St. Stephen – Boys and girls changing rooms at St. Stephen Middle School (SSMS) will be combined during a major renovation this summer.
Anglophone South Superintendent Zoe Watson confirmed the renovations, which will cost $280,000, are being done as a pro-active move with the safety of the students in mind.
The locker room design is the first of its type in the school district, said Watson. A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood development stated this is the only district to date which has requested this type of change room.
In an emailed response, Watson explained the school requested an area where all students would have privacy when they change clothes for physical education.
She said more and more students wish privacy, and at this school some students line up at washrooms to change in private.
“Change rooms are challenging for staff to supervise,” stated Watson. “And as a result, there can be bullying, teasing, and other inappropriate behavior in change rooms with teens.”
Watson said the school came up with the idea for the change in the locker room design. It was discussed at the district level and with the Department of Education because it is a new concept explained Watson.
The design encompasses a large area with 28 self-contained cubicles, each with a door that locks, and both boys and girls will use the area at the same time. The walls of each cubicle will be very close to the floor, not like a washroom cubicle said Watson, and taller than the students. Because of fire regulations, the walls cannot extend completely to the ceiling.
The space will have self-contained washrooms, one of which is wheelchair accessible. Adjacent to this space will be two other smaller spaces with benches which could be used by teams during the need for multiple change rooms during tournaments.
These spaces are each about 18.5 metres square (200 square feet) and also have a washroom with a locked door.
An education department spokesperson said the project was requested by the district, and is consistent with building codes, noting the department supports the creation of a safe, welcoming and inclusive learning environment for all students.
“The department commends St. Stephen Middle School for taking an innovative, pro-active approach with respect to the safety of students in this kind of environment,” read an emailed statement supplied to this newspaper.
Watson said information on the project will be communicated to all families at the school, and an opportunity to tour the completed space will be provided.
Not all parents are in favour of the idea.
Andrea McCray has a daughter at SSMS this year, and another poised to go in the fall. She is not in favour of the idea.
“I don’t think the kids are mature enough to have combined changing rooms. If the school is worried about their safety, there are other ways to do this.”
McCray said she finds the whole idea “a bit out there”, and neither of her daughters are in favour of the co-ed changing area.
Another parent, Heather Estey, said she and her two daughters, one in Grade 6 and the other in Grade 7, support the changing room plan, and liken the design to those in a modern retail outlet.
She said the plan for the renovations was introduced to students and parents a year and a half ago and since then has been communicated to parents at the welcome to school meetings, newsletters, and PSCC meetings.
“In the beginning we had some misconceptions about this plan, but early on discussed them with the school admin team who were welcoming and collaborative,” stated Estey.
“No matter what school you went to or what generation you’re from, we all know what an issue locker rooms are,” said Estey, adding she would have appreciated the opportunity of individual changing rooms in her middle school years.
She thinks the new changing room design will have a positive impact on her daughters’ school years.