Congested hallways during passing periods leave some students struggling to make it to class on time.
Crowded music rooms make it difficult for choral and band groups to rehearse.
Trying to find a seat in the cafeteria has sent many into the hallway, the library or classrooms to eat lunch.
And some students are having to share or give up their lockers because there’s not enough for everyone to have their own.
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These are the everyday struggles for students and staff at Seymour High School.
Principal Greg Prange said increasing enrollment is a good problem to have because it leads to more state funding, but the kind of growth the school is experiencing also presents major challenges.
Enrollment at the high school as of Wednesday afternoon stood at 1,485 students in Grades 9 through 12. That’s 163 more kids than at the end of the 2015-16 school year in May and 185 students more than in 2014-15.
In the past 10 years, enrollment has increased by about 250 students, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.
“We knew this year’s freshman class was going to be almost as big as last year’s,” Prange said.
Last year’s freshman class numbered 431 students. This year, there are more than 400 freshmen and 400 sophomores.
The large classes are no surprise to school officials as administrators closely monitor growth throughout the entire corporation and can project enrollment numbers for the high school.
“What we can’t control is the number of students who might move in and out of the community in any given year,” Prange said.
On the bright side, if the current numbers and projections hold true, then Seymour High School’s enrollment will level off for the next few years, he said.
But another bubble of big classes is expected to return in four to six years.
Some of the issues at Seymour High School can’t wait that long and need to be addressed sooner rather than later, Prange said.
“Our needs are many. Our cafeteria, kitchen, classrooms, hallways and media center are all full,” he said. “On the exterior, we have parking, visitor access and safety issues that need to be addressed, as well.”
The school’s electrical and plumbing infrastructure are nearly 60 years old, he added.
One solution to help with the growing pains would be a major construction project to add on to the school, most likely to expand the cafeteria and music rooms.
“We have a building that was originally built in 1959,” Prange said. “The cafeteria and kitchen haven’t changed much since then.”
Years ago, the school had an open campus and allowed students to leave for lunch. Although the policy helped with crowding in the cafeteria, it presented a safety issue with students racing to leave and get back on time. The policy changed to a closed campus after several wrecks and a student was injured.
Last year, Prange piloted a Power Hour program, giving all students the same lunch hour but also providing them options of where and how to use it.
Students are encouraged to spend half the time eating and the other half studying, making up a missed test or homework, receiving one-on-one tutoring from a teacher, participating in an academic or extracurricular club, playing an intramural sport or just socializing with their friends.
It has been 20 years since the last major building project in 1996, which included the addition of the 300 math, science and technology wing, a hallway connecting it to the main building and a new study hall room.
The need for computer labs and teacher resource rooms at that time actually made classrooms smaller, Prange said. And the necessary addition of multiple special education rooms further decreased available space.
Prange has seen recent pictures of the school’s hallways during passing periods on social media, showing students so crowded together they can barely move.
“Our hallways are 1959 hallways. They haven’t changed in size,” he said. “Yes, they are crowded.”
With block scheduling, students only have two passing periods each day, and Prange said that time has been extended by an extra minute to give students more time to make it to class.
Some of the crowded hallways can be attributed to freshmen and new students still learning the best routes to get from class to class, he said.
“We’ve reminded them to stay on the right side of the hall and to keep moving to keep traffic flowing,” Prange said. “They have only been in class for eight days, so I am sure they will become more adept at maneuvering the building as they get used to their schedules.”
Junior Briley Wilcox said the crowded hallways just keep getting worse.
“The amount of students walking through the halls is absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “They may have added another minute to the passing period, but that really didn’t help anything.”
She believes the biggest part of the issue is the number of freshmen who just aren’t used to the high school environment yet.
“I feel as if the administrators need to give more direction,” she said. “They are excited to be at the high school this year, and they stand around having conversations with their friends and backing up the halls.”
Another problem the school is facing is not having enough lockers for all of the students, and without additional wall space, there is no way at this time to add more lockers, Prange said.
“We need about 25 more lockers at this point,” Prange said.
But some measures already have been taken to help free up lockers for those who need one.
The school has asked students who have a parent who teaches there, athletes assigned an athletic locker and students who travel to Columbus for the C4 vocational program to give up their locker.
Siblings also have been asked to share lockers, Prange said.
“We don’t want students from different households sharing lockers, though,” he said.
The use of lockers has changed over the years, especially with all students now having a Chromebook to use in place of some textbooks.
“It is hoped that lockers in the future will be used only for coats, jackets and other non-textbook items,” Prange said.
With more students comes the need not only for more space and lockers but for more teachers and classroom instructional assistants.
This year alone, the high school has added staff to teach foreign language classes, business, math, band and social studies. But even with the increase in staff, most teachers still have seen their class sizes increase, too, Prange said.
“It’s hard to make the best of things sometimes, but we have great kids and teachers, and we do what we have to do,” Prange said. “We have some teachers who move from open classroom to open classroom each period. We are using class space that was originally study halls and computer labs and have utilized just about every spot we have.”
Katie Covert, who has a son at the high school and a daughter in elementary school, said she knew 10 years ago crowding was going to be a problem and tried to tell the school board.
“We need more schools and need to redistrict as more housing additions are going up and Seymour is growing,” Covert said.
Recently, the corporation spent $3 million to upgrade the high school’s athletic facilities, including the addition of a turf football field and new soccer fields, which was paid for through bonds — $2 million for the soccer fields and $1 million for the football field.
Some residents have balked at how the money was spent, but Prange said that’s because they do not understand school funding.
“Our current problem could not have been solved with a general obligation $2 million bond,” Prange said. “Our problem is not one that would have or could have been solved even if those monies spent could have been used elsewhere.”
Any fix to the current growing pains at the high school is likely going to cost well more than $2 million, Prange said.
And that will require taxpayers’ approval.
“We need to make sure that we are ready to be able to work within our budget and that we can make our necessary additions and improvements without being a burden to the taxpayer,” Prange said.
By completing projects at $2 million or less, the district has been able to keep its tax rate level over the years, but a major project likely would require an increase.
School board trustee Nancy Franke said the problem cannot be ignored. She wants to see the public more involved with the decisions that will have to be made.
“I know the school board and administration are very open to hear from our community on how they would like to address this,” Franke said.
Other than adding on to the high school, other possibilities could be to build a satellite campus or a ninth-grade center or create alternate scheduling.
“Growth is certainly a great testament to Seymour High School and our community, but we also endure growing pains during the process,” she said. “We need the community to get behind efforts to provide the best educational atmosphere for our students.”