“How was your day?” I asked.
“We had another pep rally today,” she said.
“Oh, how was that?” I asked.
“Well, lots of kids tried to leave early again.”
“Why is that?” I questioned.
And she proceeded to tell me that she figured it was because they were worried about getting out of the gym in time to catch their buses at the end of the day. She doesn’t know that for a fact, but she just assumed. Okay. I didn’t say anything. Then, she stated matter-of-factly,
“Yeah, if there was a fire, there is no way everyone would get out of there in time.”
Whoa. I don’t know how I responded. I don’t remember because I was taken aback and had to absorb what she said. I was trying to picture myself at one of my high school pep rallies. I don’t remember being worried about leaving in time to catch a bus, but I guess I could have been if I felt rushed to get to the bus at the end of the school day. But, I know it did not cross my mind to think about whether everyone could get out in time if there was a fire! Students evacuate during drills, but maybe not all from the gym. Regardless of whether it is true or not, it gave me a glimpse of what it must feel like to live a large chunk of your day in an overcrowded school building.
I can’t imagine being at my own job and working through a crowd to go from point A to point B. I worry about the toll it is taking on her to lug around a heavy backpack all day because the students no longer have lockers. They don’t have time to get to them. It would just add more stress. I feel tired just thinking about carrying that many pounds. But high school students are young and strong, you might say. True (for some, not all), but it’s still not good for their backs! And, as a parent, you get used to learning about the little things that your teen does to adjust to the stress of an overcrowded school. Students at H.H.S. are already using great coping skills to compensate. They ARE resilient. They DO excel, but it is stressing them out in many cases.
They learn which teachers can be found at what times of day (before or after school) and whether they’ll even have time to talk to them (in many cases not, if there are many students or if the particular teacher is just too busy with other duties). The amount of time that teachers can be available is directly affected by how many students they have to teach. And my teen carefully weighs whether something is important enough or not to email teachers because she knows how busy they are.
The effects of an overcrowded school impact every decision: where to move within the building, how much time one has to get somewhere, and how much time teachers are available to ask one more question or figure out a problem together. Can you imagine the stress? I don’t think I can. I don’t remember worrying about any of those things in high school. We hung out at our lockers. We socialized and didn’t have to rush everywhere. I had extra time after lunch to go to my locker before my next class! My daughter probably can’t even fathom the “luxury” of that little bit of down time during transitions between classes.
How would you have responded if your teenager shared her thoughts about a “normal” pep rally?
Have you asked a H.H.S. student what it’s like to navigate around the school during their day?
If you have younger students, can you imagine what it will be like when the high school is further stretched beyond its capacity?
I want all students to feel safe at school. We all do. It’s just that overcrowding changes how students look at the world from inside their school building. Trapped is not a good feeling to anticipate if thinking of a potential fire. It is time for the adults in our community to fix the overcrowding in the high school as quickly as possible! Our kids deserve to focus less attention on getting from point A to point B, so they can set their sights on bigger goals. Let’s help them get there.