What’s Wrong With the Old School?
All Belmont schools are out of space – in the classrooms, as well as cafeterias, libraries, gyms, and other shared spaces. At this rate, we may soon have as many as 1,000 students in temporary, modular classrooms.
Why are Belmont schools overcrowded?
As part of the due diligence for the building project, two different demographic consultants studied Belmont’s demographic and enrollment trends, and their findings show continued enrollment growth for many years.
As a result, all grades exceed class size guidelines. In elementary school, there are classes with 25 or more students. In the high school, 25% of classes have 27 or more students, and a growing number of classes have 30 or more students. Class size grows as enrollment grows by over 100 students every year, and we have long since exceeded the available space.
To that end, 16 temporary, modular classrooms were added to prevent further overcrowding — six at Belmont High School, six at the Chenery Middle School, and four at Burbank Elementary School. As enrollment continues to grow, especially at the middle and high schools, the school department anticipates the need for many more modular classrooms in the near future. As enrollment continues to grow, especially at the middle and high schools, we may need to have as many as 800 students in “temporary” modular classrooms — which would become permanent without comprehensive solution.
Won’t enrollment come back down?
This enrollment pattern is driven by millennials, who are today’s young parents. These young families value Belmont’s proximity to jobs in Cambridge and Boston. They prioritize public transportation, walkable town centers, and great schools. This generation is at the beginning of their childbearing years, and they will continue to migrate to the “inner core” towns for many years to come.
What does overcrowding look like in the high school?
- Classes spill out into hallways because there is not space for all project teams to work in the classroom. But in the hall, they compete for space with other classes, with students trying to do quiet homework, and with students who need somewhere to talk to their friends. There is simply nowhere to go.
- There are lines to get into the over-full library, and many kids give up or don’t even try. A few years ago, most of the books were removed from the library to make more space for students. Students are crowded around individual carrels doing collaborative work. And with hundreds of students in the library, students report that it is too noisy to study.
- The current “remedy” for the overcrowded cafeteria is called “split periods.” This means that midday classes meet for 25 minutes, break for a 25 minute lunch, and then conclude with another 25 minutes of instruction. The interruption has a tremendous impact on learning.
- In the science labs, there are not enough desks or lab tables. Labs designed for four students are done by six because there aren’t enough tables. One-third of the students can’t actively participate in the “hands on” activity — they just observe. Students who can’t grab a desk at the beginning of class sit at lab tables that were just used for a messy dissection or a chemical experiment. Teachers cannot preset labs with students sitting at the lab tables. Time is wasted and learning suffers.
- There is also a safety issue with overcrowding around lab tables. Science experiments use flames, chemicals, and sharp implements, which is a safety hazard.
- In many classrooms, there are so many desks, students, and backpacks that teachers cannot walk through the aisles to help students and project teams.
- Storage space is an issue. There is nowhere for science classes to store “experiments in progress” – which means students lose the opportunity to do these labs. In addition, lab equipment can be large and bulky, but there aren’t enough nearby storage closets – science gear is stored throughout the building, which makes lab setup time-consuming and disruptive.
- Belmont has a thriving music program, but the high school chorus is taught in a former garage. With an uninsulated garage door, the room is cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and the acoustics are terrible.
- And finally, approximately 150 high school students are taught in six modular classrooms during each class period.
What does overcrowding look like in the middle school?
- A dozen “repurposed” former storage closets and small rooms have been converted to instructional spaces. Students are tutored in the back corner of a staff room. Music, math groups, language groups, special education, speech – all are housed in converted spaces. Six modular classrooms have been added, but it is not enough.
- A computer lab was taken off-line to make room for a 5th grade classroom.
- With as many as 115 students in the gym at a time, PE classes have had to change. Many sports have been replaced with backyard games or modified beyond recognition. For example, students play volleyball on their knees because of low ceilings in the multi-purpose room.
- Last year, there were 160 students in the sixth grade chorus. The class was moved to the auditorium, a poor learning environment, and staffed with one teacher and four aides to maintain discipline.
- Already, excellent teachers are leaving to teach in schools with smaller class sizes. There are many excellent schools in our region, and teachers have options.
- Even something as basic as school lockers have an impact on student life. Because there are not enough lockers in the eighth grade hallways, some have been assigned lockers downstairs in the fifth grade hallways – in the middle of the school’s youngest children, separated from their friends, and away from the watchful eyes of their teachers.
- Students who are overwhelmed by the noisy, overcrowded cafeteria have the option of eating lunch in the (carpeted) nearby community room – but even that room is becoming crowded with as many as 40 students in a lunch period. Because of the number of grades at the middle school, one-quarter of Chenery students have lunch as early as 10:30 in the morning.
- The 650 seat auditorium cannot hold more than one grade of children.
What does overcrowding look like in the elementary schools?
- Every possible space has been converted into instructional space. Computer labs were moved to the libraries. Tutoring and small group interventions have been moved to lobbies, cafeterias, stages, and conference rooms. After school programs lost classrooms, creating a significant hardship for families with two working parents who rely on after school programs.
- This year, four modular classrooms were added at the Burbank Elementary School, taking away recreational space and requiring children to put on coats every time they go to lunch, music, art, gym, and library, not to mention the nurse, speech and occupational therapy, reading or math support, etc.
- The change that has the most impact on children and families is the loss of neighborhood schools. Because of lack of space, many students are not placed in their neighborhood school. Children cannot walk to school. They don’t go to school with their neighborhood friends. Students are driven across town because they are not eligible to ride the bus. This measure is necessary in order to balance enrollment at each school, but there are significant consequences.