Campus crowding: Did longer lines lead to seating shortage?


Alysa Suleiman

Students stand in the lunch line trailing into the quad on Aug. 23. Due to Harker’s COVID-19 practices in trying to limit student numbers indoors, faculty have been trying to keep the line inside as short as possible, leading to longer lines outside.

During the first weeks of school, students have crowded in lunch lines stretching from Manzanita all the way to the Quad, and the traffic has been worse, with students showing up late to class. The crowding around campus, including longer lunch lines, more time-consuming morning traffic and the lack of sufficient lunch tables have affected students as administrators and student representatives search for solutions.

The lunch lines look longer this year compared to past years because of Harker’s COVID-19 practices that try to keep as few students gathered indoors as possible. According to Community service director and Activities coordinator Kerry Enzensperger, who often monitors the lunch line entering Manzanita, the faculty have been trying to keep the line inside as short as possible, meaning the line ends up curling outside.

“The kitchen likes it when there are not too many people in there, because if we allow 100 plus people to walk in at one time, you’re still standing in another line,” Enzensperger said. “It’s just not the line outside the door where you have fresh air.”

This, along with students also pausing for hand sanitizer at the stations inside Manzanita, has caused the lunch line to lengthen. The administration reminds students to be patient and stagger lunch times to improve the crowding for others

“The best thing is to stagger,” upper school Dean of Students Kevin Williamson said. “Everybody wants to be at the front of the line. If it’s on long lunch days, I would highly recommend that clubs try and meet first, [though] kids are hungry. When you finish a 20-minute club meeting, you’ll go to lunch, and there will be no line because the line should be down in 15 minutes.”

It’s uncomfortable and cold on the ground [outside of the Zhang Athletic Center ]. There’s also a really long walk from Manzanita where the tables are closer [to the Athletic Center], so it’s just inconvenient [during lunch].

— Anya Saksena (10)

The same COVID-19 guidelines that prevent the lunch lines from gathering inside Manzanita also have led to issues with lunch table seating for students.

Because students are not allowed to eat and drink indoors, there are no available tables inside Manzanita and inside the Auxiliary Gym, unlike in previous years. Currently, this seating is not enough to accommodate all 807 upper school students.

As of Wednesday, Sept. 1, lunch seating consisted of 15 round tables in the orchard, 16 round tables and 29 chairs outside of Manzanita, 14 round tables in the Quad and four long tables in the Quad.

Assuming an average of six students at each round table and 10 students at each long table, there are only 339 seats available for all 807 students, not including spots occupied by faculty. Due to the seating shortage, many students sit on the benches in the Quad, outside the Dobbins building or on the ground outside the Zhang Athletic Center or the Rothschild Performing Arts Center (RPAC).

Sophomore Anya Saksena, who often eats lunch on the ground outside of the Zhang Athletic Center with her friends, wishes she had a more convenient place to sit.

“It’s uncomfortable and cold on the ground [outside of the Zhang Athletic Center],” Anya said. “There’s also a really long walk from Manzanita where the tables are closer [to the Athletic Center], so it’s just inconvenient.”

The Associated Student Body (ASB), specifically the Campus Life committee, has taken notice of the shortage of lunch tables for all students, and they have already taken action, such as buying new tables for the orchard, to improve the accommodation problem quickly, according to ASB treasurer and Campus Life committee leader Aaditya Gulati (12).

“School lines have gotten so much longer, like traffic and lunch lines. Regarding lunch tables, there are not enough tables to go around for everyone,” Aaditya said. “We’re deciding to add around seven or six more tables so that we have enough space for people to sit down during lunch.”

Many students have also found difficulty with morning traffic when being dropped off or parking at school before class starts. Because of the long line of cars in both loading zones, some students have been arriving late to class. According to Aaditya, the traffic light to leave Harker has shorter intervals than previous years, causing an increase in line length, and ASB is trying to contact the city about this.

A line of cars crowds the loading zone in front of the RPAC on Aug. 20. Students have been arriving late to class due to shorter intervals between the traffic light to leave Harker in comparison to previous years, causing an increase in line length. (Ritika Rajamani)

On Aug. 30, Williamson sent an email to students and parents with the subject “Saratoga Traffic Observations,” presenting some reminders and recommendations that could help reduce traffic while ensuring students still arrive at school safely. The email reminds parents not to drop off students at the apartment complexes adjacent to the campus, never to drop them off at the highway exits to utilize the right turning lane when exiting and to “be safe and leave your home early.” A previous email sent by Ken Allen, Assistant Head of Student Affairs, notes that students may arrive on campus as early as 7:00 a.m. to prevent any rush.

“I’m really impressed with the parents and students who are getting here earlier,” Williamson said. “I think because being on campus is so new, so many students haven’t fallen into a pattern of getting here. So we have been thrilled with the number of students who got here before 7:30 [a.m.] and now are ready and prepared in class.”

Michael Tran (12), who faces heavy morning traffic before school, also believes that the congestion is partially due to student unfamiliarity with traffic routines and is hopeful that the lines will improve in the coming weeks.

“I think people [will be] figuring out what [is] the best way to go [to school] or more optimal times because right now we effectively have two classes [who know little] in terms of experience with coming into the campus,” Michael said. “I’m hoping that, over the next week or two, things will really improve so that we’ll have a good established sense of normalcy.”