A few years ago, I was hanging out in the deli line at Stop & Shop, where the deli clerk was going on and on with a customer about how “horrible” Grafton Middle School is. She said she wanted to call a television station so they would do an expose. Naturally, I was intrigued, so when she finally called my number, I handed her my business card and asked her to go into more detail.
Faced with an actual inquiring journalist, she clammed up. Instead of an expose about Grafton Middle School, I got lunchmeat.
This morning, I visited Grafton Middle School. There were a few more parents on this trip — six, plus Principal Richard Lind and me.
Grafton Middle School kind of resembles everyone’s middle school years: it’s not pretty. Of all the Grafton schools, it’s the one that most shows the wear and tear. It reminds me of Bellingham High School, the old one I attended in the 1980s and, trust me, that is never going to be a compliment. According to the bricks outside, it was built in 1962.
GMS wasn’t designed to be a middle school. It was an elementary school until the late 1970s, and some bathrooms still contain the tiny fixtures adapted for younger children. According to Lind, when he arrived at the school nine years ago, it held 460 students. It now holds 652 students, and the coming classes are only going to increase the population.
“I’m not sure how much longer we can hold these kids,” Lind said. “You do run out of space at some point. A classroom can only hold so many.”
Four modular units, holding seven teachers, are expected to alleviate some problems as of 2009. These classrooms would be added on to the back of the building (kids shouldn’t need to walk outside to get to class) and shouldn’t take away too much from the already-limited space the school has for playing fields. As it is, the fields are too small for the school’s annual field day, which must be done at the high school, and the baseball team has to hold its home games elsewhere.
The parking area out front is very small. There are only 100 parking spaces, which can hold the roughly 80 people who work in the building — but because the area is so small, it takes almost half an hour to run through student dismissal since all the buses, of course, cannot fit.
What else can’t fit? The teaching staff. There are eight teachers who do not have classrooms to call their own. They move from room to room throughout the school day, carrying their materials on carts. Lind said it makes the school a bit unappealing for new teachers — given the choice between a district that paid a little less but provided them with a room and Grafton, which might pay a little more but might make them wander, many opt for the room.
“Their life is in a little cart that they drag from place to place,” Lind said. “That affects teaching, and that affects living.”
GMS has been very creative with the space it has. Several classrooms that were designed to be single classrooms have been divided into two classrooms. It leads to some odd-looking rooms in some cases.
The weirdest conversion: there is no stage in GMS’ cafetorium. What used to be the stage is now windowless office space for guidance staff. Any performances by GMS kids must be done at Grafton High School.
The cafeteria, like that in Grafton High, is too small. There are three lunch periods a day, the earliest at 10:36 a.m. (My future sixth grader is kind of dubious about that, but Lind says the earlier start to the school day makes them pretty hungry at that hour)
Computers are at a premium. There are ActiveBoards in every classroom (they’re like the SmartBoards at Grafton Elementary) but there aren’t necessarily computers in every classroom. They do have a classroom’s worth of laptops that circulate on a cart but, of course, that limits use. There are also computers in the library.
The Macs that are carefully lined up on the bookcase are not meant to be an art display — they will be set up in another section of the library which, of course, will take away space for studying and, you know, books.
Grafton Middle is essentially where the school system is really going to feel the pinch with the coming wave of students. If a new Grafton High is built, that will free up the current high school — the school system could realign the grades to, say, make old Grafton High for grades 7-8 and the current middle school for grades 5-6, opening up space in Grafton Elementary.
Heck, that could even trickle down to North and South Grafton and open up space for full-day kindergarten. But that’s just crazy talk…