Making space for spaces on the Acalanes High campus

The expansion of on-campus programs spark dialogues on the finite campus space at Acalanes High School.

Mara Korzeniowska, Acalanes High School

The expansion of on-campus programs spark dialogues on the finite campus space at Acalanes High School.

Alex Ariker, Keith Johnson, and Zack Lara, Acalanes High School

Acalanes High School features many classrooms, fields and spaces for various programs and extracurriculars. However, as more on-campus programs seek to expand, the allotted on-campus space for each group to function begins to run out.

Acalanes administration proposed moving its Peer Tutoring program into the library to expand the Wellness Center for the 2022-2023 school year. As the plan came to fruition, staff members and faculty voiced their concerns, which spurred a larger conversation on how to move forward with some programs without hindering others.

When administration first proposed the changes, several teachers protested moving Peer Tutoring and removing vital library space. The cause for change was two-fold – concern over the current Peer Tutoring location and a need to accommodate an expanding Wellness Center.

“My understanding is that there is a need for additional space for Wellness and also that Peer Tutoring is needing a different space because it is both not a welcoming space. It’s right now currently in not a windowed room, and it’s also a relatively small space,” AP Comparative Government and World History teacher Joseph Schottland said.

The size of the Wellness Center’s current space has also posed a problem to the program, as it bottlenecks the number of students it can help.

“We have four people that can provide counseling, but we only have two spaces,” Wellness Center Coordinator Allen Choi said.

The proposed change generated opposition from students and staff, especially those who spend their free time on-campus in the library and those who use the library to supplement their teaching.

“I enjoyed how there was always a space for me to be. I’m a man who doesn’t like always being in large groups. The library always served as an escape for me, and I like reading, so they’ve had a good selection of books to keep me going,” senior Kenny Hilton said.

In a similar way, some Acalanes community members worry that moving the Peer Tutoring space to the library might impact the environment of Peer Tutoring as a whole.

“There are students who come in here, especially after school, and they don’t really need a tutor necessarily, but they know us and they know the program. They feel comfortable here, it’s kind of like a little after-school club, so it would take away from the personality of Peer Tutoring,” Head of Peer Tutoring Mary McCosker said.

Space on campus is finite. Acalanes’ various programs constantly vie for the best spaces so that they can reach and benefit as many students as possible. However, when too many programs share the same space, fears of widespread detriments arise.

“To me, it becomes a situation of access. Students who are coming in to get books, whether for themselves or for an assignment, are probably going to feel a little restricted from going back there. Especially if they see tutors working there and students being tutored,” librarian Barbara Burkhalter said.

Also, some Acalanes students said they feel the purposes of the library and Peer Tutoring are diametrically opposed.

“Peer Tutoring needs a quiet space where they can focus on helping each other out, learning and studying. I feel like the library a lot of time isn’t that, a lot of people come and go and there are often conversations going on in corners,”  senior Elijah Hassett said.

After discussions with teachers and staff, Principal Eric Shawn announced a meeting for teachers to voice their concerns regarding on-campus changes.

Shawn announced through a staff email that there would be no immediate changes to the library while acknowledging the need for a further exploration of options.

“We do need to find a new location for our Peer Tutoring Program. We also need to develop spaces for effective one-to-one counseling services for students and to run wellness support groups,” Shawn said in the email. 

The possibility of Peer Tutoring moving into the library has brought a larger issue to the forefront of Acalanes administration, staff and student dialogues – how the school should move forward with space changes without impacting its programs. As Acalanes constantly changes the various spaces on campus, staff emphasizes the importance of keeping some spaces the same.

“I feel the library is a sacred space,” Schottland said. “It’s the academic heart of this school. It’s a place where lots of classes use it. It’s a place where we’ve got a great librarian to make it both academic but also social.”