Ayla Safran, ‘15
Many BHSEC students have heard whispers throughout the hallways about a new “shared space” in the making, but few are aware of what that actually means. The rumors are true: students and faculty are working together to create a room that could be used for teaching during some periods and as a student lounge at other times. The project originated in Dr. Freund’s “History of the American City” class during the spring term of 2013. Students in this college elective discussed various aspects of what elements made cities and other communal spaces effective throughout the history of the United States, which enabled them to determine three important principles to make a space successful. The space must have mixed primary uses, attracting different people for different reasons; the space must be organic, in that it has to arise as a congregational area on its own (this development cannot be manufactured); and the space must foster informal social and academic interactions. According to Priya Dieterich, ’14, a student from Dr. Freund’s class last year, “It’s hugely important for students’ academic growth and for their social and emotional health to have shared spaces that they feel comfortable in.”
Dr. Freund explained that after discussing the functionality of various spaces in his class, the students proposed the idea of taking ideas and principles from class and applying them to BHSEC. A group of students, now Y2s, then ran a Symposium Day discussion where they discussed how their dream of a shared space could be brought into reality. The creation and maintenance such a space would require work from both the faculty and the students, as well as a dedicated location. The process of the formation of the idea was based on events last year in BHSEC. Alexandra Griffin, ’14, said, “Part of the reason why we started thinking about ideas for shared space was the problem we had last winter in the fourth floor hallway. Tons of students were studying and eating in the hallway and it was really disruptive,” a problem that anyone who was at BHSEC last year can attest to. Dr. Freund’s first solution to this problem was to place faux-streetlight noise monitors on the fourth floor walls. These devices may have helped students realize how loud they were being, but simply alerting them to the problem was not enough to resolve it. Although the hallway is an organic space, it is not well suited for use as a student lounge. The invention of the Student Activities Center (SAC) was an attempt at creating such a space, but according to Samantha Mozes, ‘14, “The SAC is too inconvenient” because it is far away from where students spend most of their time in the school. The latest potential location is Room 413, which is at the center of where most of the classrooms are, and therefore is easily accessible. Samantha added, “The hope for a shared space in 413 is that because of its central location, it would be an easy place for students to spend their free periods working and hanging out.”
In order to make Room 413 as accessible as possible, Dr. Freund and the administration arranged for the room to be free except for when classes are in session there. For more than half of the school day (see schedule) students will be welcome to use the space. In addition, the room is going to be improved in a couple of ways: “We’re going to put some comfy chairs, a circular table [and] a student user account on the computer. The walls can be used for student artwork and announcements” (Alexandra Griffin, ’14). Priya emphasized that the students and teachers need to be respectful of the space in order for it to work out, but if the project is finalized, she remarked, “I think it is entirely feasible that we could make this space into something really lovely, a bit of a sanctuary.” All students will be welcome to use the room, and hopefully will feel welcome to contribute to it, whether by putting up artwork on the walls, or by giving suggestions for improvement.
Another issue in BHSEC that the space will hopefully address is the noticeable lack of school spirit. Samantha explained, “One of the most common complaints about BHSEC is that students want to be in school to get their work done and then leave, without being involved in their school as a community. We hope that having a space not explicitly designated for work or any other particular use will alleviate this problem by creating a place within the school where students might actually want to spend time.” Ideally, this space will serve to bring together many students from different grades. This group of students also hopes to set a precedent by creating an area where students can come to relax and do work. Alexandra said that “If it works, than maybe this model can be replicated in other classrooms.” In this scenario, many classrooms on the third, fourth, and fifth floors could be transformed into multi-purpose spaces. Priya claims that this system “would create more unity between students and teachers if they could, successfully and respectfully, work to curate spaces that function equally well as classroom and as student lounges.” Hopefully, the school will soon be filled with classrooms that are also fully functional as shared spaces. For now though, Dr. Freund encourages all students to stop by Room 413 during their free periods.