EDGINGTON — It might have been a first.
Four high school seniors — with permission to use their cellphones — engaged in conversation for 27 of the 30 minutes allowed for their lunch.
It was amazing.
We talked, I listened. I asked they answered. We ate, we laughed. From my side of the first-ever Cafeteria Confidential — we had fun.
Cafeteria Confidential is a new, every-other-week sit-down at lunch with a small gathering of students at a high school near you.
The goal of the series is to gain a small glimpse into what's on the mid-day minds of high schoolers — what's shaking in their lives and the dreams they might be chasing.
We will also evaluate the food — good or bad — offered by various high school cafeterias.
Our first stop was Rockridge High School, in Edgington.
Why did we start at Rockridge? That's easy, is there a better educator/administrator out there than Kate Hasson, the Rockridge principal? I have not met her or him. She is energetic, genuine and has an eye on what's best for every student in her care. She gets it on so many fronts. I'm a fan, and I asked her first. The other schools have been equally as receptive for future installments.
My lunch partners
- Rebecca "Becca'' Schroeder, of Milan, a self-proclaimed picky eater who thrives on hot dogs and Rocket Stop pizza. Her parents own the Rocket Stop, the do-all mini-mart in the heart of Edgington. (Truth-be-told, I'm a Rocket Stop pizza junkie as well.) Becca is a volleyball co-captain, member of the student council, an FCA member and wants to play volleyball in college. Her hope is to be a nurse and help bring new lives into our world.
- Lane Dieterich, of Taylor Ridge, has his sights set on Black Hawk College and wants to work in the product development field. He is a member of FCA and works on a farm. He also has a pretty cool truck.
Mackenzie Douglas, of Andalusia, is a volleyball team captain, plays softball, is president of National Honor Society and a member of FCA. Psychology is on her list of possible college majors at a big school. The University of Missouri is high on her list.
- Nolan "Game of'' Throne, is a wrestler who lives in Milan and Moline. He is a student council rep and a member of FCA. Calculus is his favorite class, and he hopes to wrestle in college.
Rockridge eats earn 3 1/2 out of a possible 4 pizza slices.
The cafeteria at Rockridge is a smooth-running operation, feeding over 600 junior high and high school students in a shade over two hours. The staff is beyond friendly and helpful.
My first thought: "Where were these nice ladies when I was growing up?"
Bonus thought: "Unlimited chocolate milk!!! My day couldn't get any better.''
All but Schroeder had a hot lunch. A picky eater, she noshed on a peanut butter and jelly Uncrustable, a couple of cookies, some Goldfish crackers and a yogurt drink.
"It's not me,'' Becca said of the cafeteria offerings. "Never has been. I'm just a Rocket Stop pizza and hot dogs girl.''
For the rest of us, it was cheeseburgers, assorted veggies, chips if you wanted, cucumber slices (Nolan), fruit (Lane), carrots (Mackenzie) and milk.
Chocolate milk for me, thank you. Two cartons. It rocked.
We also had options for salads, chicken wraps, hot dogs, apple sauce, green beans (I loved mine, Nolan never touched his) and carrots (Mackenzie).
Three of us had cheeseburgers and they were a solid 3-plus out of four on our rating scale, though Lane felt his was a shade on the dry side. Funny, Lane had the cleanest tray at the end of our time together. Nolan said topping his burger with Cookie's Barbecue sauce took it to the next level. He skipped his green beans, saying: "Not feeling green bean-ish today.''
Mackenzie finished her burger and a bag of chips but skipped her carrots.
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Final food thought: It was solid, not fancy, but filling. It more than held its own.
Everyone gets along
There was a drama-free feel to the Rockridge cafeteria, though Lane said he knew two girls who struggled earlier in the morning with outside-school related issues. Though he pointed out the two girls, he declined to offer any details about the issues.
"For the most part, we all get along,'' Mackenzie said, with a nod from Nolan, Lane, and Becca. "We are kids, something is always kind of sideways, but everyone gets along. We've known each other forever.''
Nolan said in a small-school environment, there's always something happening. No one stands still. Most of the student body is involved in something extracurricular.
Becca and Mackenzie captain the school's volleyball team, sing, keep stats for the football team and play softball. Mackenzie is the school's National Honor Society president, while Becca is a student council member, and both are part of the school's FCA huddle. Nolan's time is taxed with wrestling and FCA. Lane's job and his FCA commitment keep his schedule hopping.
Friday, Becca and Mackenzie kept stats for the big football game against longtime rival Sherrard, a team Rockridge hadn't played in five years. No love is lost between the two schools.
Today, the two find themselves in a volleyball tournament at Lewistown High School, which meant a sunrise wake-up call.
"We are used to things like this,'' Becca said of being busy. "Everyone is involved. Lots of people have jobs that take up time as well. It's the way life can be; you just have to juggle. Everyone has something on their plate.''
Though something is always happening on a weekend away from school, the four said Rockridge commitments usually take center stage. When a change presents itself, it's a welcomed shift in plans.
"I'm going to Wisconsin to ride ATVs all weekend,'' Lane said. "There is a group of about 20 that's going. I'm really looking forward to it, but this kind of stuff doesn't happen all the time.''
I love talking to high schoolers about their cars. Each says something about them.
Lane drives a Chevy 2005 1500 pickup, and it takes him 10 minutes — door-to-door to get to school. It's his calling card.
"All I can tell you is she purrrrrrrrsssss,'' Lane said of his Chevy.
Marveling at Nolan's 2001 Honda, that has 275,000 on it. "That's the story here,'' Lane said to Nolan. "If your "beater'' has that many miles, someone should know. That's so cool.''
Mackenzie sports a 2012 Toyota Camry she got from an aunt, and Becca drives a 2003 Oldsmobile with 70,000 miles.
"It's as 'grandma' as you can get,'' she said. "But it's a good car. It's all 'grandma,' though, but it does the job.''
Back to classes
Before our lunch ended, I asked about favorite classes.
Nolan talked calculus and joined the group to sing the praises of personal finance and marketing management class that's offered at Rockridge.
"There are a lot of classes we have that have a personal side to them; something we can take with us and use in life,'' Nolan said. "Give whoever credit for that. There's always something you can use that's offered. And though we don't say it enough, we have some outstanding teachers.''
And with that, they were gone.
Good day, good food, great conversation.