School’s purpose is not solely education, but also social interaction. Group education is merely a convenient, productive vehicle for sharing experiences. Otherwise, schools wouldn’t expend so much effort to facilitate social events for their students. At Kaiser specifically, Principal Justin Mew has also repeatedly emphasized the social needs of the student body in addition to their academic needs. In ordinary years, the school nurtures a sense of school spirit with various school-sponsored activities: class days, extra-curricular activities, and school-wide festivities such as homecoming. However, this is not an ordinary year, and Kaiser’s leadership has failed to adapt.
The coronavirus pandemic created immense pressure on schools to balance the safety and the social lives of their students. For the first semester, the administration focused on education quality, ensuring Kaiser students felt comfortable learning online. To some extent, this was a success; our current virtual learning model has enabled classes to proceed normally. But this isn’t “school” by any stretch of the imagination; school is meant to be a place where students gather and interact, and little interaction occurs between students online. Without rebalancing attention to social needs, the effort spent on education might become wasted as students lose motivation. Now that students are returning to campus, and restrictions on gatherings are lifting, Kaiser leadership organizations should organize more social events. Gatherings are dangerous, true, and their cancellation was for public safety. But when social events were canceled, leadership rarely offered any replacement experience for student benefit. Homecoming, for example, is usually associated with the football game, but the football game isn’t required. After all, the focus of homecoming is supposed to be the return of the alumni. Any sort of activity to connect students to alumni would have aligned with the spirit of homecoming, but Kaiser leadership organizations failed to present any alternatives. Student Community Council Lead Sela Park, who recently took a survey of students’ mental health, noticed a common thread between some of the students’ complaints: “The students are so unmotivated because events are canceled, and they have nothing to look forward to,” said Park. Kaiser leadership organizations need to rectify this by creating new opportunities, giving those students something to look forward to.
Admittedly, the leadership classes have been making sporadic efforts. The virtual club fair, talent show, and spirit week drew significant attention and seemed to reinvigorate the student body. But a virtual talent show and spirit week are not enough. The real problem is that Kaiser’s leadership is only adapting previous in-person experiences into a virtual medium, rather than developing genuine replacements. While this might work for a talent show, such an approach is doomed to fail for the myriad of sports cancellations. As long as the original spirit is maintained, the form of the event can be altered and still have a positive effect on students. Every canceled event should have some sort of replacement in this way, no matter how small.
It’s not too late for Kaiser. Coronavirus restrictions are expected to stay strong for the remainder of the school year, and in the 4th quarter, Kaiser administration and leadership classes can compensate for the first three. This doesn’t mean that they need to spend exorbitant sums for the sake of student entertainment. All they need to do is provide replacement platforms for student engagement to address the ones that have been taken away. With sports canceled, former athletes could be encouraged to create highlight reels of themselves to share with the school, reminding them of the love for their sports and inviting other students to join in. And since homecoming itself was canceled, Kaiser leadership could have asked for contributions from alumni, such as motivational speeches or art pieces, which could then be distributed to classes. The origami crane chain promoted by student body leadership is a good start, but vastly insufficient for the amount of missed opportunity.
The heart of any school is its students. If those students feel no connection to each other or to the school itself, then the heart is dysfunctional, and all of the other processes of the school are impacted as a result. It falls to Kaiser High School leadership to repair those damaged connections as best as they can.