As the lunch bell rings, a wave of chatting students floods the narrow crosswalk into Town & Country Village, on the hunt for a mid-day meal. This scene, once so common to the students of Palo Alto High School, is but a fleeting memory as schools have transitioned to distance learning this fall.

For most, lunch now consists of signing off the computer and migrating to the kitchen, a brief break before the next Zoom call. The once lively and sun-soaked lunchtimes that shaped the typical Paly experience have dramatically shifted with the remote learning model.

Town & Country Village

Paly culture is significantly influenced by the school’s proximity to Town & Country. On any average afternoon, hundreds of Paly students stampede over Embarcadero Road, heading from the Paly campus to the establishments across the street.

“It’s exciting to walk around and see a lot of people you know and I’m just really comfortable there [Town & Country] cause I know it so well,” junior Natalie Chueh said.

The shopping center welcomes hundreds of Paly students for lunch, and many places even offer a special discount for students. Now, these businesses are taking a hit from the loss of their usual lunch-time crowd.

“You guys [Paly students] were a big revenue stream,” General Manager of Howie’s Pizza Mike Kelly said. “Business has been pretty quiet since the start of everything.”

The atmosphere of Town & Country; once lively and bustling, is now reduced to your average, quiet shopping center.

“You guys definitely brought the energy — with music playing and just general banter and crowd noise,” Kelly said. “I would say it’s a negative effect definitely not having you here.

Club leaders adapt

With distance learning measures, Paly club leaders had to adapt their in-person clubs to a digital environment.

The virtual experience has made many club activities more difficult, but ultimately, it provides students with a means to connect with others.

“It [the first club meeting] actually went better than I thought, more people engaged with me than I expected,” President of the Bullet Journaling Club Anisha Gandhi said. “It was just nice for people to have a new place to make friends online”

When it comes to planning activities, club leaders have had to think outside of the box. Senior Aileen Wu, co-president of the Paly Eco club, is planning on how to cultivate a fun and engaging atmosphere, even on Zoom.

“We definitely don’t want to limit ourselves to just being informational presentations like you’re in class,” Wu said.

One benefit of online clubs is applying new skills that relate to being at home as opposed to remaining at school.

“Usually in person, we are more focused on sustainability on campus, but in our club meetings we’re doing things like DIYs or other things that would improve sustainability in each student’s home,” Wu said “I think that’s something that we wouldn’t have done if we met in person.”

Student opinion

A September Verde Magazine survey of 284 students concluded that 62.7% of students prefer lunch at school, and 37.3% of students prefer being at home. Although most students prefer to eat at school with friends, there are still lots of different ways to connect with the community.

“Sometimes I feel super low during online school but when I FaceTime my friends and talk to others it always makes me feel better,” junior Brighid Baker said.

Do you prefer having lunch at school or at home?

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