Monday, March 1, 2021

What might be more important than lockers?


Walk into any high school, anywhere in America, and the most obvious feature you’ll notice is that every hallway is lined with lockers. Wall-to-wall lockers. But there might be a better way to use the space on those walls, District Administration Magazine points out.

Lockers at a high school (Clemens v Vogelsang / Flickr Creative Commons)

A Virginia high school asked students what might be a better use of the space, and then the school implemented those ideas by replacing lockers in three hallways with technology, such as charging stations, white boards, and other electronics students need today.

Jay Thomas, the principal at one of the high schools in Albemarle County Public Schools, told the magazine that of about 2,000 students at the school, only 25 of them said they wanted lockers. Instead, the school is experimenting with the electronics upgrades to see if kids actually engage in collaboration and use the newly designed spaces.

The school’s one-to-one program has resulted in kids, invariably, forgetting to charge their devices at home and running out of power, which sent school officials looking for solutions.

“We decided to get creative and think about how to modernize a building that’s 60 years old to meet the needs of kids today,” Mr Thomas was quoted as saying. “The lockers were just taking up space. Now, our school is more of an open campus.”

A 2014 report by a STEM-focused nonprofit says that about a third of K-12 students in the US use mobile devices that were issued by their schools, including several districts that have one-to-one technology programs. The report, from Project Tomorrow, also found that “more than 40 percent of high school principals are now offering online classes for students in math, science, history and English/language arts. Only 17 percent of high schools are not offering online classes, according to school principals.”

“It’s inevitable that students will forget to charge their devices at home,” says Javier Baca, chief information officer for Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, Arizona, which runs a one-to-one technology program for students in fourth grade through high school. “This is going to become a more frequent need as we see school districts move toward providing mobile computing devices.”

Backpacks & Facebook replace lockers; curricular materials online

In a place like Arizona, it might be possible to eliminate lockers for storage of coats, because those coats are likely not much heavier than a windbreaker or fleece jacket. But in the classrooms of northern Illinois, coats are often as bulky as a parka during the winter months, and carrying them from one class to another could be exhausting.

As a result, this might not be an ideal solution everywhere, especially in regions of the US that might get cold.

Before the days of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and other sites where kids post their identity to the world, that function used to be relegated to lockers. They served as kids’ personal “wall,” just as a Facebook timeline—which used to be called a wall, before Mark Zuckerberg and company changed it to a timeline—does today in allowing kids a canvas to make a statement about who they are.

The Star Tribune in northwest Indiana wrote in 1988 that “Boys have the expected pinups, but, these days, so do the girls. In fact, you’re likely to see as many locker doors covered with beefcake photos as with cheesecake.”

“Things are a lot different today than when I was in school,” the paper quoted Dale Ciciora as saying. He had been, at the time, a teacher at Valparaiso High School for 30 years.

But even as Facebook has become just as much a personal space as lockers have, kids still go all out in some schools to put their personal style on display in the school hallways. The Buffalo News wrote, on August 30, 2015:

Students are countering the drab and uniform nature of school lockers by jazzing them up inside with pink and purple wallpaper, eye-catching rugs and lighting—even battery operated disco balls. And retailers are happy to accommodate the trend, some adding locker decor sections to their back-to-school supply displays.

Furthermore, upgrading electrical work in decades-old school buildings could get expensive. It’ll be worth it, since there is little doubt kids will run out of power during an average seven-hour school day; some regions of the country, though, still need lockers, I think.

It’s an interesting idea, though, and in Virginia, if school officials see a lot of kids using the white boards and portable charging stations that have been installed, they might make similar changes at other schools in the county.

Could you survive without a locker? Why or why not?

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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