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ThreeSixty: Doing lunch: at Patrick Henry students mix it up

At Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, you can learn a lot by watching who sits with whom during the lunch half-hour.FROM THREESIXTY


It’s 12:40, yet another day at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, and the bell is just ringing for lunch. We walk into the lunchroom and see groups of kids rush into two lunch lines, anxiously pushing and talking passing the time while waiting to get their food. We see the vast diversity of Minneapolis public schools, even in the tables that can be called ‘Asians’, ‘Jocks’, and ‘Goths’, but at lunch, it looks like one big mob. We smell a combination of over-cooked food and sweat. Half an hour. That’s it. Thirty minutes to get in line, be pushed around and eat. This is our only break, our only social time.

The misperceptions and realities of high school all come to life in the lunchroom. Our school is half African American a third Asian and 13 percent white and the smaller groups are Hispanic and Native American. There are distinct tables — specific groups of friends that hang out with each other. But at least in this public school we divide more by interests than by race. And when there are fights they usually come from personal dramas- he said-she said- than ethnic tensions.

The lunchroom tables are crowded. Most of the conversations are too loud to hear and friends are laughing and play-arguing in their little groups. There are the Asian table, the “black” table — ones who cheer-play basketball, or rap, the Goth kids, the nerds, and the “Northeast” table. 

Separated not by an ocean, but language and culture, the Asian table shares similar interests and lifestyles. They wear American trends such as Hollister, American Eagle, and but the loud conversations are in Hmong, Na Vang, 17 sits at his table because, “I’ve associated with (the people at my table) for four years. I’ve known them since freshman year, middle school,and elementary school.”

The nerds sit at the nearby table with their calculators discussing binary math and the last Kurt Vonnegut book they’ve recently read. “We sit together because we like the intellectual conversation — no one seems to have the intellect that we enjoy, “says Carl Benson, 18.

Just a few feet from the nerds, you can hear what sounds like chaos, but looks like skittles; here are some of the African American kids dressed in brightly colored hip clothes. This is the “super group” of Henry; the ones whocheer, play basketball, and rap what’s on their minds. Kiah Hanssen-Kilpatick, 17, sits with here because “Kids sit with people who are in their classes, or kids that they’ve known before high school.”

Next comes the “Goth” table-mixed in race, but not style — all black clothing with the occasional stripes of red, chains, and long dark hair. “We all sit together because we love art, music, or both,” says Porsha Major, 18.

One table that has remains unchanging are the “white light,” aka the Northeast kids. The kids from Northeast Minneapolis have often known each other since elementary school.

These kids do everything together, inside school and out. “I sit with the dorky, the preppy, I’m really the odd one out, but they’re my best friends,I’ve known them since 6th grade, and some since elementary,” says Brianna Ives, 15. Brianna feels that she is the odd one out because she doesn’t look the same as everyone else — she shows her individuality with her dyed hair and Social Distortion t-shirt.

At Patrick Henry, there are fights every once in a while, but in the lunchroom the way people are seated just seems to work. Everyone gets along and there are no problems due to the lunchroom arrangement.

There’s no lunch table rivalry, the fights are more due to all “the high school he-said-she-said drama,” according to Brianna Ives. Most of the fights that happen, happen in the main lunchroom.

Often strolling around school policemen and the administrators monitor things. On a typical day, two or three policemen are on lunchroom duty. Officer R. McCann says, “Fighting is all lack of communication, stupid he-said-she-said stuff.” The police are there to “keep students from hurting themselves or others.” says McCann.

For most students, lunch is the time to hang out with people you like. “I sit by people I’m comfortable with,” says Brie Horshaw, 17. “No matter what color.”