Francis Lewis Opens the Courtyard to Students

As I walked through the open doors a strong gust of wind touched the back of my neck and the apples of my cheeks. I immediately felt the sun cast upon my face, the rays of sunlight seeped in between the branches of the  tall trees overhead, and expanded across the open field. It started off quiet, peaceful and still. Just me and my classmates walking around, all you could hear was the breeze the wind made, the song of chirping birds, and the crunch the leaves made under our feet.

I watched the perimeter of the area slowly fill with more students coming in and out.  Some came alone and sat against the yellow painted brick walls with wired headphones in their ears. Some arrived and bent against the tall white tables and worked on their homework. Some came in large groups, laughing and  chattering. These voices created the essence of Francis Lewis High School. This is our courtyard.

Francis Lewis opened the courtyard to students in September, 2021 because of COVID restrictions that took place in an already overcrowded school building. 

“When we opened the school last year we were obligated to open the courtyard,” Principal Dr. Marmor said. “When we reopened the school last year we were under different instructions. The instructions last year at the beginning when we first came back was to provide social distance.”

“By opening the courtyard, which of course provides a bunch of different benefits, it gives us more space to spread out, but it also gives kids fresh air. So for those reasons, it made sense to open the courtyard because it allowed us to spread out and create a place where you guys could breathe and move around and get fresh air.” 

Many students enjoy going to the courtyard, and also enjoy the cold weather nature provides in the coming season.

“When they would open the courtyard, I would go outside with my two friends and we would like to sit there and take pictures and do some photography with the nice background,” sophomore Marium Faisal said. “We would try to go as fast as possible to the courtyard because there’s only two benches in the shade and I don’t like sitting in the grass because it’s often wet.  I don’t like sitting in the sun either.”

Many students like doing activities in the courtyard, and love how much freedom it gives you.

“I step on pinecones  and also break sticks with my best friend Caleb,” freshman Saifian Uddian said. “I also step on the crunchy pinecones.”

Studies show that if students interact with nature and go outside to play they receive more nutrients and vitamin D in their body from sunlight, and they’ll have a source of fresh air in a suffocating environment.

“Last year I played volleyball in the courtyard,” junior Tomas Hovhannisyan said. “I ate lunch in the courtyard, and I had a lot of conversations in the courtyard. It gives a time of peace and fresh air, while they’re in a school with thousands of students.”

Some FLHS students spend most, if not all, of their free periods in the courtyard, and faculty welcomes the new addition. 

“As long as they are respectful, as long as they are not cutting class, stay for lunch period, study hall,  free period. It’s fine to be out there. As long as you’re respectful, you’re quiet, because there are classes going on,” dean Mr. Gonzalez said.

Studies show that giving students more freedom to socialize and study improves their mood. This also means that they feel less tension and pressure from school, which helps in their academics.

“It reduces some of the pressure inside the cafeteria because we’re overcrowded,” According to Mr. Gonzalez. “It gives kids a place to go, and it’s just nice sometimes just to get out there.”

Although Dr. Marmor knew people liked the courtyard, he never actually expected the overwhelming amount of positive reception it received.

“Actually far more successful than I imagined,” Dr. Marmor said.  “Otherwise, we would’ve closed it at the end of the year last year because we are not under the same rules right now. We have no obligation right now to provide any social distancing at all.

“We leave the courtyard open because it appears as though the students liked the idea of having an alternate place to go if they wanted to get fresh air and move around and sit on the grass and read and talk to their friends.” 

Students have to go through the lunchroom in order to go into the courtyard, which takes a bit of time. 

“The reason is that the scanner to know whether or not you’re cutting a class is at the front door of the lunchroom,” Dr. Marmor added. “Once people scan into the lunchroom, we know that they’re cleared to be in lunch, which is why we then allow them to go across the hall to the courtyard.” 

“We are intending on putting the scanner back at the door of the courtyard so that you will have the option to go to either one directly,” Dr. Marmor said. “That should probably be starting again in the next couple weeks because we’re adding more staff. We’re hiring more staff, but we’re also facing weather change. So we only open the courtyard when the weather is appropriate.”

Additional reporting by Yussra Elbadri.