Clubs’ persistence through social distance

The coronavirus pandemic closed schools worldwide, sending students back home to learn from a screen. As a result, student-led organizations based on school campuses were left adrift. Here at Kaiser High School, club presidents scrambled to keep their clubs and activities afloat. 

All clubs at Kaiser are required to hold regular meetings, which were typically held during lunch in the faculty advisor’s classroom. Once enough members were present, the advisor and student officers would begin. However, because of campus closure, most clubs were—and still are—unable to hold their usual gatherings. This was more dangerous than it now seems: for many clubs, those meetings were the source of all information for ordinary members. Not having meetings was a big blow to club participation.

The Kaiser Key Club is one of the school’s largest clubs (if not the largest), with over 50 members. Before the pandemic, they held weekly meetings during lunch on Tuesdays in room H302. Key Club was particularly affected by coronavirus limitations, as their main type of activity is in-person community service. Since gatherings were restricted, most of those activities were no longer viable. Key Club, at the beginning of the pandemic, was uniquely unsuited for an online transition. Other clubs, including Wipeout Crew, Interact Club, and LEO Club were facing similar troubles. 

Indeed, most clubs’ activities rely on in-person participation, some in less obvious ways. Anime Club’s main activity is group-watching various anime episodes. Ordinarily, they would have done this in the room of their advisor, Stacy Takeshita, projecting the week’s anime onto the whiteboard as members watched from the desks. But campus is now closed to the majority of students; the desks are empty, and the projector has been powered down. Members were relegated to watching their favorite animes at home and by themselves. 

As the clubs struggled, the Kaiser Inter-Club Council (ICC) has been busy addressing the needs of its member clubs, coordinating and assisting from the sidelines. The focal points of activity have been the advisor, Student Activities Coordinator Rinda Fernandes, and the ICC president, Student Body Vice President Richard Yang. “Not a day goes by without some kind of question from a club officer or advisor,” Fernandes said. “I’m in contact with some of them,” Yang added, “to help them ease into the…whole COVID thing.” But now, as the first semester ends, most clubs “are handling it pretty good,” Yang said. 

Key Club, as part of a larger organization, was at first guided by the district-level Key club organizers. “When the division started figuring out online meetings, we got sort of inspired by it,” Key Club faculty advisor Johnathan Oshiro said. Small clubs were in turn guided by large clubs during ICC meetings, as well as by their faculty advisors. Now, most clubs hold their weekly meetings virtually and after school. Some clubs have also reduced their dependency on meetings to distribute information, making use of email and messaging services such as Remind.

Their activities, though, have not rebounded as nicely. Service projects are still completely forbidden. Alternatives were found, including paper bag decoration, online games for charity, and singing songs virtually for retirement homes, but the environment was fundamentally different. Other activities requiring a physical presence, such as cooking, were also much less satisfying for members who now worked alone. This has been a universal issue—without the presence of other members in the same room, doing the same things, club spirit is nearly impossible. “A lot of time we rely on service projects to get to know people,” Oshiro said. “I don’t have the same connection [in the] first minute.” Even for the less physical activities, including math lessons, acting games, and film discussion, technical difficulties could ruin any experience. Anime was easier to watch “when we could just project it onto the screen,” Nohara said, as internet instability causes lags in broadcasting. 

Despite the trouble, there is no club that has given up on holding meetings and activities. Every single club chartered this year has maintained a virtual presence for their members, technical difficulties and a pandemic notwithstanding. And as long as there are students who want to be part of something bigger than themselves, the Kaiser clubs will be there for them.

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