Pandemic Scrambles School Spaces


The library is being used for storage.

This year, it seemed like everything was in the wrong place. 

Imagine going to a school where the library is being used for storage and the computer room, the music room, and art rooms have been turned into classrooms.

This is the reality at East Rock Community & Cultural Magnet School. Sabrina Breland, principal at East Rock School, said the changes happened because the school received federal money to lower class sizes and needed more classrooms. 

“We got money for new teachers, so the computer room was used for one of them, the art room for [another]. And the music room houses another grade,” she said. 

As a result, students in grades K-4 now stay in their classrooms and art and music teachers come to them. Ms. Breland said the situation is temporary because the federal money will disappear after two years. 

Even though it is not forever, it is a long time. Many students do not like the changes.

According to the East Rock Record Spring 2022 survey, 80 percent of students said they do not like having art in regular classrooms. Another change is that the library has been closed and students now get books from smaller collections in their classrooms. According to the survey, 59 percent of students said they missed being able to visit the library and check out books. 

Tusker Pickett, a fifth grader at East Rock School, likes classroom libraries because he said that finding a book is more convenient and teachers can recommend books for their students. But he does miss using the school library because it had more options.

“I used to really like being able to see all the books and get out of class for a bit,” he said. “I liked browsing the books and reading them.” He also said that he can concentrate better when he studies in the library.

Because he is in fifth grade, Mr. Pickett has art and music in actual art and music classrooms, which he prefers to staying in a classroom. During the pandemic, those specials came to him.

The computer room is being used as a classroom.

“I like art in the art room more because when we’re there, we get to do better projects,” he said. “In the classroom, it’s usually just drawing on a piece of paper. Music is better in the music room because [the teacher] doesn’t usually bring instruments to the classroom, but in the music room, we can use instruments.” 

Switching up spaces does have an impact, said Jessica Hoffmann, a research scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence who specializes in adolescents. She said that specific rooms like the computer room, music room, art room and library offer important learning.

“These spaces are where there’s more self-expression, where you learn important skills for life,” Hoffmann said. “Those spaces where you can make connections and do self-guided learning have to come back. Small class sizes are a great idea, but not at the expense of art, music and computers.”

The trade-off is one result of the pandemic because the smaller classes are planned to help younger students catch up academically. During a press conference with the East Rock Record, Mayor Justin Elicker said some students need extra attention right now. 

“It’s a good thing to have smaller class sizes so there are more teachers to give individual support to kids,” he said. “Everyone is coming to a topic from a different skill level.” 

Principal Breland agreed that smaller classes let teachers give students extra attention, which can decrease the achievement gap made worse during Covid. 

“Three classrooms will go back to normal in a year and a few months,” she said. When federal funding ends, the extra teachers will no longer be at the school. 

In the meantime, she said they are searching for ways to re-open the library. “The library will hopefully be up and running by next year. We’re trying to find an outdoor container for storage,” Ms. Breland said.

Ms. Hoffmann said that being able to move through the building gives students a nice break. But, she said, it is better to stay in regular classroom than not have art and music at all. 

Given the limitations, “there are little things students can do to get themselves in the right space for the task in front of you,” she said. “Maybe that’s getting up and shaking off your science stress before music starts.” 

In the meantime, Mayor Elicker urged students to use their local public library branches. Right now, libraries are closed on Sundays, but Mayor Elicker wants to change that in the proposed city budget for 2022-2023. 

“My proposed budget has more money for the libraries so they can be open on Sundays. People can use the space, the books, the computers,” he said. 

Students are looking forward to when they can use their art room, music room, computer room, and school library again. Mayor Elicker said that he enjoyed his experience with his own school library as a student.

“It was really fun to be able to go into the library and find books,” he said. “I have a lot of fond memories of my school library.”


Edited by Dereen Shirnekhi.