Op-Ed: Innovation Space or Trash Can?

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Digital illustration by Edan Zinn '23

Edan Zinn

It’s clear that no matter what the administration says or does, some students continue to treat the Innovation Space as a trash can.

The space is not meant to be a receptacle but a place for tinkering, innovating, and sharing ideas. With its completion in 2017, the Innovation Space was presented with the promise of an open environment that would foster creativity and collaboration. However, I feel like each semester students continue to display poor behavior in the new addition.  

Three months after the Innovation Space opened, former Editor-in-Chief Abigail Mynahan ’19 published a Gator article, “Adjusting to Free Time in Innovation Space,” which covered unproductive and disrepsectful behavior in the new area. Three years later, unfortunately, these issues are still present.

This is in no way the fault of the administration. I commend the School’s efforts to advocate for effective use of the space. On this front, Upper School Head Joshua Neudel and STEAM Director Chris Hardman have done their best to enforce the no food/drink policy in the Innovation Space, and I find it disheartening to know that students still need a reminder to clean up their messes and eat only in designated areas.

“I’m disappointed with how the space has been treated in the past few weeks. The Innovation Space should be a space for all Upper School students to use during the school day, but a few people don’t seem to want to follow the rules, and that makes me sad,” Hardman said.

Trash and leftover food is often left on the floor. Photo by Chris Hardman.

Several Upper School students share Hardman’s views.

“I find it annoying how people have a sense of disregard for the shared space,” Priya Mallidi ’23 said. “It’s so easy to pick up your trash, especially with garbage cans nearby in the room. I don’t understand why some people find it so difficult to clean up after themselves.”

 Director of Innovation and Design Kathryn Lee deserves tremendous praise, and misbehaving students shouldn’t be her burden to bear. I encourage my peers to live up to the School’s core values.

Recently, the Innovation Space was shut down for a week due to a mess created during Upper School lunch.

According to an email students received from Neudel, “a large liquid mess was left spilled on the floor and windows of the Innovation Space. The liquid was also on the sewing machines and student projects, potentially damaging those items.”

Furthermore, I believe that the problem resides in the students’ general attitude toward others’ use of the space. The Innovation Space is neither a lounge nor a dining hall, but the administration’s constant reminders don’t seem to be helping.

This clearly contradicts the intention of the space to bring students together, create community, innovate, tinker, and share ideas. New programs like community projects, the Make Me A Maker initiative, a student-led meditation program, and niche lunches for students to participate in are a few examples of the enriching experiences that Director of Innovation and Design Kathryn Lee has facilitated.

Lee deserves tremendous praise, and misbehaving students shouldn’t be her burden to bear. I encourage my peers to live up to the School’s core values.

Several other classes meet in the Innovation Space, including Journalism, Graphic Art, Architecture, and Problem Solving and Design. In addition to Upper School courses, Middle School teachers often strive to use the space with their classes.

The Innovation Space is neither a lounge nor a dining hall, but the administration’s constant reminders don’t seem to be helping.

Upper School Journalism adviser David Cutler uses the space as an extension for the newsroom, providing a breakout space for journalists to write away from their hub, the Media Lab.

“It’s unfortunate that some students are not treating the space with respect,” Cutler said. “It’s vital space for students to work, and for journalism students to be productive with writing, reporting, and conducting interviews during and after class time. If the space is closed because of student misconduct, that negatively impacts The Gator’s productivity.”

Another example of students’ recklessness for materials in the Innovation Space, Lee noticed that students often disregard the rules of the space’s laptop cart. Last spring, Molly McHugh ’21 wrote a Gator article, Students Ignoring Laptop Sign-Out Rules, and the issue remains.

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Laptops continue to be left out of order and unplugged. Photo by Sita Alomran ’19.

“Over the course of this year, things have improved a bit with the laptop cart,” Lee said. “We had one incident where a computer went missing for a few days and we had to lock down the cart until it returned. “I wish students would put forth a greater effort to abide by the laptop rules in the Innovation Space.”

In the same email regarding the liquid mess and damaged projects, Neudel encouraged students to take this as an opportunity to rise up and change the state of the space.

“I want to thank the few students that helped clean up the mess and also acknowledge that the actions of a few people are seriously impacting the experiences of the greater community. There is an opportunity for leadership here and [I] hope you will rise to be upstanders and not watch others mistreat the members of our community or our physical spaces,” Neudel wrote.

During the Feb. 19 morning meeting, Neudel announced that the Innovation Space will be closed during lunch, and after school, so long as students are not under the supervision of a faculty member. It is a shame that the space that was intended to bring opportunities to students is now being taken away from us due to the slovenly behavior and lack of respect that the student population has shown for our school’s property.

Upper Schoolers, I ask of you, please respect your space. In the process, respect each other. The devolution of the Innovation Space into its current state today is a prime example that actions have consequencesbut I have confidence that together, we can return the space to its intended glory.