Since the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, LREI has closed the student center every day at 3:45 pm. The student center is the only place in the high school that is dedicated to students and only students. Many upperclassmen used to hang out in the room after school for several hours. However, with the janitors locking the door 30 minutes after school is out, the student center as an after-school hangout now exists only as a past memory.
Nate Simon, an 11th grader and a frequent user of the student center, decided to create a documentary on the early closing of the center for his nonfiction film class last trimester. In this documentary, he mentions not only the issue of students failing to clean up after themselves but also addresses some of the frequent users’ feelings about the closing of the student center.
In the documentary, upperclassmen Kamara Duruaku ‘20, Roscoe Haynie ‘19, Luke Ingram ‘19, and Amari Fogle ‘19 explain the importance of the student center to the development of their high school friendships. For Fogle, “it’s like my home away from home and. . . it isn’t just a space to goof off, it’s more symbolic than that. That’s like where I met my friends.” Additionally, when Fogle was in 9th grade, the student center allowed him to meet 12th graders who would show him the ropes of high school. When the student center was open after school, Ingram explained that there were times where “everyone in that room looked happy, and there were at least thirty to forty kids in that room.” However, Duruaku explained that since the new schedule has been in place, “it’s unfortunate that a lot of the great things about the student center are gone.” Ingram explained that this is because thirty minutes is just not enough time to really hang out. As Duruaku had stated, the student center had “brought a lot of good memories and good times and a big part of that was the fact that the students would hang out there really late after school. But now, there aren’t really many places to hang out if you’re a student.”
Simon, who our principal, Allison Isbell described as “a really talented filmmaker,” agreed with the message his film portrayed. For Simon, his intention for the documentary was:
“…less about the tenth graders who sit in here during lunch, with, you know, their Supreme hats, playing bad rap music, and more about like the people who were here after school playing Smash Bros… It was less of like, you know, people Juulin’, and more about a constructive space where people get together to, you know, be themselves. I mean, like scream and shout and whatever because I did a lot of screaming in here. In a positive way, not in a negative way.”
Additionally, Simon found many of his friends, as displayed in the documentary, through spending time in the student center in 9th grade. He explained, “the whole point of it is a place where students can be students and not be watched by teachers, but be themselves, yeah, that was an important part of me finding my friend group in 9th grade.”
Now, Simon is in 11th grade, and these friendships have not only stayed but are even stronger. Simon explained his friendship with Duruaku was “furthered” by the use of the student center, telling the Knightly News:
“we [Simon and Duruaku] were sitting here [in the student center] until six because we did not want to go home. But there wasn’t a real reason we wanted to be here, we just wanted to be here, so, we were like ‘let’s make a stupid movie!’ and then we did. And then we made like twenty.”
Simon didn’t just become friends with Duruaku, but with kids of all different ages. He explained, “in 9th grade, unless I had like a lot of homework, I was here until 5:30 playing Smash Bros with Carlos, and Isaiah, Linus. And last year I was here until 5:00, or 4:30 playing Smash Bros with… the seniors.” Unfortunately, the new 9th graders have not been able to experience the student center the way Simon did. Even Simon doesn’t use the student center much anymore, telling the Knightly News: “It was a good time. And now it’s over.”
Surprisingly, Simon is almost glad that the student center is no longer open because it forces him to go home and start his homework. Simon said: “At the beginning of the year, I would have said: ‘let’s reopen the student center!’ But, by now I am kind of over it.” Even if the student center was open, Simon stated it wouldn’t be the same because the Wii U left when Linus Chun ‘18, graduated. For these reasons, Simon explained that his documentary is not meant to make the student center open again. When I asked him if he thought his documentary could change the rule, he quickly answered with, “No. And I wouldn’t hold it to them either. I mean, they obviously have a very specific reason for doing what they’ve done.” Simon didn’t even think people cared enough, even though people cheered during the showing of the documentary. This was different than what I found while talking with people in the student center during lunch. For example, Nellie Lonergan ‘20 was quick to express her outrage about the closing of the student center. However, no one seemed to know the full reason why it was closed. Some students I talked to stated it was for safety reasons, yet no one knew exactly why, not even Simon. He explained, “I am sure they had a great reason to do it.” He believed this because “they obviously probably assumed people would get upset because … their friend groups and who they are as people kind of came from here.”
As none of the students knew why the student center was closed, other sources were contacted. Allison Isbell agreed to sit down for an interview. She explained, first of all, that she had loved Nate Simon’s documentary. Isbell said, “I really loved the part about their sense of belonging,” which is mentioned by Ingram when he stated, “it’s a place where you can just honestly be yourself.” Additionally, Isbell had explained to me, “I absolutely understand why students feel this way… I agree with [the] students. It’s a special space. It’s a unique space.” For this reason, enacting this rule is hard for her. She explained, “That’s the hard thing about making a decision as a teacher and as a parent, in a way, it’s like: ‘I know you love this thing, but it’s not the best thing for you right now.’ That’s how I feel right now.”
According to Isbell, the rule was actually supposed to be implemented during Micah’s last year here. It wasn’t just Micah who wanted this. In fact, Isbell told the Knightly News it had been brought up in faculty meetings, and that “teachers over the last couple of years and those leading the school have expressed concerns about the safety of the students in the student center.” However, she explained that “the process of it being locked was hard to get in place,” and so it was implemented this year. As Isbell stated, it was also implemented and enforced this year due to:
“the additional factor we were thinking about — and we spent a lot of time thinking about over the summer — is, the new sexual harassment policy… Now that this is down on paper, it’s a policy that we’re all saying, as a school community, that we are invested in it, which I am deeply invested in. Making sure that this policy is living, breathing in our school, that it’s not just something we say, but that we are actually following.”
Isbell had stated, “it has to me and Margaret really highlighted just how important it is for us to do this for our students.”
But how does this relate to the student center? According to Isbell, “We have had reports over the years of incidents that have occurred in the student center and in other unsupervised parts of the building.” This is probably because the student center is not supposed to be managed by teachers. However, as Isbell said, “it’s not really even managed by students, and kinda can’t be.” Regardless, the school is still liable for whatever happens in the building, including the student center. Isbell knows that she cannot make sure people are safe outside of school, but she can make sure, for the people who choose to stay after school, that they are okay, “both emotionally and physically.” Additionally, Isbell believes if something were to happen, it would be a matter of what Student A said versus what Student B said, rather than a real investigation, because no teacher would have been there.
Although students may believe that this was punishment for not cleaning up after the student center, Isbell explained that it wasn’t that at all, “but was an effort to assure that students that are hanging out in the building are hanging out in more public, safer spaces.” She explained to Knightly News:
“It’s really a private space down there… which is probably why people love it… And I totally get that. I also get that we live in apartments in New York City and sometimes it feels like we’re short on private spaces and spaces for students out hang out together…. I care a lot about that and think about the students who travel far and who want to be able to hang out with their friends outside of school… but our primary responsibility is safety.”
While for Isbell, cultivating “experiences where students can have friendships— really healthy friendships” is a priority, it’s just second to safety. For this reason, the student center closes at 3:45 pm. It is still open during school hours, and after school, the library, the learning center (until 5 pm), and any classroom with a teacher are open. Additionally, if you want to hang out without a teacher, the first-floor classrooms are available.
Yet students also don’t have to fully accept this. Isbell enthusiastically explained, “Margaret and I always want to talk to students about concerns that they have. ALWAYS!” Although Nate Simon believed his documentary wouldn’t change anything, Isbell did state, “If students want to come and talk about this and work on this and it’s important to them then they should definitely make a meeting. Or it could go through student government as a possibility.”
However, only one person has gone to see Isbell to mention their frustration with the closing of the student center, and this was in the beginning of the year. Many people complain about the closing, yet barely any people have taken action. If everyone is like Nate Simon and are done rooting for the student center to be open, then this rule will stay in place. However, if people do care, the only way to make a difference is to reach out to those in power and advocate for change.
The principals don’t bite. In fact, Isbell said, “we would welcome a conversation and are happy to brainstorm with students about possibilities. That said, it has to meet the criteria of assuring a safe space.”
In other words: students, the ball is now in your court, what are you going to do?