Open space: The once busy student center at OPRF, 201 N. Scoville, is now empty under the new campus policy. Students are prohibited from congregating in the area. The school, meanwhile, is looking for another space for students to study and relax.Photos by TERRY DEAN/Staff

The Oak Park and River Forest High School Student Center might need a new name.

That’s because there are no students there anymore during lunchtime, milling around in the large, open space inside the school’s main doors on Scoville. No kids sitting, or even napping, on the stairs leading to the second floor. No students sitting on the floor, and none on the steps leading into the main auditorium.

It might now be called the “student-free center.”

It’s a change Principal Nathaniel Rouse has been eyeing for some time prior to implementing the new semi-closed campus policy. The rethinking of the center is among many changes underway at OPRF. All are a part of changing an OPRF culture that many parents, teachers and administrators believe had become too lax, a view shared even by some students.

The student center for years has been a hangout for students during the school day if they’re not in class or at lunch. But it’s not the image Rouse wants visitors to see when they first enter.

“When we look at the student activities center, what if it was an actual tutoring and resource center that students can access during lunch, where they can do homework, where they can watch TV if that were the case, where they had a place to unwind? That’s what we need,” Rouse said. “This is a lobby right now. So our message to students before was, ‘Here’s your space and there’s nothing there but this.'”

Rouse said the school wants to pursue a space for kids that encompasses academics and also provides a place to relax.

One of the many changes under the partially-open campus policy that’s in effect this school year is blocking off the Student Center during lunch. Rouse said the school put up yellow tape the first day of school on Aug. 24, along the hallway leading to the North and South cafeterias. The tape has since been replaced with cordon posts. Adult staff are also posted there, directing students down either hallway.

Rouse said the school is looking to change its tutoring center and using that space for students. Another idea is utilizing some of the space in the existing student center, perhaps putting up portable tables around the second floor stairwell that kids can access during lunchtime for studying.

The student center is part of the addition to the school that was completed in 1967, which closed Ontario Street and greatly expanded OPRF. The space has remained virtually the same since. But when Rouse visited the school prior to become principal in 2008, he had a similar feeling about the space.

“My reaction was, I wondered what we were doing?” Rouse recalled. “My reaction was, ‘If this is a place for students, why are we providing them a place to sleep and place to eat?’ It wasn’t structured. So I knew that this needed structure.”

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