Washougal High students celebrate virtual ‘Spirit Week’

Teens asked to share selfies on Instagram to help connect during COVID-19 pandemic

Washougal High School student Rebecca McDonald poses for a photo for the school's "Virtual Spirit Week" challenge. (Submitted photo courtesy of Kyla Ritchey)

Washougal High School students are putting their spirit on display this week, even though they can’t physically go to school.

The school’s Associated Student Body (ASB) is holding a “Virtual Spirit Week” challenge, in which students and staff members are encouraged to take “selfies,” which if properly tagged will be posted to the ASB’s Instagram page.

On Friday, March 13, Washington Governor Jay Inslee ordered all K-12 schools in the state to shutter until at least Friday, April 6, in response to the rapid spread of the deadly COVID-19 disease.

“We’re scrambling to come up with ways to make sure students are connected with us,” said WHS principal Sheree Gomez-Clark. “Students are asking us a lot of questions, and like the rest of the world, we don’t have a lot of answers right now. But (“Virtual Spirit Week”) is one way for us to say, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about you, we miss you, and we still want to be in the bigger picture of you.’ We’re reaching out, and this is something they can do from home.”

Each day of the week has a different theme. On Monday, March 23, participants were encouraged to photograph themselves in their pajamas, with bonus points given for showing their favorite childhood bedtime story. On Tuesday, March 23, they were asked to photograph themselves with their favorite or wildest pair of socks. On Wednesday, March 24, they were called upon to photograph themselves in their “future wear” college, military or future career gear. Today, they are urged to take a photograph of themselves recreating their favorite internet meme. And tomorrow, on Friday, March 27, they will be implored to photograph themselves in WHS or orange-and-black clothing.

Gomez-Clark said she was approached by ASB leader Kyla Ritchey, who learned about the “Virtual Spirit Week” concept via the social media channels of Josten Renaissance, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based enduction enrichment program which helps schools across the United States improve their climate and culture.

“The purpose of ‘Virtual Spirit Week’ is to keep our school and community connected,” Ritchey said. “We want students to know that even though we are on break and that the news can feel negative and overwhelming, we’re still a family that is here to brighten each other’s day. I have had staff (members) email pictures of their participation and then the pictures are posted on the page. This helps students see that they are not experiencing this alone and the staff is still here to support them.”

Last week, the ASB posted its first “virtual challenge,” which asked students to post photos of their pets. The challenge “had a good turnout, which was fantastic to see,” Gomez-Clark said.

“We’re so concerned about teenagers not practicing social distancing, but we wanted to find ways to tell them that there are some fun things that they can do by themselves,” she said. “(More virtual activities) are already in the works. Kyla is doing research, looking at what other districts across the country are doing. She’s working diligently with ASB students to come up with ideas of how to keep students engaged.”

“After this ‘spirit week,’ we will continue to post different activities, such as best hand washing techniques, fitness challenges, create-something challenges and more,” Ritchey added. “In addition to the activities, we will also be highlighting some of our students and staff (members), posting positive messages of encouragement, and resources for families during this hardship. What I have started to notice, and love, is that students who typically don’t participate in our ‘spirit days’ or lunch activities are now participating. It is so great that we are being able to highlight students who don’t typically get seen or heard by their peers.”

Gomez-Clark believes that for students, staying engaged with their schools is “as critical as social distancing right now.”

“If our students don’t feel like they’re connected to the school, we have the potential to lose so much more than just the academic piece,” she said. “For many students, the school is a safe place that brings routine and structure, and if they feel like it’s not there for them, their well-being (could be at risk). It’s critical for us to do whatever we can to safely engage with our students.”

“Virtual Spirit Week” photographs can be viewed at instagram.com/washougalasbofficial.

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