What’s up with the bells?


Lizzy Wan

The San Mateo Unified High School District updated classroom speakers this summer, surprising students with the sound of a new bell. It plays six beeps at a pitch of around 440 Hz in place of a traditional, single-ring bell.

Lizzy Wan, Diversity Coordinator

When Burlingame students walked into their first classes of the school year, an unfamiliar noise rang through the halls. A tsunami warning? Prison break? War cry? 

Nope, just the passing period bell.

The current bell at Burlingame signals the start and end of each class, passing period and break with six long beeps. Some students describe the bell as frightening or unnecessary. 

“It’s pretty annoying because it’s distracting — I think it would just be more effective with just one bell,” sophomore Izabella Karanov said.

But what is the cause for this new distracting sound? 

This summer, Burlingame’s speaker system got a makeover. The previous system — which had been used since around 2010, when the last remodel happened — was inconsistent in classrooms and a source of perpetual technical difficulties for the school administration.

“Previously, we had an older system that was operating badly,” Vice Principal Dominic Bigue said. “The sound was inconsistent from room to room, and we were constantly trying to patch and fix systems.” 

In response, the San Mateo Unified High School District launched a districtwide overhaul of classroom speakers. The new system, called Front Row is the software inside the speakers, intended as a modern and versatile upgrade from the basic bell: they can connect to microphones to amplify teachers’ voices and can be used as intercoms to send messages to individual classrooms. Although administrators have not implemented these features at Burlingame, they are possibilities for future use. 

While the speakers are new and exciting, Bigue admitted that the sound of the bell still needs to be perfected. 

“The original bells that the vendor gave us weren’t very good, so then they sent us online to a library of over a million sound bits to try to figure out what the best sound was,” Bigue said. “And it’s one of those things that we’ll keep working out until we get it right.”

Burlingame’s outdoor speakers, however, were not updated, leaving in place an older and quieter system that is less compatible with the new network. This can make it challenging for students to hear the bell when they are outside during lunch or break, especially in the senior and freshman quads. 

“I’ve definitely heard people that have come late to class and are like, ‘Oh, I didn’t hear the bell’ or, ‘I didn’t know that the bell went off,’” junior Abby Mitchell said. 

Aware of the issue, Burlingame’s administration plans to install the updated speakers in the senior and freshman quad, ideally during the week of Aug. 28, Bigue said.