Another exciting homecoming week just passed at my school, and every year I find myself reflecting on an important question: does school spirit actually matter? What does it actually affect in children, or is it just a tradition? I decided to do some research, which I will present here, and then offer my own thoughts and observations.
Let’s start with some work from the source. This article from a junior describes her unique school spirit experience. Her school created a club called FANS, or Following Activities and Sports, where members would go around to various sporting events and activities and cheer on their fellow classmates. The club became hugely popular and clearly burned bright memories into this girl’s mind. Being a part of the highly successful club also gave her a sense of pride and accomplishment, however that would be true of any club, not necessarily one revolving around school spirit. Despite the wonderful post on her experience, there is no real evidence that school spirit has benefitted this child’s academics. It likely helped her social development, which is great, but again, there’s no real evidence.
Let’s now take a look at what some research has to say about the matter. I read this whitepaper on school spirit by Linda Cowan, which describes a study she conducted by interviewing principals, teachers, and upper-classmen at ten different schools. Most interesting was her point about the goals of these organizations and how school spirit ties into them. Almost every principal interviewed believed that achieving high school spirit and “the goals of our school are inextricably linked.” While some principals hoped that students “left here as good men and women” and others wanted them all to develop “all of academic, social, and emotional skills”, despite the differences in ultimate goals, they all believed school spirit had a big part to play. Students’ take on the matter was similar, in that “it made school feel like a special place, and made me want to go.” As most educators will tell you, getting students excited to attend school is a tall task, so this should not be overlooked.
It does make you ask the important questions, however, about alternative methods of making school exciting. All of the research and opinion I’ve seen revolve solely around “making students want to come to school” and “linking up with our goals as an organization”. Is there a better way, or is school spirit truly the best way to achieve these goals?
If there’s one thing I notice the most about school spirit is that, like the student two sections above this wrote, is that it revolves mostly around athletics. Unfortunately, not every student loves sports, and certainly not every student plays them. The biggest problem here is that the benefits of school spirit revolving around sports only work for those involved, and it can be alienating for those not involved.
One thing I have to give credit to our past homecoming week for is involving every student, not just those in the athletic scene. Between Pajama Day, Red and White day, and the extremely popular and hilarious Senior Dress Up Day, every student who chose to was able to partake in the fun. The seniors at our school in particular always deliver on Dress Up Day, taking advantage of a special day allotted only for them to show their spirit. Costumes are always great, and without a doubt this day coincides with what the discoveries show above.
But this is one day throughout the year, and while school spirit is more special if it’s shown sparingly, that doesn’t help it accomplish the above goals over the course of 180 days. This all begs the question I brought up above – is there a better way? Think of all the money spent on athletic programs and the events surrounding them. Colleges host these events to make money, but obviously the same is not true for high schools. Certainly, high schools do it because they think it’s the best way to support a child’s education, but why do pep rallies occur only for homecoming sporting events, and not the school plays?
I think the notion of school spirit is actually about another, similar concept: school support. We are in the business of teaching kids to support one another with these events. Support helps helps a school become a special place, not a pep rally. Support is what builds social and emotional skills, not a football game. What we’re really doing is teaching kids how to support one another, and for the most part, I think we’re successful. Again, I look back at the ways our school has put together spirit week: we support our school by attending the pep rally, dressing up in costumes, wearing our college gear, wearing our pajamas, and stopping by the bouncing castle in the student center during a special week. We could still do better, specifically on the emotional support level, and especially when you consider what goes on involving cyber bullying these days, but this is one area that I think schools generally excel in.