I had a chance to spend one hour at the school where my daughter goes. A month ago she told me that she saw two moms of her classmates eating at the school canteen. She learnt that parents can come to school to spend an hour eating the food the kids eat and evaluating the canteen services. It is called Rendez-vous á la cantine. It took me couple of weeks to set the date and prepare the visit together with the school administration. I have been given the rules to follow and a questionnaire to fill in after the visit. The rules were simple: not to disturb children’s routine, quietly observe the children and the school staff, not advise or help children or adults, and not to spend more than one hour on the school patio. The questionnaire was about the quality and quantity of the food, the attentiveness of the canteen staff, the presentation of the food, the state of the food facilities, and the daily habits of the children while eating.
The school where my children go accommodates 2,200 children. The catering service Serunion provides the food for all the children. Every day the children eat their lunch at school.
When I got to the canteen my daughter and her friends have just finished their lunch. She was happy jumping around me for 30 seconds, and then she told me to look for her in the patio after I am done with the food part. She also told me that I was lucky as today they had french fries and hamburger, which happens like once a month.
The canteen was large. One of the staff ladies showed me around and told me how I should proceed. The truth is that I have not been present to the school life since I finished high-school. We are talking about a 20 years gap. Things that are obvious to people working at schools appeared fresh and new to me. I took the tray as I have been told and got a fruit. Somehow the food line started with the dessert. The kids had to chose between an apple or a banana and between a greek yogurt or a cuajada (curdled milk). Then there were glasses for water, napkins, and silverware, including knifes. All kids got a fork, a spoon, and a knife. Next was the broccoli soup. The soup was served as the children arrived. Then there was hamburger (just the meat part, non the bread) and a choice of french fries or fried onions. I went for the onions. All the kids took the french fries. The last was salad, which included lettuce, tomatoes, hardboiled egg, lentils, carrots, and something else. The bottles of olive oil and vinegar were placed next to the salads. The kids helped themselves to pour those on their plates. The last were two choices of bread: white and wholewheat.
I looked around and found a table with some empty chairs. Each table sits twelve kids and as I have been told each class has two tables assigned to it. There is one canteen lady watching after each class. I was free to chose where to sit. I sat at a table with three kids on my left and two boys on my right. The kids on my left were finishing their food and talking. The boy had bread crumbs around his mouth and he was laughing and talking to the girls next to him. All of them were about six or seven years old. The amazing thing is that all the kids were happy. They laughed, talked, ate, made jokes, asked for more ketchup, and smiled non stop. I did not realize before how happy the kids are. The adults working with the kids seemed happy too. You can’t keep a tough face when kids are laughing and playing around you.
I did not notice how I ate my food. I enjoyed looking at the kids around me. They talked all the time. They were talking in French and making jokes. Probably around lunch time is when kids learn how to become social, how to eat and enjoy a conversation. None of the kids was screaming. Actually they mostly talked in normal voices and I could not always hear what the kids in front of me were saying. But when they laughed I inevitably smiled.
When I finished my lunch I went to the patio to look for my daughter, I knew what patio her class plays in. However, I could not see her there. I met couple of her friends and they all were happy to see me, but they could not tell me where Lorena, my daughter, was. I went inside the building and asked somebody from the school staff if they knew where she could be. I have to tell that around patio there was a lot of school stuff. All of the school staff wore green vests and were easy to recognize. I was not aware that so many people were involved in playing with the kids during the patio time. As soon as I have asked a lady in the green vest about my daughter a group of girls came running to us.
“Who are you looking for?” one of the girls asked.
“I am looking for Lorena. She is the one with two pony tails,” I said. “Do you know her?”
“No,” said one of the girls.
“Lorena Salvado?” said the other. “Yes, I know her. She is a friend of Aitana, right?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And she is a friend of Margot and Leocadie?” the girl asked again.
“Yes,” I answered. “Do you know where she is?”
“She is in the librbary. It is her library time. Do you want me to take you there?” the girl asked.
“Yes, please, ” I said. “What class are you from?”
“I am from CP 3, and she is from CP 4, and she is from CP 1,” she pointed to the other girls. “And Lorena is from CP 6, isn’t she?”
I nodded. CP is the first grade. There are six first-grade classes in the school. The girls took me to the library and showed me where to find Lorena. Once inside I saw her sitting with Aitana and reading books. I told her “Hi” and she run to me, gave me a kiss, and told me, “You did not search for me, right?”. I could feel that she was feeling a little bit awkward seeing me in her world. Thus, I just looked at her for a second, touched her pony tails, smiled, and told her I was going home, and that I loved eating at her canteen and visiting her school. Later in the evening Lorena told me she was nervous seeing me, because she knew she did not want me to leave the school and her heart beat twice as fast the moment she saw me.
Walking back home I thought that I loved her school because the kids were so amazing. They were open, helpful, happy, trustful. They played, talked, smiled, and learnt a great deal of social skills. I did not feel like an intruder, I felt like a guest. And I kept on smiling long after I have crossed the school gate.
I did not take any pictures, the ones I’ve posted here are from LFB website.