The school that time forgot

The corridors of North Grenville District High School in Kemptville seem just like any other high school hallways.

Lockers line the wall, the floors are scuffed and the sounds of chattering teens fill the air.

Yet walking down one of those long hallways you can’t help but feel there’s something missing. It’s eerie. Sensing a visitor’s discomfort, Grade 11 student Lisa Muntean chimes in. “We don’t have clocks in this school,” she says casually. “They took away our time in this prison.”

Along with a fellow classmate, Lisa, 16, quickly describes the evolution of the way their “time” slipped away. Apparently, the various hallway clocks were not synchronized, with many showing vastly differing times, affording students a perfect alibi when they arrived late for class.

“They said we were using it as an excuse,” says Lisa, leaning against the locker. “They wanted us to adjust mentally so that we don’t have to look at the clock. But we still need to know what time it is.”

Just then, as if on cue, vice-principal Jill Pensa strides down the hallway. She imposed the unique practice about two months ago to get students to move faster toward class and stop hanging around the hallways. In addition to the clock ban, Ms. Pensa also introduced music on the public address system, before first period and after lunch, to indicate it was time for the students to start making their way toward class.

Later, in her office, she explained the philosophy behind her unconventional methods. In order to give the students an education, she said, they needed to be in the classroom and be there on time. “The clocks were all wrong,” she says. “They were a roadblock to kids getting to class. They were a distraction.”

Ms. Pensa, who arrived at the school in September, says it would have cost about $10,000 to have all the clocks wired into a central system. Instead, she decided to get rid of them. The school still has clocks in the classrooms, the library and the cafeteria. In the hallways, though, only round, empty, green frames remain.

Ian Corrigan, 17, a Grade 12 student, remembers the day time disappeared at his school. “I just came in one morning and all the clocks were green,” he says. “There was no warning. We thought it was a prank.”

Since then, some students have pulled a few pranks. One of the empty frames now bears a graffiti message saying, “it’s time for class, don’t be late.”

That’s as close as most of the students can tell. Among those lost in time, there seems to be a perpetual sense of deja vu. “Every second someone is asking ‘what time is it? what time is it?’ — no one knows,” says Lisa.

Ms. Pensa says the new measures were also intended to teach the students a measure of accountability. “We want to help them be independent, in a positive way.” She has encouraged many students to wear watches and take responsibility for their own time. The move has so far drawn “mixed reviews.”

While some students admitted the music is “sometimes cool,” there was a pretty strong consensus against the clock ban. “It doesn’t make any sense, you never know what time it is,” says Courtney Tarr, 16. “It’s stupid.”

“It’s retarded,” adds Ian. “If you have a spare, you don’t know when to get back to class.”

Asked why they didn’t wear watches, Ian says his was broken. Courtney says “watches aren’t my thing.”

The vice-principal, however, says the measure is working. She claims that since she took the clocks away, classroom punctuality among the students has drastically improved.

Still, according to Lisa, it has taken its toll. “People are always getting mad because they don’t know what time it is.”