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As schools install more private stalls, popularity of open showers goes down the drain

As schools install more private stalls, popularity of open showers goes down the drain

Hit the showers!

For generations of middle and high school kids, a P.E. teacher bellowing that command meant stripping down and showering in a big, open room with a bunch of kids you barely knew.

It was an awkward, eye-opening, coming-of-age moment.

These days, gang-style showers with multiple shower heads are going the way of the chalkboard and slide rule.

When kids hit the showers today, they’re more likely to step into an individual stall with a curtain.

School officials say body-conscious kids simply refuse to shower together, and some won’t shower at school at all.

So to keep up with the changing sensibilities, new schools are built with fewer showers but greater privacy. At least two Nebraska high schools — in Crete and Elkhorn — and a middle school in the Papillion-La Vista district were built in recent years with only private stalls. And Kearney’s new high school just opened with a combination of a gang-style and private stalls.

It’s a trend that could help mitigate privacy concerns about transgender students’ access to locker rooms.

Megan Adkins, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, taught middle school P.E. and coached high school sports.

After class, kids would often shower their bodies with something other than water, she said.

“Sometimes I’d be in a haze because there’d be so much perfume out in the locker room for the girls,” Adkins said, “and I’m sure for the boys it was all the cologne that was being put on.”

Self-esteem issues keep some kids away from showers, she said. Most of the middle school kids she taught would change clothes in a bathroom stall or come to class already wearing different clothes for P.E., because they didn’t feel comfortable in the locker room.

“When I was working with the volleyball team, if they had (to use) the gang-type showers, a lot of them would wear their swimming suits,” she said.

Kids offer a variety of reasons for not showering.

“Showering isn’t really a thing anymore,” said Ralston High School senior Jordan Nielsen. “It’s just, kind of, you slip out of your gym clothes, because no one ever really gets sweaty.”

Nielsen, a fullback and middle linebacker on the Ralston football team, said he might shower after an early morning practice before school, “but other than that, I never really take showers here.”

Jared Buckley, a junior at Papillion-La Vista South High School, said he showers at school twice a day: after an early morning physical training class and after football practice.

Buckley said he also showered every day after a P.E. class he took in the middle of the day, because he had a study hall afterward, which gave him a little extra time. He said he probably wouldn’t have showered if the P.E. class were followed by a regular class, because of the time crunch.

Gabby Lamberty, a senior at the school, said she showered sometimes, but “there’s just not enough time after P.E. between classes.”

Papillion-La Vista South Principal Jeff Johnson said that what kids wear to school these days makes it easier for them to skip a shower.

“They’re wearing shorts and T-shirts and sweats,” he said. “Back when I was in school, we wore jeans and collared shirts and sweat shirts. That contributes to it a little bit. They take off their gym shorts, they take off their T-shirt, and they throw on another pair of gym shorts and Axe body spray and another T-shirt and away they go.”

The trend toward installing private stalls started decades ago, before the current controversy over transgender students’ access to locker rooms.

However, private stalls could someday help to mitigate one concern frequently raised by critics who oppose allowing transgender students to use the locker rooms of their choice.

With private showers, and just a trickle of kids showering, there’s less likelihood students will have unwanted encounters.

Vanessa Schutte is an architect and K-12 school designer with DLR Group in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

She has been designing schools for nearly 12 years — at least 10 high schools, she said.

“Since I’ve been designing schools, I’ve never been involved with what we would call a gang shower — where they have one pole with four or five or six shower heads off of it, or multiple poles — they’ve all been individual spaces with shower curtains.” She said it’s been nearly 25 years since DLR Group worked on a school project with gang-style showers.

The evolution to private showers did not come from government regulation or encouragement, but instead from privacy concerns identified by school officials and architects, she said.

In fact, she said there’s a new trend in shower design that would give students even greater privacy. Some districts are considering building shower stalls that would allow students to undress in a dry area behind a curtain.

Private stalls are the standard now, she said. They cost about the same and require about the same space.

Last January, the Crete Public Schools opened a new high school with all individual shower stalls; the four locker rooms each have six stalls with curtains.

Sandy Rosenbloom, Crete business manager, said that if the showers are open style, kids won’t use them.

When the district built its middle school 10 or 12 years ago, it also put in individual stalls.

The Kearney Public Schools’ new high school, which opens for classes this week, has five student locker rooms, Schutte said. One has a combination of gang and individual showers. The four other locker rooms have only individual stalls.

Meantime, school officials have cut back “dramatically” the number of showers in new buildings, she said.

Papillion-La Vista’s new Liberty Middle School, which opened last week, has a single private stall in each locker room, said Doug Lewis, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and finance.

The district recently renovated La Vista Middle School, where the gang-style showers were being used for storage, putting in private stalls, he said.

Elkhorn Superintendent Steve Baker said his maintenance staff asked if they could convert the gang-style showers at Elkhorn High School for storage. He told them no — for now.

Baker said Elkhorn Grandview Middle School, which opened in 2014, had the same basic design as previous Elkhorn middle schools, but officials reduced the shower space to make room for more lockers.

Elkhorn South, the newest high school in the area, opened in 2010 with all private stalls.

Baker said there wasn’t any discussion about whether to go with private stalls. Nor did the transgender issue factor into the discussion, Baker said.

He said that with shower use dropping off sharply, the argument that transgender students would be showering with other students “really doesn’t hold a lot of weight.”

A bigger concern for schools, he said, is the lack of privacy in changing areas.

“I just don’t see you’re creating 25 or 50 individual changing areas,” he said. “I think that’s a more realistic talking point to talk about the pros and cons and the concerns, as opposed to the shower.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1077, joe.dejka@owh.com

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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