Student Leaders Bridge Distance Learning with Creative Activities

The seniors participate in a baking social over Google Meet. Photo courtesy of Juri Yamashita.

In a time where students are physically distant from one another, class councils have to think of creative ways to promote class unity during online school.

Large social events or activities like clubs, assemblies, and camps ground to a halt at the end of the last school year. Currently, student leaders are trying to find creative ways to keep class identity strong.

Junior class advisor Dynah Ustare shared her thoughts on the current situation, saying, “This year calls for major adjustments. How can the council and the advisors promote class unity when we are physically separated? Realistically, it will not feel as natural as a regular school year, but that doesn’t mean we just give up.”

With social distancing restrictions, large socials aren’t feasible, so officers are thinking of other ways to bring students together. Sophomore class council president Lauren Toda said, “We’re having small homeroom games to try to get our classmates to talk to each other more, because we’re so isolated, and we can’t just turn to a partner and talk like we normally did before.” Vice president Jolie Wong elaborated on one of the games, explaining, “We had the idea to have a bunch of random people sing and turn in an audio recording, so it was an anonymous guessing game. It was fun because I could tell that people were entertained to see their friends on the screen.” The freshmen class council is also utilizing homeroom time to help their classmates connect with each other. President Riley Lorenzo said, “We’ve been doing birthday slides, which was very interactive. We had the students guess whose birthday it was when we showed their baby pictures.”

When HBA transitioned from the 100% online schedule to the concurrent schedule, which brought students back to in-person school for part of the week, the Student Council held an in-person assembly for those on campus. Student Council president Tiffany Hamada explained that the council wanted to make the assembly feel as similar to last year as possible, which is why they decided to have it in the gym and play a game. “Ultimately, because we can’t really do activities with the student body, we’re trying to make online and in-person school as comfortable and efficient as possible. So we’re trying to get everyone’s opinion on the new schedule, like some people are concerned about the lunch periods,” Hamada added. When the Student Council received concerns about the old schedule, they discussed the feedback with the administration, who decided to implement the current, revised schedule with shorter class periods and shorter breaks between classes on Day 3. 

Students attend an assembly in the gym after the start of the concurrent schedule. Photograph by Eunice Sim.

The senior class council has been holding small weekly online socials. So far, they’ve had Netflix, baking, Minecraft, and Among Us socials. Senior class council president Sydney Senter explained, “For the Netflix party, we just posted a link on Google Classroom, and we also made a presentation on how to download the Google Chrome Netflix extension and how to pull it up. For [the baking social], our teacher made a Slides presentation and everyone followed along really easily. And then we had a little game that we played with everyone in the Google Meet while the cookies were baking.” Senter added, “We’re doing our best to provide all the options and platforms for people to join in and build unity if they choose to do so.” Senior class advisor Jenn Duncklee commented, “The senior advisers knew we’d have to be extra creative this year, as we anticipated the pandemic would affect all areas of school life. We started talking and brainstorming over the summer, and we continue to meet weekly to collaborate. Our advising team has also really tried to do our best to encourage the seniors because we know this is not the senior year they expected.” 

For the officers who have been on class council in previous years, this year has come with new experiences. Senter commented, “This year, there’s that added factor of fear that once you switch to a negative mindset, it’s a downward spiral. And as leaders in our grade, that can’t happen, because we have to keep it going for the class. And it’s okay to have those moments where you’re bummed out and disappointed, but it’s definitely a struggle to not bring that disappointment into a class council meeting or into planning events.” Junior class council president Amanda Sato said that because the class council doesn’t have to plan for Spirit Week, they are actually more relaxed this year. She said, “We usually feel stressed about making committees. But right now we’re not planning for Spirit Week, which is one of the biggest roles of class council, so compared to years before, it’s been pretty relaxed.”

The status of large events such as Winter Banquet, Spirit Week, and prom remains uncertain. Hamada said that planning for Spirit Week and the Winter Banquet are currently on hold. Student Council advisor Tony Traugher said, “Here’s the question: when does Spirit Week change so much that it’s no longer Spirit Week? The same thing for CEW. You could move things online, but being together is a big part of it. But it is on our minds, we are thinking things through, and we hope to have some things to try out.” On prom, which is traditionally hosted by the junior class, Sato commented, “The teachers aren’t really sure what we’re going to do yet, but they’ve been saying, try to plan prom as if we’ll have one. So we’re thinking about different choices, one is that everyone will be separated. Another option is that we’re kind of close and then another option is if we’re all together we’ll be kind of closer. So we’re making different versions of it.” 

This year has proven to be a learning experience for many student leaders. Hamada said, “I learned that I have to keep a positive mentality because there’s really no one you can blame for COVID, and you can’t help the circumstances. Everyone is trying their best to make this year possible, and so I’ve grown to be more appreciative of the teachers and the faculty and everything they’ve done.” Wong added, “We’ve been trying to find things we can do that fit inside of safety regulations while still respecting what the administration says, so I learned to be open to ideas while also trusting in those in authority.” 

They also had some advice to give to their fellow students. Senter encouraged students to appreciate the small things in life that may not seem important in the moment, but that they’ll remember in the future. Lorenzo said, “Don’t give up hope. And just keep going, even though there may be challenges along the way and it’s difficult learning online. Just stay strong and keep up your good spirits and have hope for the future.” Hamada and Wong both emphasized the importance of social interaction and reaching out to peers. 

With the second half of the school year still up ahead, the officers have some hopes and goals for the future. Hamada commented, “I hope that our student body can be more united and have more interactions with each other because online, you can’t really see everyone. I hope we can figure out a way to interact with different grades.” Wong added, “I just hope that the class can still be excited about school, and as the officers, we can help create an exciting experience for 2020, even though it’s very monotonous right now.” 

As a senior, Senter wants to ensure that she ends her high school career well despite this year’s challenges. She said, “I know I’m going to think back and reflect on my role as president during a pandemic. And I just want to look back and be able to think that I was there for my class, and we, as a class council, provided all we could for them during this time of uncertainty and social unrest.” 

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