Written by Ian Choi | Illustrated by Allyson Chan
Let’s paint this scene: you’re in advisory. Your house representative tells you there is a house event coming up tomorrow. Pick up your sword and shield and prepare to battle for the honor and glory of your house! You tell them: “Sign me up! I’m ready for this.” the advisory cheers, ready to support you in every way possible.
Best fantasy story since Lord of the Rings.
Yet today, in our school, we have lost our pride in being CIS students. Why is it that when we bring up sports day, we can so easily make jokes about skiving the whole event? Why is it that we groan during awards assemblies? Why are so many of us reluctant to take part in inter-house competitions? These questions reveal a massive problem at the heart of our school community: school spirit is in short supply.
I would first like to preface this one-sided discussion (since I am talking to you, the reader, who is not able to rebut my points) with the obvious fact that student leadership groups, numerous hard-working teachers and advisors, parent groups, and many students love CIS, take great pride in our school, and actively work to promote school spirit. However, I still stand by my observation that in the broader scheme of things, it is, for some reason, difficult for the wider student body to take pride in being a part of Chinese International School.
To begin, let’s look at the house system, which to my belief should be the core of fostering a sense of solidarity within CIS. Ultimately, a house system in any educational institution is designed to divide up students into groups where it can promote loyalty, learning and student wellbeing, as well as friendly competition. I would argue that this should provide a strong framework for school spirit. If students are loyal to their houses, which are a part of the greater school apparatus, the pride that students feel towards their own house should extend to the whole school as well.
The two most important events in CIS are the two that give students the greatest chance to earn house points, which are effectively a currency for house spirit: Sports Day and Health and Social Day. These giant events, which the school allocates entire days to, promote a great amount of house spirit. And to their credit, they do achieve this goal to some extent: the mini-events that comprise these days, especially the ones that happen on the stretch of track in front of the stands, give us opportunities to cheer on our friends and shout house chants; the feeling of standing in a group of people, 100 or so strong, chanting together, can indeed create a sense of pride and belonging. I mean, Sports Day, at its most fundamental, is a celebration of athletic talent within the CIS student body, whether it be in running, jumping, or throwing. Health and Social day tries to achieve a similar effect, but executes this by organizing people into smaller teams; it encourages an extra sense of closeness that Sports Day lacks, making the solidarity people feel more personal. Furthermore, he fun and competitive aspects of both events make them a great way to develop pride within one’s house.
However, while these large-scale events are times set for the school to come together and have fun, many see it as an opportunity to schedule some revision or relaxation time at home, as they would rather not attend at all. I have often heard students posing a common cost-benefit analysis: are the costs of going to sports day, namely time away from work or personal endeavors, worth the benefits of engaging with the greater school community? Many think that they are not. Unfortunately, from my perspective, these two major events are the only times during the school year where house spirit can be promoted (something that I will get into later on), but for now it must be said that missing one—or both—of these events means that many students will miss out on the biggest opportunities to experience house spirit. Of course, people who don’t go to school sports events are in the minority. The vast majority of students, I would imagine, do go to these events. Yet, very clearly, there is still some problem with the way that we feel pride in our school.
There is an interesting idea that I have heard circulating around quite often: that the lack of enthusiasm in the school can be traced to the relative apathy that house captains and other student leadership groups feel towards CIS. We hear a lot of talk about how house captains, the Student Council, and head students are all just “doing it for the CV”. Given that a lot of people do regularly consider a given event’s positive impact on their resumé, it begs the question of whether this factor might have caused the lack of enthusiasm. Yes, house captains are responsible for making sure houses remain enthusiastic and excited for events, but to be honest, I don’t see how we could make sure students don’t mix in unhealthy ulterior motives (such as CV-hunting) in the selection process, or just ensuring that the people in these positions genuinely value and understand their responsibilities. As for the other student leadership positions, while I do not doubt that there are some people in the various councils that are simply there for the title, these positions still are a massive time-sink in their own right and require commitment and energy. Either way, though, these groups, in their own ways, try to promote school spirit: the student council hosts events like dances and inter-house competitions, the house captains get students excited, and the head boy and head girl let the school bond through disapproving groans at their cheesy puns every assembly. I think that the power that these leadership groups hold over the student body’s perception of CIS is limited at best, especially with their supposed promotion of school spirit not yielding any results at the present.
Aside from events and the facetious qualities of student leadership, let us take a further look at more concrete markers of school spirit: logos and emblems. These have a lot of potential; they can be plastered on walls, posters, and attached to pretty much anything. Attaching a visual representation of CIS to everything is a surefire way to create unity and pride. Let’s take a look at the use of logos in our school. They’re actually pretty good. We have the CIS logo, which features Chinese characters in a book, and we have the Order of the Phoenix logo, which showcases a colorful phoenix. If we wanted to talk about giving CIS a central icon for school spirit, I think we would have to start with logos, because they are the easiest way to give a broad definition as to what an institution represents.
So, how often are they used?
Perhaps this is just my own observation, but I never see the CIS phoenix logo anywhere around school. We don’t even see it on sports day—the one day that is supposed to unify the school for a day of fun. That is just the beginning, however. The underuse of school iconography makes it difficult for students to link any event to the institution called ‘CIS’. Take a courtyard concert. They are a great way to create an atmosphere where everyone is happy and feels connected to everybody else. We all enjoy the performances, sure, and we end lunches with some happy smiles on our faces; but ask yourself, have you ever associated that event with CIS as a school? I would wager that the answer is a no. There is a great amount of school pride that could be generated from these events, but in the end, these feel less like school events and more like events organised by a random group of people that have nothing to do with CIS itself.
Ultimately, school spirit is nothing more than the pride that we feel towards being members of CIS. I think that the magnitude of this pride is dependent on two key factors: the willingness of students to go out of their way to support the school, and centralized promotion of school spirit. The former essentially refers to what the school has to offer that students can be proud of. This doesn’t just go into extracurriculars or events—this goes into classes, academic rigour, the perceived ability to make meaningful and long-lasting change, et cetera. Ultimately, students need to have something to be proud of—whatever that thing is, it has to be personal. If students feel that their lives are being improved by being in CIS, they naturally will, at the very least, be predisposed to supporting it.
The latter is about how our school markets itself to us, about how often it brings up the fact that we are indeed one school, under the same logo and sharing the same building. Students need to be made conscious of the fact that even though we are always split up into houses and year groups, we are all still students of the same academic institution. Right now, the problem is twofold. Students don’t care nearly enough about the school, and the school is unable to make students connect all the things that they do in CIS with the school itself.
So, what should we do?
To be honest, given the current attitude towards school spirit and school pride, I see very little value in having just one or two leaders or authority figures spearhead any campaign to liven up the school. A few teachers trying to do something isn’t going to work. What I think we need is change from both sides: the students and the leadership. As I mentioned, the problem as I see it stems from apathy and thus a consequent lack of unity. Students need to be more enthusiastic about our school; they need to participate more in house events and treat inter-house competitions with importance. The school also has its own role to play. Aside from making students’ lives more enjoyable and fulfilling, it also needs to understand how to market itself to its students. That means more promotion of school activities. It means making every activity feel important and special. It means putting up a CIS logo at all CIS events so some people will make the connection between the two. If we can give the student body some part of our school to be proud of, and promote it vigorously, I think we will be well on our way to fostering true, lasting school spirit.