between open and closed campuses. One school I know of allows anyone with a background check on file to visit the campus. Generally, the campus is open so long as you have been cleared. Getting the legwork done to get on campus can be a hassle, but it’s well worth it.

On Campus Lunch at a Closed Campus

The hardest schools to get on to are the ones that do not allow anyone onto the campus. The schools in the Los Angeles school district are all closed, often throwing a road block in my way to getting on campus during lunch.

However, I’ve found a few ways to get on campus even at a closed campus:

  • See if lunch clubs are allowed to invite guests. Then you can connect with students at the club.
  • Volunteer to be a lunch aid. Some schools might be open to you helping out with making sure the kids are following the rules.
  • If you volunteer in another capacity (counselor, tutor, coach), the administration might allow you to hang out at lunch as well.

I would NOT suggest:

  • Pretending you’re a student (if you look young) or a teacher (if you could look like a teacher).
  • Sneaking on campus. Usually it’s the kids trying to sneak off!
  • Bribing the person in charge of checking in visitors.

A Special Note on Bringing Food to School

Again, different schools have different policies for bringing outside food on campus. At the local high school, the general answer is “No,” even for clubs, but many clubs and visitors bring food on campus anyway. Use discretion here and follow what the principal allows. Sometimes official rules are overridden by principal’s preference.

If you do have permission to bring food on campus, be sure to bring extra food for others who might want to share with you and the student. Extra tacos from Taco Bell or Jack in the Box are always good options, as well as extra cheeseburgers from McDonald’s or Burger King.

What Now?

If you do not have one, formulate a strategy to visit students at school. Even if you never visit, this information can be helpful to other youth workers in the area. Share what you plan or learn from this experience in the comments section.

Photo by Sgt. Im Jin-min (US Army), on Flickr.

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3 Responses to “Different Ways to Have Lunch With Students During School”

  1. Wow good stuff. I know this is a challenge I’ve had any most youth pastors wrestle with this issue. Some great ideas.

    Would you be willing to share this in a resource library for youth pastors?