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Class Spirit to Community Spirit: What? Why?

Amanda Liang

n the beginning of October, the Senate implemented a dual spirit week competition system, by holding one Spirit Week in the first semester centered around communities and another in the second semester focused on classes, to help boost spirit in the High School.
On September 1, the Senate created a Fall Census to collect information on student opinions in regards to many issues, including but not limited to spirit.  483 members of the high school student body participated in the Census.  65% of those students answered they “would like to see community-based spirit week[s]” and 60% said they “would like to see Monthly Inter-Community Competitions.”
High School Fall Census results in regards to community-based activities (Photo by HS Senate)
Following the Census, the High School Senate decided to act in response to the results.  Therefore, this year “we will be having essentially two different spirit competitions; the first one (semester one) is the competition centered around communities and the second spirit week competition (semester two) will be based on grades,” said Senator of Student Life Samy Morton (11). “In the census that we took at the beginning of the year, a majority of students expressed they were in favor of a community-based spirit week so we went off of that,” added Senator of Discipline Billy Duanmu (12).
Morton also noted that she “decided to make these changes and base part of spirit week on communities because people are always talking about grade barriers.”  According to Class Officer Gracie Chung (10), “Battle of the Classes, class videos, and class lipsyncs... will be kept.”  
In addition, “I think that competing in communities - with people of other grades - will definitely help to break these barriers a little by giving students another opportunity to create relationships with students of other grades,” she commented.
HS Senate 2016-2017 (Photo by: Preston Tso)
As a result, Morton worked to identify appropriate changes to address student opinions on community-based activities. “I was the one who proposed these changes and I was backed strongly by Ms. Fine and the homeroom advisory committee (made up of several teachers). I then took it to Senate and had the support of the majority (the teachers were in favor) so we decided to move forward with it,” she mentioned.
“The class officers who were interested in the topic of "spirit," along with the Samy, the Senator of Student Life, [joined] a Spirit Subcommittee. They meet regularly, and discuss topics related to spirit (i.e. events) and report back what they've come up with to the rest of the Senate on our Monday meetings,” Chung added.
“Right now, the purpose of the community system seems to be for practical purposes. For example, when eighth graders move up to high school, they are separated by communities and do different activities,” mentioned Chung.  Therefore, “I think the goal for modifying it is to move away from just the organizational purposes of the communities to bonding within them. Another positive aspect to bonding that happens within communities is also that there are more interactions between the classes as well.”
In regards to the benefits of the changes, Morton explained that, “it will be different from previous spirit weeks because it will not only level the playing field competition wise, but I think it will also begin to foster a more united school body.”  In particular, the changes will help with “breaking grade barriers, creating new friendships, mak[ing] more fair competition, stop[ping] the aggression between grades,” she stated.
Cheers from the Class of 2020 during last year’s lip sync (Photo by George Du)
Both Duanmu and Class Officer Serena Tam (11) agreed with Morton on the ultimate advantages.  “It's a way of building a sense of community across the grades, not just within the grades. However, people are usually more competitive if it's inter-class competition so I don't know if spirit week for community points will be as hyped,” said Tam.  Duanmu also added, “Personally, I think it's definitely worth trying out especially since our school wants to involve communities more to work on breaking down grade level barriers.”
Additionally, the new system “gives [classes] more time to practice for the lip sync and get together a more meaningful class video,” Tam added.
“I don't have a strong preference for either,” begins Abby Baker (10), “however, I feel that if they're going to change it to community we should actually get to know our communities.” Baker compares the shift to communities to the houses of the HKIS Middle School’s community building mechanism but adds that “in the house system we actually knew the people in our houses... with the communities we'd have to first establish as a group.” While Baker is “fine with either,” she notes that “a lot of people found the [old] point system biased [for BOTC]” so a shift to communities could potentially solve that issue.
However, members of the Senate have acknowledged the downsides of this year’s spirit week system.  According to Morton, “the biggest drawback will be a lack of enthusiasm from the students.”  She later commented that “at this moment in time students do not identify with their communities, and if they do, it's only for a very slight margin… Right now, the only purpose of the community system is to arrange students into homerooms and allocate guidance counselors, but it can be used for so much more.”
Class Officer Christopher Shim (11) indicated similar feelings, elaborating that “it reduces the chances classes get to compete with each other, and by extension, less in-class bonding opportunities. Since most people don't identify with their communities anyway, in a way, this spirit week might not be as meaningful compared to a first semester BOTC.”  In addition, “communities hardly meet and most people identify as a "freshman" or "senior" rather than "a member of the K community". With truth, I'm not really sure regarding the purpose of the community system, or the goal for modifying it,” he later mentioned.  “I think most students aren't receptive towards a community system, because it's unfamiliar to us and doesn't really fit into the fabric of student life at HKIS, which is centered around classes and not houses.”
“I personally think that it might be a good way to interact with people from other grades and have a strong community” said Aiyush Mohta (12), “but to be completely honest... while i do like the idea of community points, bonding with your class for something like spirit week is more meaningful.” Although Mohta approves of the effort to build more community, stating that “the transition from class  to community is important because atm the only real similarity that the communities have are the counselors,” however he ultimately states that “spirit week,” he feels, “isn't the correct platform for that” since “students are naturally more inclined and definitely more connected to others in their grade.”
To address this, Morton believes “that one of the most unifying aspects of HKIS should be communities instead of grades because it helps to diminish grade barriers. There is no clear goal right now and that is why were are trialling the community spirit week.” Since the high school has had a class system for so long, Morton acknowledged that “grade 12's probably feel quite annoyed and yes, perhaps a bit confused, but the only consolation I can offer them is that it has to start somewhere, there will always be a grade 12 class, so why not start now as opposed to later.”
Despite the overall benefits and downfalls of the changes, the Senate is highly optimistic that student participation will be large this year.  “I do expect lots of people to participate in Spirit week this year, however, I do understand that it is a big change so realistically, I don't expect it to be accepted by everyone with open arms,” Morton noted. “As of right now, students probably won't participate more if the points go towards communities, but hopefully that will change over time.”
Similar thoughts were expressed by Chung and Tam. “I hope a lot of people will participate, and I think they will like what the Senate has in store for them,” said Chung.  With more inventive dress-up themes like “psychotic politics”, “community letters”, “celebrities”, “HKIS Pride”, and “community colors”, Tam felt “more people will submit pictures of themselves during spirit week because you get points regardless if you dressed up the best or not.”
Looking to the future, the Senate’s eventual goal for Spirit Week is still unclear.  “In all honesty, I'm not exactly sure how things will pan out in the future, so this semester one spirit week is kind of like a test run to see how the community system works out. I personally would like to see a move towards a house system because I have seen it work out much better and create a more united student body, however I do understand that it is in the nature of American schools to compete in classes,” commented Morton.
Students of different grades from the same community competing in last year’s Just Dance competition during Spirit Week (Photo by George Du)
Duanmu remarked that “it would have been much more effective if we had more community events earlier in the year so that we had some sort of spirit to build off of once spirit week comes around.  But, I think it's definitely something worthwhile piloting and something that regardless of result, would be very valuable for future years.”
Chung expressed similar thoughts, citing that “now, students don't really seem to identify with their communities simply due to the lack of events in which we participate in as communities. I'm glad the Senate is taking steps toward building community within communities. However, ultimately, I feel the grades should have more activities for bonding.”
On the other hand, Shim stated, “I am not sure on whether HKIS is moving towards a house system, but it seems that the administration is certainly encouraging it. I think for the next few years there'll be very few changes going on for spirit week, and BOTC, class videos and lip syncs should remain relatively unaffected, only that they are both pushed to second semester.”
“I don't really see this as a shift to the MS house system. Rather, I see this as an opportunity for communities to bond because there aren't exactly very many activities that we do with our communities,” said Chung.
“I understand that it is in the nature of American schools to have grade divides, hence the names freshmen, etc., however I have seen and I truly do believe that a community based system would do wonders for increasing school spirit and uniting students,” Morton concluded.
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