On May 21, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy announced that all New Jersey schools were returning to in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. This decision elicited various reactions from the public. Some supported the decision, praising Murphy for taking this step in the “return to normalcy” for New Jersey students. Others, however, weren’t as enthusiastic.
Some of this cynicism stemmed from the start of the 2020-2021 school year, where many New Jersey districts—Cherry Hill Public Schools included—pushed hybrid and in-person instruction back to opt for online schooling. Although this decision was beneficial in hindsight, it also caused a massive shift in the Cherry Hill East student body.
Currently, the seniors are the last class at Cherry Hill East who have had at least one full year of a traditional, in-person high school experience. As for the rest of the student body, most of their high school experience comes from Google Meets, online assignments, and virtual spirit events. Consequently, the class of 2022 are the last students at East who know have experienced East’s many traditions, some of which have an over 50-year history. These thoughts open up a compelling question, “how will COVID-19 impact school spirit at East?”
To try to answer this question, one must first evaluate the student body’s level of school spirit before the pandemic. Although “spirit” is subjective, many students commented on East’s lack of it in the few years before the pandemic.
In a 2019 editorial covering the annual pep rally, former Eastside Editor-in-Chief Aine Pierre said the event was “utterly devoid of spirit, pep or rally.”
Pierre also said the crowd seemed noticeably less enthusiastic than in years past. This observation was just one of many examples of the lack of spirit among the East student body at that time, for the sporting event and school dance attendances were also relatively low. None of this is to say that East never had school spirit. Looking back at videos from just ten years ago, seas of red flooded the student sections at games with the crowd enthusiastically cheering on the team. More recently, it seemed like this level of school pride has died down. With most East students not having a “normal” high school experience, their lack of connection may exacerbate this problem.
Surprisingly, this hasn’t been the case thus far. Many school spirit events have shockingly had an increase in attendance. Most notably, the Hoco-Ween dance had over 850 people in attendance, the largest turnout at any Halloween and Homecoming dance in East history. Perhaps the year in the half of online schooling made people more eager to get involved in East events.
There are many perspectives on how the return to normalcy will influence East culture and pride. Although some fear the consequences of spending a year and a half online, others see the transition as an opportunity to get excited about being an East student. Despite this, there is no way of knowing what the future holds for school spirit at East—especially during the uncertainty of the pandemic.