November marked the occasion of a very exciting development for elementary and middle school students at The New Century School—the grand opening of the Ozone Snack Bar! Part library, part student lounge, the Ozone Snack Bar was a hit from its very first moment as an up-and-running enterprise.
The snack bar is the brainchild of TNCS Co-Founder/Executive Director Roberta Faux, who envisioned a space for the older students of TNCS to call their own. Equipped with various unwalled “rooms,” this natural light–filled space space offers plenty of ways for the kids to relax—to read or socialize—to “just chill” in the words of a 5th grader in Señora Beatriz Cabrera’s class that represented the very first Ozone Snack Bar patrons.
She nailed it with that description. From the moment they entered their new space, she and her classmates appropriated it as if they had been using it all along. They filed in and straightaway set to, some going straight for the healthy goods for sale, some perusing the well-stocked shelves for a good read, a couple trading Pokemon tokens, and some starting up a ping-pong tournament. They were right at home. Said Mrs. Faux who was also on hand for the Grand Opening: “We felt that the older kids needed a dedicated place to hang out so they can socialize and take a little break.”
Regarding the healthy goods for sale, as part of their time there, students can buy snacks if they wish, either with cash or on account (parents allot maximum per-visit expenditures and the tab is applied to their FACTS bill). They loved this aspect of their new space, both in getting a little nosh between breakfast and lunch and because of the freedom it gives them to make their own choice. It benefits them in other ways, too, by allowing them to practice making business transactions (en Español, of course!) and asking them to do a little mental computing in terms of weighing cost versus available funds as well as optimizing what snack they choose to derive the biggest payoff (Do I need an apple to give me a little glucose boost? Or would the protein from a cheese stick satisfy me a little longer?).
As for the library books, the shelves are stocked with those books that formerly made up the hallway library as well as other books taken out out of storage that the limited hallway shelving could not accommodate. All of these are in addition to the in-class libraries that each homeroom contains. Books in the new library space can be checked out and read on premises. Stocking the shelves is ongoing as each book must be inventoried and catalogued (Parent Volunteer, anyone?).
One 4th grader said he finds the Ozone Snack Bar “really great! It’s a good opportunity to make friends.” At the time, he was occupying one of the reading hammocks with Horrible Harry and the Purple People, having already munched on some popcorn, washed down with some Vitamin Water Zero. “I have absolutely no idea what we did before we had the snack bar,” he concluded.
Visits to the Ozone Snack Bar will be as classes with teacher supervision and will happen on set regular schedules, depending on grade division:
- Upper Elementary/Middle School: Students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades will visit each Monday morning during Teacher’s Choice time.
- Lower Elementary: Students in 2nd and 3rd grades will visit every other Monday during Teacher’s Choice time.
- Kindergarten/1st: Students in this division will visit once a month.
“I think the kids loved it and it will be a growing success,” said Mrs. Faux. Sra. Cabrera agreed that her students loved the new experience, remarking on how well they navigated their new “society.” Small groups gathered then morphed into other groups with the ease that comes with being comfortable and happy. Sra. Cabrera also pointed out that this is a whole new context for her students to interact in and anticipates that the additional social time will have a positive impact on their relationships overall. Studies show that regular downtime increases productivity and creativity while reducing burnout, too, so it’s a safe bet that her students returned to the classroom re-energized and ready to focus.
Importantly, they really do get to choose how they spend their time at the Ozone Snack Bar, but all of the available choices are some form of unstructured (with the exception of some off-and-on scorekeeping at the ping-pong table) activity. “Play” is currently being championed with a zeal no former age has seen. We now know that, through play, children develop understanding of the world and learn how to tackle “problems” creatively. For adolescents, play is no less important, yet, frustratingly, opportunities to unwind during the school day tend to dwindle for most U.S. tweens and teens.
Going back to the genesis of the Ozone Snack Bar, this lack is precisely what the school Co-Founders are hoping to mitigate. Said Mrs. Faux:
We are open to letting the space evolve as our student’s evolve, i.e., from more library to more game room, or maker space or something else. Maker spaces are also sometimes called hackerspaces. They are DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. It has been a growing trend in reinventing the modern library. These spaces often have 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools, etc. There are also maker spaces with less high-end electronics and might have the students build models, etc.
The new space won’t just have an immediate positive effect on students by giving them a break and rejuvenating them for the school day, but may also put them on a path to future good things. A recent book on play recounts the anecdote of how a Fortune 500 company’s executives discovered that their most successful employees were those who played around with mechanical equipment as children, which makes a lot of sense—they were tinkering just to see what would happen. That’s the essence of innovation.
To return to Earth for a moment, the Ozone was established primarily for TNCS students to have some fun and connect with each other in a different way. The lofty benefits just described are, in some ways, happy secondary outcomes (though certainly not accidental). Just so with its name: Mrs. Faux explained that the name initially came from riffing on the Baltimore Orioles—the “O’s-zone”—something that would definitely appeal to this age group. But, it also has many other apt meanings and invites contemplation. It’s a space above, somewhat rarefied, and exists to give kids some time to spend with their heads in the clouds.