We don't understand. Why has Oak Park and River Forest High School required thousands more of its students to remain in the school building throughout the day and simultaneously blocked student access to the now-ironically-named Student Center — one of the only large, casual gathering places in the building?
You know the space. Inside the main Scoville Avenue entrance. Between the Auditorium and the Little Theatre. The place where, since its construction in the mid-1960s, kids have mingled and kibitzed and played out the drama of being 16.
Nathaniel Rouse, OPRF's principal, has never liked how this space is used. When he first visited the school as a prospective principal four years ago, he thought the sight of kids sitting around, hanging around, napping, eating, sent the wrong message to visitors. The use of the space was too unstructured in his opinion.
He told the Journal last week that the enormous cavern should be considered the school's lobby. That is some gigantic, purposeless lobby. Truth be told, without our kids happily loitering about, this is one of the coldest, least welcoming public spaces we can envision. It makes the main library's lobby look like home.
Principal Rouse has thoughts on how the vast wasteland ought to be used in the future — study area, tutoring area, something structured and educationally oriented. Perhaps. But high school kids, especially high school kids on a newly closed campus, need some space to be kids. They need space to be social.
To its credit, the school administration is taking the opportunity of the quasi-closed campus to impose some necessary structure on this school. Stricter policies on IDs, consequences for tardies all make sense to us. But turning the Student Center into The Rotunda before you have a plan for its new uses, before you have alternative plans for spaces where kids can just chill, seems like overreaching to us.
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