No one quite understands what it is exactly about Chicken Wednesdays that causes such excitement at the Barnegat High School cafeteria every week.
The students can't explain it either.
The daily lunch menu selections, which include sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs are OK, the students claim. But the small back room where food is served across the entrance to the cafeteria fills to the brim with an eager crowd each Wednesday, as the kids rush to get their favorite chicken varieties.
"It's definitely the best day of the week at the Barnegat High School," says Matt Cox, 18.
"It's the best day ever," says Alex Bailey, 18. "So many flavors!"
Nearly 600 student lunches are prepared daily, with the most popular meal by far being chicken tenders.
"It's crazy in here on Chicken Wednesday," says Mary Segarra, head of the cafeteria, estimating that 450 of the lunches served on Wednesdays are the chicken tenders, which are served plain or dipped in either a barbecue or buffalo sauce. "The students would riot if they ever got rid of Chicken Wednesday," she said.
"It's exciting," said Dakota Schrantz, 18.
Schrantz remembers how during her freshman year, the school took the tradition away, then brought it back shortly, bowing to the students' demands.
The school tried other initiatives, such as Chocolate Tuesdays or fry-days on Fridays, but for some reason none of them stuck.
While no one we speak to at the Barnegat High School seems to mind the excitement of chicken day, not everyone at the table is having chicken.
"I eat the same thing every day," says Anna Prestera, 17, who packs her lunch. "Peanut butter and jelly, and apple and a pretzel stick."
Jen Rochette, 17, doesn't eat lunch at all.
"I do homework during lunch," Rochette says. "I snack when I can: granola bars, cheerios."
The social scene
Lunch is as much about friendship and socializing as it is about chicken and sandwiches, and Barnegat High School students readily admit they have their groups.
"The jocks usually sit over there," says Cox, pointing out a nearby table. "And here are the surfer kids and the skateboard kids. You have your cheerleaders' table. You have your student government."
However, the students are also quick to point out that among more than 100 students having lunch during their period, no one is sitting alone.
"Our freshmen integrate with the juniors and the seniors," says Serena Badrow, 18, the senior class president.
"We used to have this little boy who would sit by himself," says Cox, "and then a bunch of people would make it a point of sitting with him."
Editor's note: As we continue sharing what we've seen and heard at the Barnegat High School, look for an article from Karen Wall about sophomore student elections shortly, followed by a piece detailing a visit to two different English classrooms later this afternoon.