By Lauren Olszaniecki
Richview’s 30-year-old science labs have got to go. More specifically, the stools, lamented by students of all ages, genders and sizes. Even teachers agree that the science labs’ stools are one of the worst parts of teaching. I’ve learned that a significant part of the science department’s limited budget is spent on getting new stools to replace broken ones.
Thanks to the pandemic, students spend 210 minutes trying to learn while facing increasing discomfort and even pain. There’s no need for these rooms to be designed that way; they’re for lab work, not for teaching, and you’re not even supposed to sit down during a lab. Maybe some people have gotten used to this by now, but I care too much about my health and the health of students to let this go on. It makes classes not only unfocused, but detrimental to physical development.
By design, the stools fit under lab benches when not in use, so therefore they don’t have a back. It’s easy to spin around and chat with a friend behind or beside you and as all of us with talkative classmates know, it interrupts the teacher, and the class. During the pandemic, even the act of speaking to others poses a risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, though the desk spacing usually ensures students have a minimum of six feet of distance from others. When you multiply that by 14 other students, who have all been long-term physically isolated from friends and family, you have a serious problem with lack of teaching time and a greater potential for virus spread.
As the minutes tick by, everyone has the need to adjust, fidget, and be generally uncomfortable. Regardless of body size, students struggle. A teacher might provide a chair on a case-by-case basis, but it singles out the student, and what will they do when it’s time for a lab? In theory, teachers could give everyone a chair and stack them at the back of the class, or put them in the hallway during labs, although this might prove to be a nuisance.
If buying and using actual chairs is (for some reason) out of the question, we could test cushy gel pads on top of the stools. This is sort of a last resort- it doesn’t solve the many problems with the arrangement, and might make it worse, but it’s an option. An individual gel pad for each student would probably reduce the average butt discomfort.
It was mentioned to me that the science budget is already stretched thin, so it’s worth looking into the resources and space we already have here at school. Richview’s student population has decreased significantly as more students are going online now, and science teachers can set themselves up in unused classrooms that do not have the stools or lab benches. (Existing classrooms aren’t without their flaws, but that’s a separate problem.)
I’m certain Richview tries its best to be equitable and give every student what they need to learn. Basing the type of seating on functional design over necessary form is a big problem. It’s been like this for far too long. No students, regardless of their size, can fit their legs under a lab bench. If you can’t fit your legs under, you can’t sit close to a desk and take notes while facing the front and sitting up straight (we won’t get into the fact that my teacher made some students use the window sill as a desk!). Even though regular desks are problematic as is, at least most students can meet that criteria in a regular desk. Students might begin a struggle with food and weight based on their discomfort in their class.
Within this topic, it’s also necessary to address the fact that students, who are young adults in the process of physically growing, are in substandard physical environments. If I may say so, as of yet, the educators and school board executives haven’t been standing up for students who can’t even sit up straight at their desks. The pandemic is hard on all of us, but they decided to give three and a half hour classes to students without making a change to seating arrangement, which is especially an issue for science students.
Even the teachers point out that students are constantly fidgeting and uncomfortable during class, which lowers the effectiveness of the lesson. One of my friends even describes their experience as “suffering” through two science classes (both were taught in a lab) in the first quadmester, and another friend of mine admitted “I feel bad” for anyone in a class being taught fully in a science lab.
A few, if not most, readers of this article have probably taken the grade 9 introduction to business course. When I learned about ergonomics and was marked on my understanding of the topic, I didn’t expect nor enjoy being placed in a science class where none of those things were even remotely possible. I now think that it’s downright hypocritical. If the admin chooses to give students these types of working conditions, it’ll affect their choices at home. No one said it’s okay to ignore ergonomic advice, but students might get used to lab seating and choose to sit uncomfortably so as not to cause a fuss.
If we’ve got empty classrooms lying around, they should be put to good use. By writing this, I hope to bring attention to the issues with Richview’s science labs and spur the administration to take action. Let’s make students’ time at school more pleasant.