Between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. a row of Peekskill High School underclassman gather at the very edge of school property on Elm Street waiting for lunch. A security guard keeps an eye on the freshmen, sophomores and juniors – one toe over the line and they are subject to in-school suspension or detention – as seniors make several trips back and forth across the street to buy pizza rolls, sandwiches and beverages for their younger friends.
“They are lined up like birds waiting on a fence,” Liz Vivenzio said. Vivenzio and her husband Andre own D&M Deli, a PHS student lunch spot on the corner of Elm and Wells Street, directly across the street from the school border. They have been feeding high school students for 28 years.
Now that the school district’s new superintendent is policy, the Vivenzios are relying on their loyal and loving customers to keep them in business. Seniors are happy to help (and some are even making a profit off their younger classmates).
“We love Liz,” senior Michaela Spencer said. "We get to help out the deli," she said of her new self-appointed role as a deli runner for underclassman.
Students say they are upset that they feel an element of freedom has been taken away from their classmates, and that the enforcement of the policy has affected their favorite business.
High school principal Sherrill Murray-Lazarus said that “most students have been cooperative." But students and staff have said that there are several kids a week who are disobeying the policy and risking in-school suspension or detention. Murray-Lazarus said she could not confirm this without referring to school documents when she talked to Patch this weekend.
Spencer said she makes about three trips a day to buy lunch for eight or nine underclassmen. “A girl I don’t even know asked me if I’d get lunch for her today,” Spencer said, and she did.
Classmate Phillip Dixon said he makes several runs to the deli for underclassmen because he feels they should get the same opportunity he had when he was younger. Spencer and her friend Valerie Kropf chimed in that it is about the high school experience of going to D&M, explaining that during their freshmen orientation they were told by the administration to get lunch at the deli if they wanted.
“When I was an underclassman I got to come here and I just feel like they should get to eat lunch too,” Dixon said before heading to his football game.
Dixon explained that he knows kids who, unless they bring food from home, will not eat lunch unless it is from D&M.
But Principal Murray-Lazarus said that most of Dixon’s classmates are turning to the school lunch.
"Our school lunch service has indicated a market increase in (patronage) this year over last year," Murray-Lazarus said, explaining that the service has reported that they are serving 200 more meals a day this year than last year.
During the students complained about what they say is sub-standard school lunch and a lack of beverage options. Murray-Lazarus said the district is working with the school food service company to provide more variety and attend to students’ requests.
Superintendent James Willis also said that the district heard the students' concerns and is working on and improving the quality of school food. The new cafeteria should be complete by the next school year, he said.
The district recently installed a Snapple machine, but Dixon said that it only serves water.
Willis, who started at the district this summer, says that while the district is working on improving school food, the closed campus enforcement is not about food options, but about the safety of the students.
“We have the opportunity to be proactive and not reactive,” Willis said. “My stance is clear, I think the campus should be closed and it is totally about the safety and security of our students,” Willis said. He also explained that he hopes the board will amend the rule so that seniors are required to stay on campus as well.
“It is not about the popular decision; it is about doing the right thing,” Willis said, adding that while students may be responsible, other people off campus might not be.
The Vivenzios and students say the deli never caused safety issues, referring to traffic issues and fights. The students said that any serious fights usually happen inside the school cafeteria or at Depew Park, one block away from the high school.
“All the real physical bloody fights happen inside,” said Spencer. “I think they always have the decency not to fight in (the deli.)”
Andre Vivenzio offers a suggestion for compromise.
“If the parents allow their kids to make this decision then they should be allowed to,” Andre said.
Liz added that a security guard could help the kids cross the street rather than be responsible for keeping them from crossing or for writing up underclassmen who disobey the policy.
The Vivenzios, along with parents, teachers and students, will have a chance to discuss suggestions like this during a intended to bring the different groups together to discuss the closed campus policy.
The board of education can then vote to make changes to the policy.
Senior Valerie Kropf said she already spoke at a board meeting and does not feel encouraged by the idea of another. “How many board meetings do we have to storm?” she asked.
The superintendent said he is happy to see students getting involved.
“Students are voicing their opinion and that is great,” Willis said.
After school on a warm October afternoon a steady flow of kids enters and exists the deli, many buying a snack or Gatorade, others picking up lunch that they skipped because they couldn’t go off campus to buy it, they said.
But despite the lunchtime deli runners and after-school rush, the Vivenzios say they are “really losing out here,” with business at about 60 percent.
Principal Murray-Lazarus and Superintendent Willis are sympathetic to their long-time neighbor, but say student safety comes first.
“We are not in business for their business,” Willis said.
The Vivenzios are seriously concerned about profits and have adjusted their hours to serve the after-school rush, but they also show a deep concern about losing their relationship with the students.
"I love these kids like they are my own and I want to be here to support them," Liz said.