Welcome to Sardine City

Oct. 8, 2004, midnight | By Brittany Moyer | 16 years, 3 months ago

Crammed corridors require shuffled half-steps that cannot exceed the speed of the crowd's current. Long, winding food lines frustrate their patrons, who know their precious lunch minutes are ticking away. Even long waits exist to use the toilet, with the next-closest restroom a mob-laden trek away.

When a public high school resembles a packed pro-football stadium at halftime, something is wrong.

Despite the launch of the Downcounty Consortium (DCC) and the opening of Northwood, arrangements designed to ease Blair's overcrowding, Blair will not see a significant decrease in student population anytime soon. With evidence from the National Education Association that crowded schools have been found to impair student achievement, diminish student discipline and compromise student safety, Blazers are going into the school year at a disadvantage with little hope of relief.

Hallway congestion

The most apparent result of overcrowding inside Blair: hallways that look like Costco's a week before Christmas. "You can't really make a turn," freshman Angelina Wong says, explaining the technicalities of Blair's halls. "You can only go where everyone else is going."

Junior Yvonne Ellis, battling her way out of the bustling SAC during 5B lunch, is victim to the hallway's stagnancy. "Excuse me! Excuse me," she howls, and her student-shaped obstacles hear and try to move to the side. "I have to shove my way through," Ellis admits. "I was trying to be nice about it."

Although Principal Phillip Gainous senses that this year's student body is "much more friendly" than years past, being shoved by a fellow Blazer or clobbered by a large backpack in the hallways can ignite the temper of even a normally friendly Blazer. According to an informal Silver Chips survey of 100 students on Sept. 23, 57 percent have felt short-tempered or angry because of Blair's hallways.

The majority of those Blazers who are not irritated by crowded hallways say it's because they are accustomed to them. To these students, hallway woes are a familiar and accepted part of Blair life.

Nothing to eat, nowhere to sit

Ellis and fellow junior Qadiyyah Harris, having just spent the past 20 minutes in the lunch line only to find no seats in the SAC area, now must perform a tightrope walk down Blair Boulevard, balancing their trays while avoiding the crowds and staking out a picnic spot on the cold linoleum floor. "The cafeteria is so crowded that we can't sit there," Ellis explains.

Their displacement from the lunchroom is called for by fire-code directives: While each lunch period brings more than 1,650 students filing towards the cafeteria for lunch, fire-safety standards mandate a 614-person capacity for the SAC. To meet the code, students are required to disperse down Blair Boulevard and to the outside courtyards when weather permits.

Tucked away in a locker alcove across from the Media Center is a group of freshmen who, like Ellis, Harris and countless others, have been bumped out of the cafeteria and to the floor. Yet, they prefer this nook to the noisy, crowded SAC. "Right here is more peaceful," says freshman Jackie Julia. "There, everyone is pushing people and being so loud. You can hardly have a conversation," she says.

They pass around a vending-machine-supplied pack of sandwich cookies to ease their stomachs' lunchtime grumbles. All five students in the group have attempted to buy lunch at various times this year but were put off by their frustrating experiences. "I bought lunch once; it was such a hassle. By the time you get your lunch, the bell rings. It's not worth it," freshman Stephanie Verduguez complains. Cookies are better than no lunch at all.

There are days when, at the end of a lunch period, students are still waiting in line to receive food, according to Vice Principal Linda Wanner. "I hate lunch duty, quite frankly," she says. "[Students] come up to me and say, 'Ms. Wanner, I don't want to stand in line for 40 minutes.' So I say, 'Well, go sit down for a minute.' But there's nowhere for them to sit."
Last year's figures indicate that 21.3 percent of Blair students received free and reduced meal plans, and Counseling Director Karen Hunt estimates this year's percentage is about the same. This means that over one-fifth of Blazers have no choice but endure the lines and occasionally go lunchless.

"It does affect learning"

On Sept. 19, The Washington Post ran a story written by Post Staff Writer Rebecca Dana spotlighting Blair's overcrowding debacle. Dana detailed the implications of life in an overcrowded school, even those involving the restroom. "You have to be built like a linebacker to make it to the girls' room between classes," she wrote.

Both male and female Blazers agree with Dana's observation. Already, freshman Marisol Salgado has resorted to running from the first to the third floor bathrooms to avoid lines. Freshman Olivia Wondu reports that sometimes, there is even a separate line in the girl's restroom for the mirrors.

And when a student doesn't have a place to sit at lunch, isn't able to walk freely from one class to the next or can't find an open stall to use the bathroom, he or she is at risk for alienation. "Anybody, student or not, needs to operate in an environment where they feel like they're in control," says Kathy Cowan, spokesperson for the National Association of School Psychologists. "And certainly, it's important for a student to feel comfortable in their school environment. It does affect learning."

Even as the school population grows, Blair awaits additional students with open arms. "We have never turned kids away. We welcome them in. We'll make them feel at home here," Vice Principal Linda Wolf says emphatically. But a moment later, her optimistic remark is washed away by Blair's reality. "It's gotten out of hand though, and we just don't have the physical room or staff for them."

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Brittany Moyer. Brittany is a senior in the Communication Arts Program at Montgomery Blair. She has taken pride in being part of Blair's girls' soccer team, Blair's <i>a capella</i> group InToneNation, and of course <i>Silver Chips</i>. Outside of school, Brit goes crazy for arts & crafts, outdoorsy … More »

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