artwork by Madison Hoppler
“Hey, can you please put your mask up?” Gabrielle Anderson says to a random student roaming the halls. The student, whose mask is resting below their chin, ignores her. Anderson is on lunch duty, which involves watching kids eat from six feet apart and chatter loudly in the cafeteria. For the most part, the job is pretty easy. However, Anderson doesn’t understand how it is so difficult for this student to maintain COVID-19 protocols. She asks again and waits for some sort of response, but the student rolls their eyes and walks off without pulling their mask up. Anderson is appalled. Students have been disrespectful to her before but this one was just plain rude. The student didn’t even know who Anderson was, yet they didn’t seem to care at all.
The experiences that Social Studies teacher Gabrielle Anderson had during her lunch duty are no anomaly. Whether it’s small misdemeanors such as wandering the halls or using phones during class or more concerning actions like being rude and lying to teachers or bullying other students, negative behaviors are increasing within the high school. Students, faculty, and administration are all looking to understand why this change in student behavior has occurred, and what can be done to fix it.
Anderson has been noticing a general pattern of disrespect among the student body throughout this year. “There’s sort of a lack of honesty and respect for adults that I just don’t think I’ve seen to this extent before,” she says.
Principal Rebecca Noe has also heard reports of this type of behavior and says that it’s not specific to one class. “It’s not the whole student body but there’s a percentage of 9th grade, a percentage of 10th grade, I’d say there’s even a percentage of 11th or 12th grade, where this negative type of behavior is happening,” Noe explains.
Student observations in negative behavior vary from grade to grade, but all agree that they have noticed some change. For instance, Mia Boyd (‘24) says that the biggest issue she has seen is students ditching class and going on their phones. She believes that the negative behavior is a problem, but not to the point where it’s really affecting learning.
Abby Deane (‘23) on the other hand, says there has been a notable change in students’ attitudes, specifically on her basketball team. “I’ve started to notice poor sportsmanship, especially from underclassmen. They’re a little disrespectful to our coach and sometimes they don’t really listen to leaders or seniors on the team which can be hard since then no one is on the same page,” says Deane.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why there has been an increase in misbehavior, but many attribute it to the lasting impacts of the pandemic. For instance, Noe believes that the stress and mental fatigue students are feeling is being reflected in their behavior. She says, “I think no matter what, we would see a little bit of this [behavior], but the amount we’re seeing has been exacerbated and greatly increased because of what kids and their families and teachers have gone through the last two years.”
When it comes to underclassmen specifically, missing out on the social interactions of middle school may have impacted how they behave now. “I think they sort of missed the transition to ninth grade, and so some of them are coming with things that usually work themselves out in eighth grade,” explains Anderson. “When you’re remote there’s just not as much of that social emotional teaching compared to when you’re in the classroom and your teacher is doing a lot of it with you.”
Boyd agrees that not being able to socialize with other students made it a lot harder to get accustomed to high school. “I think we’re expected to know a lot when we first get into high school and we’re still trying to figure it all out. It’s been easier this year as a sophomore but it’s still hard to make up for the time when we weren’t in school.”
Upperclassmen, who have been in the school longer and have had more experiences in the building, are beginning to worry about how this increase in negative behavior will impact the culture within the school. “I definitely think there’s beginning to be a culture shift,” says Charlotte Cousins (‘22). “And once it shifts, it shifts for everybody. Teachers will become more strict about things and we’ll basically lose our freedom.”
Jessa Courtland (‘22) believes that a culture shift will also change the dynamics within each grade. Seniors are “the only grade that’s had a full proper year. We’ve been through a lot together and become closer as we become seniors, and I think now it might be a little harder for the younger grades to connect like we’ve been able to,” says Courtland.
To combat this issue and to promote a more positive school culture, a group of seniors is currently meeting with administration and brainstorming ways for upperclassmen to effectively model certain behaviors while also spreading a message about social expectations within the school.
“The big message we want to put across is that, you are going into that point of your life where you are starting to mature, and respect goes a long way, especially to people who are trying to better you as a person and help you have a good future,” says Nathan Mendoza (‘22), a student who is part of the group meeting with administration. “School can be sometimes annoying or stressful or boring, but it’s no excuse to be disrespectful.”
One possible idea that the group has come up with so far is to have small group discussions with freshman advisories. One or two seniors would facilitate the conversation by giving their own advice, asking questions, and allowing freshmen to talk about their experiences in the school so far.
The group hopes that having these conversations will not only spread their message but also help students build better connections in the school. Assistant Principal Michael McCann says, “It’s about building relationships with people so that when they see you in the hallway, they understand where you’re coming from, and they’re going to change their behavior because they know you and care about what you think. We want people to care about how things impact others and care about our culture and environment.”
Another possible solution that the group is working on is the concept of buddy advisories, where each advisory is assigned another advisory from a different grade. With this idea, students would have the chance to regularly connect with other students through various activities and conversations. Meetings with buddy advisories would be determined by each individual advisor.
The group is still working out the specific details of the plan and how it can be done during the advisory period, but they are hoping to get the ball rolling by meeting with one or two freshman advisories this Wednesday, January 5th. These conversations will act as a trial run for the process.
Ultimately, Noe remains hopeful about the changes in student behavior and what can be done to solve the issue. “There might be things we need to work on and fix, but I think one of the strengths of Oyster River is how positive we are,” says Noe. “We really are about bobcat pride, and as long as we keep working towards that positivity, then we’re headed in the right direction.”