Hawthorne schools pilot use of palm scanners to speed lunch lines
In the James Bond movies of the 1970s, heroes and villains used palm scanners to gain access to secret rooms.
This futuristic piece of technology has come to the Hawthorne School District, but for a far less glamorous purpose: to boost the number of students who can get through the lunch line on time, thereby reducing the number of students who go through the day hungry.
“We just want to make sure every child has access to our meals,” said Anna Apoian, the district’s food services director. “If they have food in their bellies, they are going to perform better in the afternoon. ”
The project is happening on a trial basis at Hawthorne Middle and Ramona Elemenary schools, where students – once they reach the front of the lunch line – place a hand on a digital reader in the shape of a palm.
Using technology similar to that of a TV remote or Nintendo Wii video game, the device manufactured by Harris School Solutions takes an image of the vein pattern below the skin. This, in turn, calls up information about the student that is pertinent to the cafeteria cashier: a photo of the student, the balance on his or her account and whether the individual should avoid any foods due to allergies.
The devices – currently used only by eighth-graders at Hawthorne Middle and fifth-graders at Ramona – have given some people the heebie-jeebies.
A handful of parents have exempted their children from using them, and one precocious pupil at Hawthorne Middle School refuses to scan his hand because he considers it too “Big Brother. ”
Apoian assures that there is no nefarious information-gathering scheme at play. She takes pains to note that the technology does not store any images of the palm. Rather, it simply connects to a five-digit ID number that students for years have been punching in on their own, thereby calling up all of the same information.
The hope is that the second or two saved by the palm scanner for each student will add up to precious minutes.
At Hawthorne Middle School, cafeteria workers have long been puzzling over how to stretch those precious minutes.
Long slowing the flow of the lunch line there has been the school’s relatively small cafeteria and oddly designed campus, which is bisected by 129th Street, forcing many kids to cross the street at lunchtime.
Recent renovations to the cafeteria have significantly boosted the rate of students served daily, from about half a couple of years ago to the current 65 percent.
But Apoian’s goal is to get the school on equal footing with another middle school in the district, Prairie Vista, where nearly 80 percent of the students are served daily.
“We’re competing with ourselves,” she said.
The school’s principal, Rudy Salas, is all for trying anything that gets kids through the line more quickly.
“We don’t want kids to be thinking about food when they should be listening to a lecture or engaged in a classroom discussion,” he said.
(At Ramona Elementary, the point of the pilot project is to determine whether the scanner does an adequate job of reading small hands.)
So far, Apoian isn’t sold by the palm scanners. But her complaints are technical, not philosophical. After all, her staff uses facial recognition software at the time clocks to eliminate the possibility that one employee can punch in for another and to streamline accounting procedures. The system works like a charm, she says.
But with the palm scanner, the line has been held up too many times because the scanner wasn’t recognizing a hand, compelling students to re-register on the spot, she said. And too many times the hardware has crashed.
“The keypads are faster at this point,” she said. “We just want people to know we are trying everything we can.”
Still, she plans to give the new technology a fair trial during the remaining couple of weeks of the pilot period.
Most students, meanwhile, seem like they could take or leave the palm scanner. Sixth-grader Royian Williams has had trouble getting her lunch on time when she goes through a special lunch line for kids getting paninis.
“It’s a long line – people love the paninis,” she said. “By the time I sit down and start eating, it’s time to leave. ”
As for Big Brother? It doesn’t concern her in the slightest.
“If they want the line to be quicker, they should do it for all the grades,” she said.