Sardined in the Stairwells

The crowded stairwells of North Atlanta High School.

Jack Stenger

The crowded stairwells of North Atlanta High School.

It’s Monday morning, the first bell has just blared over the intercom, and once again the stairwells are overflowing with loud, grumpy teenagers. To most this description likely sounds like an exaggeration, but in fact this is what the average student of North Atlanta High experiences on a daily basis – and all before nine in the morning.

During each transition the students are so tightly packed into the stairwells that their situation becomes comparable to that of sardines packaged so snugly in their shiny tins. However where these little fish get peace and quiet, we get yelling and an abhorrent surplus of raging hormones.

    While it’s expected for teens to display a certain amount of  “impulsivity” as a result of such a myriad of hormones constantly coursing through their veins, that doesn’t mean any of us want to see the roaming hands and lack of personal space between faces that has become so apparently commonplace in the stairwells. Where school policy is concerned, these over-the-top public displays of affection have been clearly and consistently deemed unacceptable in our supposedly upstanding institution, yet somehow, they remain a constant and no adults in the building seem to take notice of these not-so-little. Please note, I’m not some five year old who’s frightened of receiving cooties from the opposite gender, but neither do I feel the need to bear witness to that much “affection” upwards of four times a day.

Sadly, excessive PDA is simply one item on the lengthy list of hazards, mishaps, and blatant annoyances caused by our school’s crowded stairwells. Another is hallway congestion caused by students who are forced to wait to even enter the stairwell.

The clogging of the stairwells is bad enough when it’s unintentional, but when it’s intentional, it can be migraine inducing. Various scofflaw students are often engaged in purposeful blockading in these tight spaces. These can occur in a multitude of ways, one of which have be designated “traffic jams.” These happen when someone grabs stair railings on both sides of themselves and brings all behind to a grinding halt. At this point, many times these mayhem inducers or one of their friends yells “traffic jam!” or “red light!” While this stunt might be amusing for those causing it, these miscreants soon find out how moronic it is. For behind them, pushing and shoving, are increasingly angry students who are not willing to play along. What’s most shocking about these occurrences isn’t the sheer stupidity of the act; it’s the utter lack of acknowledgment of the adults show, I am often led to wonder if they are deaf, dumb, and blind.

“Traffic Jams” are simply one of the causes of overcrowding. Other reasons are the lack of room, the speed at which students walk (which is to say the speed of turtles, if they are moving at all), and the excessive socializing in place where movement should not, under any circumstances, be impeded. It feels like maybe if we wait long enough someone will get seriously injured and the school officials in the building will take notice pull it together.

Even teachers avoid the main stairwell during class transitions because they have no desire whatsoever to be caught in the throng of students. There is an almost universal consensus that most of these vexing congestion problems can be solved or reduced by opening the stairwells at the far ends of the schools. But still this never happens. And I’ve yet to hear an administrative reason as to why we can’t use the stairwells that doesn’t come across along the following lines: “Because you’re an immature child who can’t possibly grasp advanced safety-related concepts, these stairwells can’t be used.” Such “explanations” leave me feeling defamed, ridiculed and outraged.

Administrators seem to understand all these stairwell issues but refuse to acknowledge them. There is a seeming feeling that “things will get better.” But – newsflash! – it’s been more than a year, and things have not gotten better. This is a problem that is in dire need of fixing. The stairwells should not still be in an issue in our second year in this building, particularly when there are practical solutions that could resolve the whole unpleasant matter. In the meantime, we remain sardined in the stairwells.