November 4, 2021
by Lydia Scofield, Pickerington Online Intern
& Eighth Grader at Ridgeview Junior High
I slide my Chromebook into my backpack to rest between my folders and notebooks. My eyes dart to the clock, watching as the hands tick closer to the bell. A crowd of students has already gathered at the door, eager to get ahead of the hordes that’ll roam the halls in three… two… one…
My classmates quickly funnel into the hall, hoping to reach their next class before being marked tardy. However, we aren’t the only ones in a rush. There are 930 kids crowded into Ridgeview’s halls even though the school’s maximum capacity is listed at 821. This is way beyond what could possibly be safe. There’s shoving, pushing, students tugging on other kids’ backpacks, and some people are even slapping each other in inappropriate places.
Hallways shouldn’t be playgrounds. Even when no one’s intentionally hitting the people around them, accidents do happen. You’re lucky if you manage to get from one class to another without your face being shoved into the backpack of the kid in front of you.
Personally, I’ve had enough hallway horror stories to last a lifetime. Many kids don’t consider how their actions affect those around them, and so they’ll lightly shove their friends, or do other “kids-will-be-kids” type of things.
Mr. (David) Gauthier, my medical detectives teacher, agreed that this is a problem.
“Hugs, high fives, etc.,” Gauthier said. “If students just kept their hands to themselves, it would not only prevent the spread of germs, but eliminate many of our concerns!”
Stopping to hug your friend in the hallway creates a blockage that everyone else must navigate around. The same jam occurs when students cross the one-way hallway to high five. I don’t know the number of times that I’ve come within milliseconds of being clotheslined.
Also, some kids take advantage of the anonymity which the crowds provide. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me, “I was walking in the halls, heading to my E/I (study hall), when I felt something on the back of my head. When I finally could turn around, one of the students behind me told me that another student had run his hand down the hair on the back of my head, before hiding in the crowd.”
Stuff like that, if not classified as harassment, is at least borderline. This guy just disappeared. Anonymous believes that it is unlikely that the action was captured by the hallway cameras due to the sheer amount of people who were around them at the time. Two weeks later, they admitted that they were still unnerved by the experience and that they remain on edge when walking to class.
To address the traffic issues, the school did set-up a “staggered bell schedule” where half of the students are supposed to enter the halls at the first bell and the second half of the students are supposed to enter the halls after the second bell, but nobody follows that. At the beginning of each trimester the kids were all told whether they were “first bell” or “second bell” but everybody still leaves after the first bell.
My lunch period happens during the first half of fourth period, which starts around 10:10 am. Every kid who takes advanced classes eats during this time, and it’s absolutely crazy! Not all of us can fit into the cafeteria, even though there are five rows of five or six tables each. Each table has seven chairs attached to it, so that’s somewhere around 210 seats total. Folding tables have been set up in the next room over (Campbell Commons) to allow for 50 more seats, but they are filled as well.
Leaving the school is arguably the hardest part of the day. Nobody can open their lockers without causing a bottleneck. Because of this, students are only supposed to visit their lockers when they first enter the school, on their way to and from lunch and when they are leaving for the day. I don’t even try to use my locker; I just carry everything all day.
There are two sets of doors leading to the front lot for bus riders, and two sets of doors leading to where kids can be picked up by their parents. The side doors are open too, but most of the 900+ kids are exiting the building at the same time through the same couple of doors, and it’s chaotic. I exit through door Z, and I can’t recall a single day where I haven’t been jostled. On Thursday alone, I was shoved hard into the cement block wall as I was trying to catch my bus!
When I asked classmates and teachers to rate the school hallways on a scale of one to ten, with one being “Not Bad at All’ and ten being as horrific as an “Apple-Pie Hotdog”, nobody rated Ridgeview better than a seven.
“It could be worse,” commented Kennedy Couch, an eighth grader who gave the school halls a solid eight on my horror scale. “There’s always something worse than what you have. Well… we’re not walking through fire? And I haven’t seen a guy with a gun yet.”
The fact that she set the bar that low just goes to show how bad the problem is – and she’s not the only one who feels this way. My science teacher, Mrs. (Janeen) Kuhl, commented that while the hallways had been this crowded back before “The Split”, the violence was never this bad. She commented on the shoving and running and that students feel unsafe. She gave the hallways a rating of 10 on the horror scale.
Another person to rate the hallways as a 10 was eighth grader Zoey Moore. When asked about the hallways, they replied with, “I hate them.”
Moore also gave examples of when they had been pushed around the hallways like some sort of human-ragdoll.
Eight grader Nicholas Ling said that the “extremely crowded halls lead to a lot of pushing and shoving and yelling and cussing. In general, I just don’t like them.”
Ling recalls a time recently when five guys came “running through the hallways at max speed like frickin’ Naruto. They weaved and shoved people as they ran, and they didn’t apologize. I was one of the victims.”
The Pickerington Local School District (PLSD) administration and school board are aware of the situation at Ridgeview and while the junior high has the most pressing need, it is not the only building facing challenges due to overcrowding.
Pickerington High School Central has a capacity of 1,471 students and an enrollment of 1,936. Sycamore Creek Elementary has a capacity of 750 students and an enrollment of 756. Toll Gate Elementary has a capacity of 774 students and an enrollment of 809.
Accounting for new neighborhoods that will be constructed soon, the PLSD calculates that seven of its 14 schools will exceed their capacities within five years.
To address the overcrowding problem, the district tried twice to place a bond issue on the ballot – last November and again this past spring. The 2.9 mill bond would have generated $95 million to build a new junior high school, add classrooms to both high schools and upgrade athletic facilities at both high schools– including a new football stadium for Central.
The November bond issue was defeated by a vote of 15,434 (53.15%) to 13,602 (46.85%), and in May by a vote of 3,723 (60.96%) to 2,384 (39.04%).
After the second failed attempt, the district surveyed the community to learn why the issue had failed.
When asked “what is the biggest reason that you think that many voters voted against the bond issues?” – the top answer (by 30% of the respondents) was that property owners did not want an increase in taxes.
Had the voters approved the bond issue, the owner of a property with an appraised value of $300,000 (therefore an assessed value of $115,000) would have paid an additional $101.50 per year, or $8.46 per month.
The survey also revealed that half of the residents were unaware that overcrowding was a problem, nor did they know the PLSD had placed bond issues on the ballot – even parents with children in the schools said they were unaware.
Considering the district’s 31-percent approval rating (according to the survey), the board decided against placing another bond issue on the November 2, 2021 ballot. The district also wanted to plan a communications strategy to impress upon voters how desperate the situation had become.
Even if the board places a bond issue on the ballot and the voters do approve it, the building of a new junior high would take several years to complete. The schools will have to resort to alternatives such as hybrid learning, redistricting, and/or split sessions.