#5 in academics but #34,000 in school spirit

By Vivian Kaleta, Staff Writer

Payton students are seen barely dressing up for ‘Western Wednesday’ during spirit week.

Take the Payton experience and put it side by side with that of the average American high school experience. It may seem like comparing total opposites, but there must be one similarity; after all, school spirit is impossible to escape. It is what should, theoretically, unite our entire student body.

But once again, Payton students managed to achieve the impossible. While October held many opportunities for students to show their Grizzly pride, you might as well have played I Spy to find even an ounce of student spirit participation. The only time one could glimpse any spirit was when they gave out popcorn during the school day. While Payton’s selective enrollment status is seemingly to blame, the significant amount of school spirit at other selective enrollment schools such as Lane Tech or Whitney Young rebuke this cause. So what is the reason for the gaping absence of spirit? And has Payton always been like this? 

In an effort to investigate any evidence of change in Payton culture throughout the years, there is no better source than those already showing wrinkles from age – the seniors. Being able to experience all of Payton’s highs, lows, twists, both advantaged and disadvantaged these elders’ school spirit. When asked if their school spirit had noticeably changed at all since freshman year, responses among participants were surprisingly variable. While it was more common for the average senior’s school spirit to stay roughly the same throughout their high school career, some seniors shared that their spirit had increased. Senior Zoe Schnack shared that she personally thinks her Payton spirit has grown due to “getting pretty competitive with other schools [in volleyball games].”

Sports participation was a common factor in an increase in school spirit, and so was genuine club participation, notably Payton’s theater program (note how I use ‘genuine’ in spite of the college resume hustlers that would do anything for a barely existent leadership position in clubs dedicated to tying strings). But let’s not forget spirit week! As senior Caleb Dortzbach has gotten older, he realized that “going all out for spirit week and themes is where it’s at.” Some of this realization, he shared, even came in part from a year online during the pandemic. While Dortzbach had “no school spirit” during the pandemic due to obvious circumstances, his appreciation for it became more apparent. Dortzbach movingly noted “I saw what I was missing out on when I didn’t participate.” 

Unfortunately on the flip side, a group of Payton students contrastingly noticed a decrease in their spirit-o-meter. These students commonly already lacked spirit as freshmen. Like senior Clement Aster Dunn who shared how he was “never much into school spirit.” A specific boycott against attending school dances seemed like a common theme amidst the group, with a couple of students even sharing that they had never attended a single dance at Payton. It’s mind-blowing how they could even fathom missing out on Paytonpalooza. Sweatily jumping up and down for two hours in the first floor atrium while getting shoved against the freshmen you will have to see on Monday in your first-period Pre-Calc BC class is a yearly highlight!

Can Gus’s valiant efforts save school spirit? Images created with the help of DALL·E by Megha Khemka

On a more serious note, however, aside from personal decisions causing a decrease in spirit, the constant rotation of staff and administration has made students feel disconnected to the Payton community. For the last three years, students have seen their favorite teachers depart and a noticeable difference in the atmosphere. From Mr. Devine’s exit to Ms. Resh’s short-lived Payton career to our current administration, the seniors can truly say they have witnessed every era of Payton. Encompassing the unsettling tension spurred by the continual change, senior Riona Duncan thoughtfully stated, “I feel like the school came together under Ms. Resh, but it wasn’t really pride in our school that was the cause. I also feel like the changing administrations lead to a lot of teacher turnover–there were 22 new staff members this year–and it’s harder to feel connected to the school when there are fewer adults I know and trust because of that.” 

This wouldn’t be a Payton focus piece if I didn’t mention academic stress. Almost all seniors agreed that stress induced by their classes had some role, even if small or temporary, in the decrease of their school spirit. After all, dressing up in orange and blue is probably not the usual coping mechanism after getting an F on a test. If it is for you, I advise you to talk to a counselor. When also asked for her take on academic stress, Duncan offered an interesting point of view. “Not to be glib, but academic stress is part of this school’s spirit.” Duncan said, “If you’re not stressing, are you really having the whole Payton experience?”

Payton is the fourth be–… fifth best school in the country after all. Stress is our own culture. But to put it in a different perspective, one could argue that stress should evoke the opposite. Participation in fun, spirit activities such as attending football games or dressing up should seem more appealing, acting as a break after a long period of pressure. In the moment, however, it is easy to see how showing spirit may be the last thing on a student’s mind.

To bring this discussion to a close, one of the most telling perspectives comes from the epitome of school spirit itself – student government. Junior Anoushka Lal, a representative from student government, started off by saying she thinks there is a “common sentiment that Payton can lack spirit and community at times.” In response to this, she says Stud Gov [student government] has “prioritized community bonding through various initiatives and conversations with the administration.” When asked how many students actually participate in Stud Gov activities, Lal shared that “large-scale events” such as dances garner a significant portion of involvement. This October, 1,000 students attended Payton’s homecoming.

“Smaller scale events like grade events or Come Talk With Us enrichments,” Lal said, don’t attract the same numbers but are continued to “provide a consistent platform and space for students to engage with Stud Gov reps and form community with each other.” Overall, Lal had a pretty optimistic outlook on Payton’s current and future spirit situation. She believes that progress is being made through Stud Gov’s development of exciting events like Junior Prom and smaller initiatives like music during the passing period. “Clubs like GRR and administration are also putting in the effort,” she said. Lal concluded by saying: “Though much work is to be done as so many students feel the lack of school spirit, I do think we’re on the right path to making Payton a more fun and student engaging school.”

At this point, the word spirit appears about 30 times in this article, and as with many in the community, my opinion on Payton’s amount of Grizzly pride is more muddled. In the end, it’s all up to personal preference. Some are naturally more inclined to be active in events, outfits, and dances, while others simply find contentment in going to school just to learn. In my opinion, our greatest worry lies in the effort to be as different as Nerdside as we can (where any spirit goes to perish) so as long as we don’t hit rock bottom we will be okay. And maybe if Payton invested in just a little bit less scary Gus the Grizzly, we would all have just a little bit more spirit. 

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