Setting the Standards After COVID-19: What Impact Will It Have on Future Generations?

The 2022-2023 school year is the official mark of the first “normal” year since COVID-19 struck back in March of 2020. But with all this time away, how will school spirit and traditions return as we adjust to this new normal?

Since COVID-19 exploded throughout the world, the standard high school traditions and expectations have been put on hold, being replaced with remote learning, social distancing, masks, and much more. Coming back from this adjusted experience, Oyster River High School students are struggling to find some of that sense of normalcy, looking to revive the old spirit and traditions at ORHS, while hoping to improve the overall unity of the school community.

A significant message being pushed by staff this year is the concept of cheering for, and no against. Mark Milliken, an Assistant Principal at ORHS, feels strongly about this, wanting to bring the school together, not divide it by each grade. “It is a readjustment, but it is also a chance to start over, focusing on that big message of cheering not against each other, but for each other to show spirit for our entire school.”

Other staff members feel similarly to Milliken about this issue, especially when looking at how Oyster River runs the pep rally each year. Nick Ricciardi, the culinary teacher at ORHS, said, “I think a true pep rally would be nice, where it’s more about bringing everyone together than necessarily focused on the different classes.” Ricciardi feels that while it can be fun to divide the
classes by the designated white for freshman and juniors, and blue for sophomores and seniors, it is yet another way that classes are easily divided on pep rally day.

Amalia Trump (’26), a current freshman at ORHS, agrees with this sentiment, feeling that the most important part of school spirit is allowing the whole school to come together as one. “Whether it’s through going to sports games or participating in spirit week activities, I think it’s really important to be a part of because it helps to bring our community together.”

On the other hand, Waverly Oake-Libow (’23), a current senior at ORHS, believes that a small amount of class competition is good for a school community, as it allows the individual classes to bond and come together, which creates a stronger community overall. She said, “I think that you can find unity through competitiveness, and I feel that’s what students are trying to show the staff…it’s not about being against everyone else, or making underclassmen feel inferior, but I believe there is a fun competitive nature that goes along with school spirit.”

Rebecca Noe, the Principal at ORHS, hopes to bridge the gap between the staff and student opinions concerning class competition, and unity. “It’s all about how we can keep what [students] like about [class competition], while making it positive, bringing everyone together at school…I would disagree with those who say freshman [must] experience it as a rite of passage, just because that’s something they went through as a freshman. Just because it happened to one class doesn’t make it right or positive,” said Noe. She hopes to address this issue while making sure everyone still has the components which they enjoy and feel important to them.

This brought the conversation of the definition of school spirit, which Milliken and Noe strongly believe includes both the fun aspects, as well as the aspect of respect within the school. As well as Noe ’s hope to find balance between fun and respect within class competition, Milliken feels that this has also been an adjustment throughout the classroom environment.

In general, Milliken feels that ORHS is a school which values respect, specifically mutual respect between the staff and students, however, this is something we’ve slipped away from. He said, “I think while we’ve lost some of that mutual respect during COVID with kids not being around other kids and adults, but I think we’re coming back from that…in general our school is a place where kids are polite, and adults are respected.” Milliken feels it is important to recognize that the spirit and tradition which students are seeking involves the pride and respect which is present at Oyster River.

Another noticeable shift which has been recognized throughout the ORHS community when returning to school this year is the lack of participation and spirit, especially concerning school
sporting events.

Chloe Hawkes (’23), who is also a current senior at ORHS, feels that COVID-19 put a damper on school spirit and traditions, specifically attendance and involvement at athletic events. “For athletics, [during COVID-19] people weren’t allowed to attend any games, so I feel like the traditions and chants didn’t have a chance to be passed down to the lower generations of [ORHS] students.”

Along with this, Hawkes feels that showing up to school events has become looked at as embarrassing, as opposed to celebrating a school community. She said, “It feels like you’re being judged a bit if you’re more vocal, because nowadays it’s only a select group of students who are showing up and fully participating.”

Another aspect of this is that many upperclassmen feel that the underclassmen don’t know what to do regarding sporting events, which pushes them away from the consideration of attending. Oake-Libow is one of them, stating “The juniors, sophomores, and freshman don’t really understand what [sporting events] were all about [before COVID-19], so I think they don’t see sports games as events that everyone should go to and are welcome at…I feel like they only go when they know someone playing, instead of going to support the school community.”

Overall, staff and students alike feel that if we want to return to “normal” in regard to school spirit and tradition, the best way to do it is lead by example, and to show the underclassmen what ORHS spirit is all about.

Hawkes feels that leading by example is the best way to help the underclassmen learn what ORHS spirit is all about. “Going all out with the most enthusiasm is important so that you can show the underclassmen that you shouldn’t take high school too seriously. Going all out for these types of silly events is what makes it fun and really memorable.” Hawkes continued by saying, “I think that we can lay the groundwork right now so that within the coming years, it’ll be back to normal. We’ll be able to use this year as a reintroduction year, showing our spirit and educating the younger grades on what [Oyster River] is all about.”

Noe feels similar to Hawkes, stating that seniors truly set the tone for who Oyster River is as a community now, and what ORHS spirit and tradition looks like in the upcoming years. “There’s really two parts to it, because there’s the fun, silly, energetic part, and the involved community part. When seniors set the tone for what that looks like, I think that starts to build part of that culture which can be added to and adapted for classes to come,” said Noe.

Noe hopes that by laying the foundation and reimplementing these expectations after COVID-19, these examples of spirit and tradition can be in practice for many years to come, truly resetting the standard of the Oyster River community.

– Sarah Laliberte

Photo credit to Madelyn Marthouse