Staff, students bond during Cats of the Round Table

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Students and staff gathered together in April for a meeting of the Cats of the Round Table. The new program at Jasper High School brings staff and students together for a shared meal.


JASPER — They say good food is all the better when eaten with friends, but what if you don’t know anyone at the table?

A handful of randomly selected Jasper High School staff members and students answered that question when they shared a meal together Tuesday at what the school calls its Cats of the Round Table, a program designed to bridge the gap between the student body and those who work at the high school — not just teachers and administrators.

“Our goal is to build relationships and have people meet people they normally probably wouldn’t hang out with,” said Glenn Buechlein, the school’s assistant principal and the activity’s facilitator. “We want students to meet students and adults that they normally may not know. Mentally, we want students here to know there are adults they can go to. We also want students to know these adults are humans, they have lives.”

The meal marked the second monthly iteration of the group with an entirely new cast of participants. One hundred and one total adults who work at the school are randomly entered to fill the four spots, and three students per grade are also randomly selected to participate. About half the adult staffers at the school are teachers, while the others fill maintenance jobs, cafeteria positions, secretarial roles and more. Special corporation and community guests have also been invited to each meal.

Perhaps surprisingly, the room quickly filled with organic conversations about school and general life advice after all the guests took their seats Tuesday. Teacher attendee Scott Yarbrough and sophomore Sam Bies both spoke on the benefits of mingling with new people.

“It’s nice meeting people I’ve never really talked to,” Bies said. “And just learning about different people’s lives compared to your own.”

Many students were initially nervous because they didn’t know what to expect, but it all worked out in the end. School Resource Officer Jason Knies also attended the event and said he used it as an opportunity to interact and build a positive relationship with students.

“You’re learning more about somebody than just that they’re a student of Jasper High School and they play a particular sport or (are in) that particular club,” he said. “You learn a little bit more beyond.”

School special needs department aide Tina DeKemper served as head chef for the meal and whipped together her family recipe for pasta pinwheels — a combination of lasagna and spaghetti — with the help of students in the special needs department and teachers throughout the school.

Buechlein plans to keep the program running on a monthly basis next school year with new teachers and students cycled in each meeting. He believes a special connection exists between food and togetherness, and he hopes to tap into that for many more meals.

“The idea, too, is people tend to bond better when they break bread,” Buechlein said.

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