Sarah Music, who recently became Mercersburg's director of dining services, hopes the students and faculty view the dining hall as their “third place of choice.”
Home should have first place, work/school should rank second, and where they congregate for meals should be viewed as a third haven.
“Growing up, the dining room table was where I did most of my schoolwork and most of my talking with my family, so I want to be able to create this space that's their third place of choice,” says Music, who has a staff of 23 employees. “When they come in here, we're giving them something that brings them together.”
Originally from Annapolis, Maryland, Music has been employed by Meriwether Godsey, the school's dining services provider, for two years, starting as catering manager. Music views a successful meal as one where students clean their plates or when they come to the dining hall during times that they could go out for other food.
As dining hall staff members become familiar faces, students offer helping hands, especially during family dinners.
“It's creating that relationship like you would at home, knowing your mom had a bad day, you check in with her: ‘What can I do to help you with cleaning up from this dinner?’” Music says. “That to me is success– when we're able to have the students come in to spend more quality time here and then us being able to have more interaction with them on that personal level, not just that transactional level.”
Meal planning is a multifaceted process, where nutrition, taste, quantity, and resourcefulness come into play. Considering the dining hall prepares an average of 9,300 meals per week, a home-like atmosphere is commendable.
“I want students to feel comfortable coming in with recipes and menu ideas,” Music says. “Some of us have not had the experience to travel to some of the countries the students are from, and it's right here for us as a huge learning opportunity. I want it to be more culturally diverse, not just in the classrooms, but here in the dining hall as well. I would love to get a culinary club or program started to give them a chance to feature a meal that they've learned about or we've worked on together and then have that be a Monday night family dinner that's presented by the culinary club, with talks about how we put this menu together for you.”
The experience could allow for cultural exchange and provide a sense of accomplishment for the students involved, Music says, noting that when it comes to learning, she agrees with Auggie, played by Jacob Tremblay, the lead character in the movie Wonder: “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life.”
“For the students, for my staff, for anybody, you need that moment where it clicks and you know it,” Music says. “You just need that one moment where you're like, you know what, that was me. I did that.”