Every year at the end of October, the diverse community at Berkeley High School (BHS) comes together in an outlandish display of traditions and school pride. With students sporting red and yellow costumes, throwing colorful streamers, chanting, and rallying, Spirit Week at BHS is undoubtedly a unique event. Though the impact of Spirit Week on school unity is controversial, there’s no doubt that it is an integral aspect of BHS culture that will be missed with the implementation of virtual schooling.
Melani Garcia, a senior in Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), had been looking forward to celebrating Red and Gold Day as a senior throughout all of her high school career. “I remember thinking [as a junior]… ‘this time next year, it’s gonna be my year,’ but it feels like all of that has been taken away from us,” said Garcia. To her, Spirit Week had meant a rare sense of understanding between the individual classes. Even if Garcia barely knew a classmate, the thrill and unity brought on by Red and Gold Day would kindle a feeling of connection between them. “It’s that immediate sense of trust and communication with our classes that I think really will be lacking this year,” she said.
“Spirit Week is the one week that Berkeley High is allowed to take pride in itself [and let students show] what it means to be a high schooler at Berkeley High,” said Lyndon Ward, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) and the BHS president of clubs. Although Ward shared his disappointment about the loss of a formal Spirit Week, he also recognized the toxic aspects of it, including the destruction of property and occurrences of sexual harm. “In the past, where on rally day there’s big rivalries between the [upperclassmen] and underclassmen, we now have an opportunity to focus on more unifying qualities, like, ‘how can we support each other in times of need?’” said Ward. He views the quarantine as a chance for the school to reshape Spirit Week — Red and Gold Day in particular — and transition towards a more welcoming school dynamic. “[The administration should] use this [time] to innovate and think of new ideas for how Spirit Week can be implemented in the future,” he said.
Though Spirit Week has been an important outlet for school solidarity in the past, its loss brings up the larger issue of BHS unity. Dana Moran, a Universal Ninth Grade (U9) Ethnic Studies teacher and BHS alumni, felt that online learning is only exacerbating the general lack of BHS unity and culture. “The thing about so-called BHS culture is it really isn’t one,” she said. “The only time it ever comes out is Red and Gold Day — and then it immediately turns into a rivalry between classes.” BHS is home to a network of small communities, fostered through shared interests with clubs and sports. Moran has found that students at BHS connect and gravitate more to their individual extracurriculars, and that the seclusion of online learning has reinforced that divide. “I don’t think there is such a thing as a classroom dynamic [right now],” said Moran, speaking to the adverse impacts of online schooling that play out in the classroom. “[The freshmen] are going to have to wait until next year to know what it’s like to go to Berkeley High,” she said.
As freshmen ordinarily rely on an in-person classroom dynamic to establish social connections, virtual learning has made it difficult for them to identify with BHS. Otto Montgomery, a freshman in Hive Four, has felt this disconnection as a result of distance learning and the lack of a classroom environment. “[BHS] feels a lot more enclosed… I don’t really get to see the rest of the school,” he said. “Even with the people in my class, I don’t know them very well… I just see them through the screen.” Montgomery had been looking forward to the unique exhibition of school spirit on Red and Gold Day — even with the intimidating class rivalries. “I think rivalries are natural,” he commented. “Honestly, there’s so little communication between classes that I can’t really tell [what it would normally be like].”
Despite the many shortfalls of online learning and its harmful impact on BHS culture, Garcia, Ward, Moran, and Montgomery have all kept a positive outlook on the loss of Spirit Week. Joining or organizing study groups and participating in extracurriculars, they’ve proved it’s still possible to grow and make new connections during the pandemic. “While we are losing something that’s important, we [should] find new virtual ways to experience that community and that unification,” said Ward. “[This is] an opportunity for us to think of new ideas and new avenues in which we can connect with our friends and families.”