Administration turns to unusual tool to keep lunchroom clean

Ruhi Kaneria | The Chronicle

Hoping to keep students in line, administration institute cones to regulate left-behind lunchtime messes. 

The Mason High School (MHS) administration is taking a more forward approach to improving the cleanliness of the lunchroom through the use of cones. These small orange cones, often showcased at the front table on the lunchroom stage, have been used to mark tables left in a mess by students. Reimplemented from the previous year, the cone policy is in place this 2023-2024 year to keep the lunchroom clean for both students and staff. 

Having seen the issue firsthand during the lunches he supervises, MHS Assistant Principal Dan Distel said that the cones were implemented to curb common student behavior of leaving trash behind in the lunchroom. 

“We’ve had a little bit of an uptick [in messes at] the beginning of this year, which we would expect,” Distel said. “[The cones] typically help to take care of the problem.”

While many students at MHS believe that the cones will help prevent bad behavior, other students worry that the implementation is not enough. Sophomore Chelsea Hsu said a possible never-ending cycle of chasing down students ultimately hurts the lunch environment.

“I don’t think it’s super effective encouraging kids to clean up after their messes,” Hsu said. “Even though you put a cone on the table that they may have left a mess on, they could just choose to sit at a different table again next time and you [would] just be following them forever.”

To stop this cycle, administrators who formed the idea have worked together to create a system. By using the cones, cameras and the staff, they can quickly find who left the mess. 

“We have an administrative assistant who looks at the cameras, finds that cone [and] identifies the kids who were at that table using our camera system,” Distel said. “If we don’t know who they are, we’ll send it out to staff and ask if they can identify who the kids are.”

After the students have been identified, they are sent a paper slip, asking them to come down to the administrative office to establish the consequences of leaving behind the mess. Distel said that the first consequence is usually a Saturday school, but if the issues continue to repeat, the consequences will increase. Distel said that the most common solution to the issue is simply having students stay back and clean up after themselves.

“We have kids stay behind and clean up after if there is messes to clean up,” Distel said. “To be honest, it’s been a lot less of a mess since we’ve been implementing [the policy].”

Many students are happy that administrators are working to better the lunchroom experience. Upon hearing about the cone system, Hsu was glad that action was taken against irresponsible teenagers. She said that the easiest step students can take to keep the lunchroom clean is to just focus on their area. 

“Doing your part by keeping all of your trash in one small space where it is easy to pick up and throw away is one step kids can take to focus on their own area and [keep it] tidy,” Hsu said. “The next batch of kids who have lunch have a clean space and can enjoy lunch and the hard-working janitors have less to do. Keeping your friends accountable or helping out [to pick up their] trash is also a good step.”

The issue of leaving trash is not only prevalent at MHS. Freshman Elisa Hefferan said that last year, the Mason Middle School (MMS) lunches also faced similar problems. At MMS, they did not use a cone system and instead relied on daily announcements to promote lunchroom cleanliness. She said that while the MHS policy seemed wild to her initially, she is glad that administrators are taking the initiative to solve the problem.

“I was [in] D lunch [at the middle school and] we had a really big issue,” Hefferan said. “It was very messy. I think that [the] consequence of the orange cones makes people want to clean up because they don’t want to face that consequence.” 

Hefferan said that these actions are long overdue. She said that as students acclimate themselves to MHS, they also need to get used to the rules and regulations put in place to keep the space clean and safe. 

“Be more responsible,” Hefferan said. “It’s disrespectful to your classmates, to the janitors to the school. You have to mature, grow up and [cleaning up after yourself] is just a small step you can take to becoming a better version of yourself.”