Friday, October 17, 2008

The Annual Homecoming Rant

Well, I just watched the final parade floats roll down Low Gap Road in the yearly ritual that is the last day of Homecoming. While I'm happy that the kids on the floats are happy, and it's nice to see the community come out in support of the high school, my thoughts are not in a place of tranquility and splendor. I'm more frustrated than ever.

This culminating event of Homecoming occurred on the same day that the Ukiah School Facts Sheet was put in our boxes. You know, the one that says that our school has only 34% of the graduates meet the UC/CSU course requirements (the county average is 67%). The one that says that only 13 out of every 100 Juniors and Seniors passed Advanced Placement exams last year (state average is 26 out of 100).

This culminating event of Homecoming occurred two days after Department meetings about pacing, trying to keep up with all the information required by STAR Testing. This while students completely lost all academic thought for the entire week to focus on Homecoming.

This culminating event of Homecoming occurred six weeks after we were notified about our academic performance results, and how we pretty much under-performed in most areas.

Yes, it was kind of tough to get excited about a weeks worth of distraction when the numbers show that you are not getting it done.

For those that are not familiar, Homecoming at Ukiah High School is one of the biggest events in the entire community. For an entire week, the different classes pull together and try to out do each other in a variety of categories. Included are a school skit, a float, a parade, a backdrop for the gym, a mural for the quad kiosk, a variety of rallies, students dressing in school/class colors, and overall spirit and participation. Each event is judged using Spirit Points, with the class gaining the most Spirit Points winning the coveted Spirit Bell. It is pretty much all encompassing. Here are the stages of Homecoming:

Stage One: Planning and Set up
-About a month before Homecoming week, a theme is announced for all the classes to follow. This year it is "musicals". Classes get together and choose a class color and musical that they will pattern Homecoming week after. In this case Seniors=Grease, Juniors=Wizard of Oz, Sophomores=Willy Wonka, and Freshman=Lion King. They also choose colors. In this case Seniors=Black, Juniors=Orange, Sophomores=White, Freshman=Yellow.
-For about two weeks before Homecoming week, students argue about ideas and some start showing up ragged to the first or second period of class. Making of the floats and prep for skits has already started. Some start missing first period all together during the week before, and others miss after-school extra-curriculars to help with Homecoming stuff. Teachers watch this happen and hold their breath while hoping for the best.

Stage Two: The Week
-Monday: The craziness actually starts around 5 a.m. when groups of students show up and cover the campus in posters and banners that represent their theme. By First Period, everyone shows up in class colors, immediately criticizing anyone not wearing same color. I wear khakis and a white dress shirt every day, which means that I'm supporting the Sophomores, I guess. The energy in the morning is totally unfocused as students discuss the weeks events. A lunch there is a rally, and student attendance drops after lunch like a rock. Another thing that you notice is that any students involved in student government or rally issues will miss half of the classes for the week. All are excused. Students end the evening by putting up backdrops in the gym until 10 p.m.
-Tuesday: Student show up around 5 a.m. again, this time to put up the mural on the kiosk. Students are ragged because they have been working on the float, skit, and mural during the evenings. During Second Period, there is a rally for the football game and to enhance school spirit (actually, it is pit the classes against one another to see whose louder). After the rally, the students crash and it is difficult at best keep them engaged in anything.
-Wednesday: No school day activities, but now the news reports come in that classes have started going after each other. One class toilet papers another's float. In response, the second class eggs the first classes float, which happens to hit parents working on the float and that's not good. Skit practice occurs tonight in the gym until 10 p.m.
-Thursday: Class colors again, but now we start seeing groups of students going from class to class yelling out class slogans. Seniors will park outside of Junior classes and chant "Seniors!", and in response the Juniors might make a conga line through a Senior classroom. There is another lunch time rally and again the post-lunch attendance goes South. You also have students getting irritated with teachers that are getting frustrated with the lack of attention in class, and discipline rises.
-Friday: Final day has class colors. Students that are running for Homecoming bring candy and treats to school to woo voters and classrooms become garbage dumps. Another rally during Second Period where the classes present their skits to an overflowing gym. Post rally students are completely gone. All the energy is out of them and many others skip class to prepare the float for the parade, hang with friends that have post skit rush, and prepare hair and make-up for the Homecoming Parade. Post-Lunch attendance is 40%, as most student go to the parking lot and line up to get on the floats. The parade takes off at 3:30, the game is at 8, and teachers are tired as hell.

Stage Three: The Aftermath
-Students will now miss a number of days next week from their immune system taking hits after staying up late and eating crap for the last two weeks.

I know, I sound like a complete killjoy. I'm really not. I like that the students have fun. I like that the community comes around the school and supports it. And I like that aspect of opportunity for student involvement. I think Homecoming is a cool idea, but it should not encompass weeks of school time, and totally distract an entire week of teaching. While the school should be the symbol of academic excellence in the community, it is instead a symbol of social interaction that comes with Homecoming. Homecoming, while touchy-feely and goal oriented, actually promotes the wrong message to students at this time in their academic careers; academics takes a back seat to the social priorities. What's worse, the community supports this (while then bashing the school when the academic numbers come out). While the support is great, the better support should be this energy going into STAR testing week, or into after-school programs for disadvantaged youth, or into making the school/community a better academic atmosphere.

Here are some amendments to Homecoming Week that I'd like to see:

1. Eliminate the skit altogether. It is time consuming, it interrupts all of Friday, and it involves a small element of the student population. It short, it serves no purpose at all.

2. Eliminate either the back drop or the kiosk mural. Both are totally redundant and simply take up time.

3. Eliminate class colors. These do nothing but pit kids against each other. Instead, have one day for each classes theme to dress up, with Friday being Purple and Gold Day. No animosity, serious creativity. Have costume contests be included in the Spirit Points.

4. End all 2nd Period rallies. Having pep rallies during classroom instruction time is beyond me. If you are going to have rallies, make them at the end of the day or after school. I understand the desire for inclusion, but those that don't want to go end up not going to the 2nd period rallies and feel more left out because it should be school time. Rallies should never be mandatory and never be during instruction.

5. Extend the attendance Spirit Point category for a full month before Homecoming. Make it worth more.

6. Add a Community Service category to Homecoming. Have judges, administration, and student leadership sit down and figure out a list of project that can be done to benefit the community, and then the classes can chose and complete a community service task. Points can be awarded for originality, importance to community, efficient usage of community resources, creating connections between the community and the high school, and next-gen enhancement of Ukiah ('Green Projects', technology use, application of global awareness). The potential is enormous. And no, money is not a limitation. I've seen the dollars spent on the current Homecoming situations, and the money is there.

In the end, it's the standard hypocrisy that I see in society that is being reflected in the current incarnation of Homecoming, and that is the general frustration. I love seeing the kids happy and excited, but the message is wrong and in the end, teachers will be the one's taking the brunt end of test results and media throw-downs. I would love to explore merit pay, but I have serious reservations with my performance being judged if the atmosphere is not working to be more conducive to academics.

So for next year, how about we ditch the idea of a "better" Homecoming, and look towards a more "productive" one.
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