Academics is just one part of the high school experience. Some may say the most important part is the social aspect — bonding with your classmates and forging friendships that could last a lifetime. But how are students supposed to do that if they can’t physically come together?
Berkeley High School (BHS) should put more effort into organizing social events for students. Social gatherings are a key part of the high school experience and are critical to students’ emotional well-being. Students across the country are feeling the effects of physical isolation, like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Students may be learning in online classrooms, but they’re missing social interactions, like bumping into friends in the hallways and chatting with the people who sit next to them in class. Virtual Spirit Days or movie nights could help foster a feeling of connection within the student community. This is especially important for freshmen, who may not know anyone, and seniors, who’ve been looking forward to memorable events like Red and Gold Day and Senior Prom for all of high school. But if BHS organizes these events, will students come?
This year, freshmen orientation was held virtually. The foundational event saw only 52 percent of freshmen attend, which is significantly lower than the usual 80 to 90 percent. Berkeley International High School (BIHS) Leadership also organized study groups for sophomores, but the participation was so low that they decided to end it. There was some talk of a virtual Spirit Week, but it never actually happened due to concerns about the lack of student interest. It doesn’t make sense to organize virtual events if no one attends.
However, perhaps participation could be increased by making some of these community building events mandatory. For instance, a section of leadership is working with freshmen during their hive classes. Teachers dedicate around 10 minutes of their class time for student leaders to direct bonding exercises, like finding common interests or playing games in breakout rooms. Since it’s mandatory, attendance at these events is substantially higher.
Another option is to get input from the students. By surveying them, the administration could obtain information about what kinds of events students are most interested in and would like to attend, even including in-person events. In fact, seniors were looking forward to a Halloween drive-in movie, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to the risk of COVID-19. Perhaps this could be an option after the COVID-19 case numbers fall and the stay-at-home order is lifted.
Ultimately, while participation at social events for students may currently be low, BHS should persevere – social connections are critical. They should think strategically about how to create the kind of events that will excite and inspire students to attend. If that doesn’t work, they can always make it mandatory.