MAPLEWOOD, NJ – One of the changes this year at Columbia High School is an open campus for freshmen.

This is the first time Columbia High School has allowed all students to leave campus for lunch starting at the beginning of the year.  In previous years, freshmen were required to stay at school for lunch until a few weeks before the end of the school year.

“The open campus for all students provides more flexibility within the CHS master schedule,” Columbia Principal Dr. Lovie Lily said. “Students have more opportunities to take elective classes, in particular.”

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Reactions to the change have been mixed.

“I like being able to go out to eat because I can hang out with my friends, sit outside and relax,” Columbia High School freshman Patrick Adolwa said. “It is also good because I don’t have to stay in school all day and the food from local restaurants is better than the cafeteria’s.”

About two dozen upperclassmen said they do not see a major problem with the decision, but some of them said they believe that they should have had the same privileges as freshmen.

“I personally don’t have a problem with it, but I do think that it is unfair,” said Dallas West, a sophomore at Columbia.

Jelan Gaston, also a sophomore, said:  “I think (freshman) should reach a certain level of maturity that can only be achieved by the example of upperclassmen lunch behavior. I think that they should learn how to manage their time before they go outside for lunch.”

Alumni also have weighed in on the change. 

“Freshmen should definitely not be allowed out,” said Stacy Teixeira, a 2009 graduate of Columbia. “They are coming from a much more structured environment in middle school. Now in high school, they are given so much freedom. Too much freedom too soon can cause problems. The fact is that they need to earn the privilege of an open campus.”

Her former classmate disagreed. “I’m in favor (of freshmen having an open campus),” said Khalym Burke-Thomas, a 2009 graduate. “At that age, they should be responsible enough to go out for lunch. Of course, the right should be revoked if any trouble comes out of it.”

Employees at local businesses such as Maplewood Pizzeria and Pathmark said they have not seen any major crowding problems as a result of the open-campus policy.

The reporter is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.