I love Oak Park and River Forest High School. Beginning in the mid-1930s, my mother, aunts and uncles completed their high school education in those hallowed halls and my sisters, brother and I followed in their footsteps. Next came my nephews who, in the past decade, graduated from OPRF, studied at excellent universities for both bachelor and master’s degrees and currently are engaged in interesting and inspiring careers.
OPRF did right by all of us, and this recognition took me to the second (or possibly the third) public presentation of the Imagine OPRF public presentation of alternative redevelopment plans for the high school. I returned home from the presentations deeply disappointed in how ordinary the plans were. Where were the renewable energy sources? Where were the innovative recycling plans? Where were the facilities that would motivate students to make healthy dietary choices? Further, some of the stated goals, such as supporting the social-emotional life of the students, are contradicted, and not supported by the proposed building plans. There are instances of this throughout the plans, but the one most people can relate to is the swimming pool.
As a high school teacher, I witness teens struggling to cope with their body image. I am thankful that OPRF had separate swimming pools for boys and girls when I was a student because, being seen regularly in a swimsuit by boys would have added significantly to my teenage angst. It certainly would not have helped me with any social/emotional issues dogging me throughout the school’s halls and classrooms. Restoring the separate pools would be a luxury, but one that would benefit the entire student “body.” Also, the water could be warmer to facilitate physical therapy activities that some students need.
To meet the needs of students engaged in water sports, there is a generously large swimming pool across the street at Ridgeland Common that would suffice for aquatic competitions. Enclose that pool with a retractable roof, solar heating, and glass walls and the swim team can use it for practice and competitions throughout the school year. This may be an expensive undertaking, but the entire community would benefit from pool availability during rainy summer days and the expense could be shared with the park district.
Prior to any construction, I suggest that OPRF consider changing their school day to the model used by New Trier High School in Winnetka. Their approach places a heavy emphasis on the social and emotional needs of their students and they are pleased with their outcomes. Helping students with their social and emotional issues will support improved academic performance as well as a happier and healthier school environment. It is a worthy goal.
Carolyn Browne is an Oak Park resident.