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COMMENTARY: Ballard High's overcrowding creates challenges


The bell rings and students spill into the halls. Only 4-1/2 minutes left. Will they be able stop by their lockers to exchange their books, use the restroom, stop for a sip of water, and still manage to push their way through the herd of their classmates in time for their next classes?

At Ballard High School, it would be a great feat.

This year at Ballard, students can barely move in the halls between classes. Simply attempting to go directly from one class to the next can be difficult, if one wishes to be on time.

This may be no surprise to the seniors at Ballard High. They were the first class to enter the new building as freshmen, with a class of 460 students. BHS has been growing since the new building opened three years ago.

In 1999, when Ballard was temporarily housed in the old Lincoln High School building, the graduating class consisted of only 198 students, compared to the class of 2003, which currently claims over 400. This year, however, more students are attending Ballard than was originally projected, making the halls even more crowded.

Ballard High's current building was designed to accommodate a maximum capacity of 1,600 students.

As of mid-September, the school had an enrollment of 1,604 students, according to Pamela Suiaunoa, the school's registrar. Suiaunoa added, however, that enrollment typically fluctuates up and down throughout the school year as students transfer out and more are allowed in.

Still, operating at full or near full capacity has created problems for Ballard's students and teachers. Rooms that were originally designed to be teachers' planning rooms have been converted to classrooms. One math class was forced to move downstairs to the school's language arts wing because there was simply not enough room. Teachers do not even have their classrooms to themselves all day. Some teachers are forced to move in order to keep those rooms in use at all times. Teachers cannot have more than 150 students throughout the day, but that makes for some large classes.

One problem many students complain about is the school's two-lunch system, which was enacted two years ago. The cafeteria is too small to accommodate every student. When the two-lunch policy was first put into place, some students were so upset they threatened to protest in front of the district office.

While tension over that issue has settled down a bit, the system does create some problems. Clubs that used to meet during lunch now have conflicts.

As president of Ballard High's National Honor Society, 12th grader Mackenzie Nicholson says she has had trouble finding a way to keep National Honor Society unified.

"Two lunches are difficult for clubs because the officers may have different lunches" she says. This causes clubs to have communication problems, and a decrease in attendance and all over unity. For now, the cafeteria will hold all the students who wish to use it, but when the colder months come and students migrate indoors during lunch time, Ballard will once again be faced with a capacity problem in the cafeteria.

The increased enrollment has also resulted in Ballard's change of athletic leagues, from a 3A league to 4A. The leagues are based upon enrollment in grades 10 through 12, which must be at least 1,201 students in order for a school's sports teams to compete in the 4A league. This switch was predicted as early as 1999. Some athletes at Ballard are nervous because of the tougher competition in the 4A league, which will decrease Ballard's chances of competing in state championships.

With the school's shiny new lockers and promise of a technology-based education, it is easy to see why Ballard has become so popular.

Before it was rebuilt, BHS had been experiencing a depressed enrollment.

However, programs such as the Biotechnology Academy, in addition to Ballard's new building, attracted students from both public and private schools.

With no other area schools, parents in Queen Anne and Magnolia are pressuring to get their children into Ballard High, which can create some tension in the community. However, that tension has greatly diminished since Ballard reopened three years ago.

Of course, there is a limit to how many students BHS can hold, but that limit is certainly being stretched.

This growth is simply part of Ballard High School's new era. The school's sports teams will undoubtedly adjust to competing against 4A league rivals. Ballard students will have to use their passing period more effectively and clubs will manage with two lunches for now.

The future of Ballard is uncertain for now, but one thing is clear, BHS will continue to change. Nikki Schormann is a news intern at the Seattle Sun who is a senior at Ballard High School and co-editor of the school's student newspaper this year.