Why we can’t eat lunch in the atrium, and possible changes to the Conant cafeteria (eventually)

Jacy Fu | Conant Crier

Let’s face it: no one wants to eat in the cafeteria. It is so full, crowded with people who don’t care to clean up after themselves or keep their voices down in respect for others. Juniors and Seniors are provided with off-campus passes, but it is only practical to eat outside when weather permits, and most students do not have their vehicles available (due to a lack of parking passes available at Conant for the ever-growing student body). 

Freshmen and Sophomores have no alternatives. 

However, as anyone who has been here since last year knows, there used to be another option, somewhere smaller, cleaner, quieter. Somewhere many students were able to count on to be a more sustainable option for consuming lunch. 

The atrium. 

So, what happened to this wonderful place? As many of us know, the atrium was changed last year from being another place to enjoy lunch to an alternative meeting spot for various tutoring services. 

This year, tutoring has moved back into the traditional tutoring hallway, leaving the atrium empty to serve seemingly no purpose, at least for the student body. In order to get the atrium’s full story (and possibly see into its future), I have asked our principal, Mrs. Nowak, five essential questions.

The atrium wasn’t always this extra option for enjoying meals. When it was first built, it was used as more of a student lounge type of space, where students could spend time working on home/group work, similar to how the media center is used today. However, like many other things, the atrium’s use completely changed as a result of COVID-19. 

When Conant fully opened back up to in-person learning at the beginning of the 2022 school year, there were strict guidelines in place in regards to spacing. Along with wearing masks all day, students had to be able to sit at least six feet apart during their lunch. In order to be able to safely follow this guideline, the atrium was advertised as another place to eat.

Out of all of the schools in District 211, Conant has the largest student population with the most rapid growth. This means that, every year, class sizes increase and the need for more space grows. Last year, in the effort to maximize the usefulness of every classroom, tutoring services were moved from their traditional classrooms to the atrium, meaning all students needed to go back to eating in the cafeteria or off-campus.

The biggest reason for this change was the fluctuation in temperature within the atrium. It is built with an exterior wall made entirely out of glass, which greatly reduces the effect that interior air conditioning and heating has on it. 

When it is incredibly warm and sunny outside, the sun shines through the windows and increases the temperature substantially. When it is incredibly cold outside, the windows easily become frosted and the room experiences a noticeable drop in temperature. This became a comfort and potential safety concern for the staff working in tutoring all day, whether that be tutors or staff supervisors.

With the increasing student body, there is also an increased need for staff supervisors. If students are traveling from the cafeteria to the atrium during lunch hours, there needs to be more supervision between the two spaces, as well as inside of the atrium. 

In order to conserve supervision needs and keep Conant safe, students need to be easily accounted for. This is much easier when there is only one indoor spot that students should be eating in during their lunch hour, the cafeteria. 

Another contributing factor to the need for supervision is Freshman PRIDE. In order for PRIDE to be successful and safe, there is a lot of staff effort put towards making sure everything runs smoothly, including in the classrooms and out in the hallways. However, since PRIDE only lasts one semester each school year, it is possible that, given there are enough supervisors by the beginning of second semester, the atrium may be reopened to students.

The short answer would be that no one is completely sure. It will only be opened back up if there were enough resources to safely sustain it, and as for right now, there is no saying whether there will be. As for the idea of other spaces being opened to serve the same purpose as the atrium, this is not being looked into. Any other space will likely create the same safety concerns as the atrium would. 

Although there are no concrete plans about the reopening of the atrium (or any other areas) as secondary eating spaces, Mrs. Nowak has been brainstorming some long term plans to increase student morale when it comes to the cafeteria as the only available space for eating.

There have been other schools in District 211 that have changed up their cafeterias by adding in new seating options, such as booths and standing-up areas. This could potentially create a more inviting and exciting environment for students, eliminating the need for any extra space at all. This is more of a long term solution, especially since the student locker rooms were so recently completely remodeled, so it shouldn’t be expected in the near future.

See how Crier staff member Alexa Orlowski’s mind changed after her reporting on this article:

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