The skylights on the third floor, host to some of the brightest lights in the building
“I like it. I was walking down the hallway, and I was like, ‘Damn, is it sunny out?’ But, nah, it was actually really cloudy and the lights were just new, and, uh, it’s pretty nice. It makes me feel like I’m not, uh, stuck within the deepest pits of hell anymore.”
- Cass Leach, a senior, on her opinion of the new lights
“Okay, so when I first got into the building, I noticed that the lights were - all of them were on. Usually it’s like super dreary outside or, like, in the building, and it gives like a really bad vibe, but today I walked in and I noticed, like, ‘Oh, this is actually a building, this isn’t really garbage!’ So, yeah, I actually enjoyed it.”
- Trina Dessalines, a junior, on her opinion of the new lights
On Monday before break, students and staff were met with an unusually bright Peabody High, something that usually only occurs when important people are visiting, like parents on parent night or officials from the city or state. For the first day or so of the new lighting, there was some confusion among the students, who were left to speculate as there was no announcement or explanation for the change in lighting: some noticed something different but couldn’t put a finger on exactly what, like senior Mike Lowry, who “thought [he] was sick and [his] eyes were over dilated” and said that he was almost going to look up diseases associated with over dilated eyes before being interviewed for this article; others, like senior Bobby Manning, editor of the Tanner Times, didn’t notice at all: “The lights are new?”
Overall, the lights have had a positive response from both students and staff. Mrs. Millman, the photography teacher and art department head, said that “our students and staff deserve to have the lights on” and noted that students “can see where they’re going and they’re taking notice of new and different things within the building,” such as the art pieces by students being displayed in the hallways; senior Djordje Samardzic said that “the school is not as depressing as usual with the new lights.” Librarian Mrs. Moylan said she would love to have more lights on in the library.
Some responses were more measured, like that of sophomore Crisly Bikiqu, who “[doesn’t] really care,” and sophomore Isabella Rozza, who said, “It’s different. It took me by surprise.” Junior Joseph Farhat stood out from the other students interviewed for this piece with his negative response to the lights, saying that the new lights were “just another thing that this school spent money on” that “makes absolutely no difference in anyone’s day,” also remarking that the school “now [has] less money to spend on things that are actually important. Just like the bus ramp - we could’ve had a pool.”
To get a clearer picture of what the lighting situation at Peabody High now looks like, a survey measuring the illuminances of the different rooms, hallways, and corridors at Peabody High was taken during the week that the new lights were introduced, and the data was used to create the interactive below; images of the individual floors are available on Google Drive. Not all rooms could be surveyed; these rooms are left blank. Illuminance data of the girls’ locker room was contributed by senior Cynthia Aroke, who, in response to the new lights, said "all the hallways are hella lit."
Some brief takeaways from and interesting features of the survey:
The brightest parts of the building were, not surprisingly, the places exposed to direct
sunlight. This included areas on the third floor exposed to the sunlight, the empty space with rocks in the middle of the cafeteria, the band hallway, and classrooms whose windows face the sun. In addition to these places was the stage of the auditorium.
The darkest parts of the building include the gym (especially on the second floor), the seating area of the auditorium, the staircases, the T.V. recording room, and parts of the locker rooms.
D-House classrooms, the clinic, the main office, and parts of the art rooms and library were a bit brighter than the average room. There is also a brief hallway segment in D-House, near Spanish teacher Mr. Rocha’s room, that is the brightest hallway in the building not lit by sunlight.
Why the New Lights?
In an interview with principal Mr. Buckley, it was discovered that the change in the lighting was an experiment to see if more lighting was financially feasible in the future. The idea was first brought up by Mrs. Millman during a meeting in which the superintendent was present, and, evidently, it was decided that it would be tried out. According to Mr. Buckley, half of the lights in the school have been off for at least the last 15 years, during which things like natural gas prices and even the economy as a whole have fluctuated; it’s been so long since all of the lights have been off that there may not be a clear picture of what that would look like financially.
It’s true that natural gas prices have been on the decline for the past 10 years, but further investigation into the issue painted a more complex picture of the nation’s energy situation. To determine what energy has costed historically, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s publication, Electric Power Monthly, was analyzed: each issue of Electric Power Monthly has a table of “Average Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers by End-Use Sector, by State” (5.6.A), containing data on electricity costs neatly organized into residential, industrial, and commercial sectors for each U.S. state. The data for Massachusetts was analyzed to obtain the graph below (full size, individual graphs are available on Google Drive):
According to the data, the cost of electricity has been on the increase for both residential and commercial sectors for the past 6 years; for the industrial sector, it has been on a slight decrease. However, for the last few months, the cost seems to have also decreased for the commercial sector, though prices are still higher than they were in 2010. The data appear to suggest that the electricity costs of the school may actually have been increasing in recent years, but this should be taken with a grain of salt; the data spans only 6 years, so larger trends in cost would not be represented properly, and it’s possible that the electricity needs of the school lie somewhere between commercial and industrial, in which case prices may have been decreasing.
To Light, or Not to Light?
“My opinion… I have, I think, two different opinions. One: it is nice to have more light in the building, but, two: is it worth the energy, as in, the environmental effects and the costs? I’m not so sure. So, I think I can deal without the extra light, because those, to me, are more important and have a bigger effect. That’s my opinion.”
- Mrs. Braganca, an English and Spanishteacher, on her opinion of the new lights
Evidently, the subject of whether or not to keep the lights on has been a complex issue. Students and staff in favor of keeping the lights on cited improvements in mood and vision. The former is supported by academic literature: in a 1993 study by Daurat et al., it was found that brighter light improves peoples’ mood, motivation, efficiency, and alertness; also, there exists a treatment called light therapy, involving exposing patients to bright lights, which used to treat mood disorders like seasonal affective disorder. The later is supported by accounts of students and staff taking greater notice of the artwork displayed in the hallways.
Those who were opposed or skeptical cited both the economic and environmental costs of the lights - to keep the lights on, we need electricity; to generate electricity, we burn fuels. Clean energy has been picking up steam, but the energy production in the United States is still largely dominated by coal and natural gas that produce carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to this, the Daurat paper says that “the effects of B[right ]L[ight] exposure [on alertness and performance] are weaker during the day than during the night,” so the benefit of leaving the lights on may be lost as the day goes on.
In the end, the question of whether to keep the lights on or not is a question of whether or not the benefits of better mood and performance granted by the brighter lights outweigh the financial and environmental costs. Whether or not the lights will continue to stay on in the coming years remains to be seen.
Only open source software was used in the making of this article:
The GIMP was used for post-processing of the photos used in this article.
The convert utility of LibreOffice was used to convert EIA data into a format easily parsable by R.
Daurat, Agnes, Acacia Aguirre, Jean Foret, Philippe Gonnet, Anne Keromes, and Odile Benoit. "Bright Light Affects Alertness and Performance Rhythms during a 24-h Constant Routine." Physiology & Behavior 53.5 (1993): 929-36.
U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Electric Power Monthly." Electric Power Monthly. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/>.