This story originally appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Harker Magazine.
By Jennifer Maragoni
The competition was fierce but smiles abounded as upper school students and staff, wearing matching T-shirts and colorful accessories, competed for class points in fun contests during Harker’s fall Homecoming rally. Harker spirit was just as palpable at the football game the next day, as students, faculty, staff and alumni filled the bleachers – donning Harker sweatshirts, hats and temporary tattoos – to cheer their Eagles on to victory.
Harker students certainly know how to work hard, and they earn many academic accolades to prove it, but they also know the value of playing hard. From organized activities to spontaneous shows of spirit, Eagle pride soars on Harker’s campuses.
“Harker spirit isn’t just limited to the occasional spirit activities and competitions – it’s really a mindset regarding what you care about in this school,” said ASB president Jimmy Lin, grade 12. “For me, it means supporting all my fellow classmates, whether it’s attending their orchestra concerts or cheering them on at their basketball home games.”
Be it performing at an assembly, competing in a lip-sync contest, dressing up for a holiday or cheering on Harker’s sports teams, Harker students relish the opportunity to have fun and bond with their classmates. Other events, such as holiday toy and food drives, incorporate both spirit and service and unite students – and often the greater Harker community – in a common goal.
“Spirit has changed and evolved much over the years but has always held firm in its goal of uniting the community through self-expression and the celebration of each person’s unique value to the school,” said Eric Kallbrier, assistant to the director of activities and an upper school Spirit Club advisor. “It provides an opportunity for students (and faculty) to unwind, de-stress and reach outward.”
When needed, Harker spirit rises to meet the occasion. For example, in October, the school canceled the annual Harker Family & Alumni Picnic due to poor air quality resulting from the North Bay fires. The Harker community rallied and donated ticket sales, as well as additional money and a busload of supplies, to disaster relief efforts.
“School spirit shows up in how we treat each other and the world around us,” said Head of School Brian Yager. “Service to our own community and to the larger world around us – the last line of our mission statement is that we ‘prepare students to take their place as global citizens’ – is both a goal and a reflection of our collective spirit.”
Harker has always had programs intended to promote school spirit. But the Spirit Club dates back to the mid-1990s, when Harker was a K-8 school. Harker alumnus and then dean of students Dan Gelineau (Palo Alto Military Academy ’65) formed the club with a focus on student activities, explained his son, middle school English teacher Mark Gelineau ’90. These days, Spirit Clubs are active on the lower, middle and upper school campuses.
“[The club] has students taking on roles of leadership as they organize and execute activities for their peers,” said Gelineau. Harker spirit comes naturally to Gelineau; he was spirit commissioner in eighth grade and is now a middle school Spirit Club advisor. “I dig the irony that I’m here as an adult as well,” he added.
Spirit touches on most aspects of student life at Harker, with faculty and staff often getting in on the fun. For example, at a recent assembly, a spoof of the popular TV game show “To Tell the Truth” featured both upper school students and administrators.
“From our student cheering section ‘Flight Zone’ at athletic events to our rallies in the fall and spring to school dances, spirit is connected to many pieces of student life,” Kallbrier said. “At a school as academically challenging as Harker, spirit is an important part of creating a well-balanced community.”
While spirit evolves over time, many events have become beloved traditions. Cookie Day in October, for example, celebrates former longtime Harker president Howard Nichols, who was known for keeping a jar of cookies in his office for passersby to enjoy. On that day, students on all campuses enjoy chocolate chip cookies in honor of Nichols.
With the enthusiasm that young children bring to activities, Harker spirit soars on the lower school campus, with much-anticipated annual activities including a Halloween parade, Valentine’s Day lipsync contest and scavenger hunts.
Spirit and service often go hand in hand at Harker, and at the lower school, the two efforts are directly linked by a combined Spirit and Service Club. In February, students enjoyed the 11th annual Pajama Day, an event that oozed both spirit and service. Led by grade 3, students collected 246 pairs of PJs and more than 500 books for the local chapter of the Pajama Program, which seeks to improve the life of children in shelters. On the final day of the drive, students celebrated by wearing their pajamas to school and reading books at an assembly. In addition, a Character In Action program holds kids accountable for doing the right thing; students who are “caught” making good choices are awarded a ticket to put in a quarterly raffle for prizes.
Holidays are particularly fun at the lower school. At a spirit rally in December, students donned Santa hats, made crafts and competed in holiday-themed games, including Pin the Nose on Rudolph. “My favorite spirit events were the Halloween and Christmas events,” said Summer Adler, grade 5, “because we got to decorate pumpkins on Halloween, and on Christmas we had a really funny Four Corners [trivia game] activity.”
To celebrate the Lunar New Year in February, students enjoyed Chinese food and learned to tie various Chinese knots. For St. Patrick’s Day, students were encouraged to wear green, with prizes awarded to the most “greened out” student in each homeroom. The day included many fun activities, including a hilarious Irish Jig freeze dance.
When asked what her favorite spirit event is, fifth grader Vika Gautham couldn’t narrow it down. “My favorite spirit event is all the spirit events, because Spirit and Service is a really fun activity that I love to go to. It’s a great opportunity to make new friends and plan amazing events that everyone loves.”
Spirit events give students a chance to have fun and show their school spirit, explained Walid Fahmy, lower school P.E. teacher and Spirit and Service Club advisor.
“Overall, I think our Spirit and Service Club is designed to strengthen our Harker community, make the school a better place, share Harker pride and, of course, have fun!” he said.
At the middle school, most spirit events are student driven. Students vote on spirit themes, help decide which games to play and set up activities. During Spirit Week in the spring, students are encouraged to dress to match daily themes, such as Pajama Day and Twin Day. The week culminates in a much-anticipated lip-sync contest.
“We believe in giving them ownership,” said Kevin Reduta, a middle school Spirit Club advisor. “It keeps the students invested in the club and gets them excited and engaged for each event.” At the middle school, “houses” compete for points, much like in the “Harry Potter” series. Advisories are grouped into four houses, each of which includes sixth, seventh and eighth graders to level the playing field. The names of the houses – Praestantia, Constantia, Beneficium and Scientia – come from the school seal, meaning excellence, constancy, service and science in Latin.
Spirit commissioner Ayan Nath, grade 8, said his favorite events are those that bring the entire campus together, such as an annual take on the TV show “The Price is Right” and the lip-sync contest. Last year, the Spirit Club introduced a new game called “Famous Faces,” in which students viewed a scene from a movie or TV show, then worked together to name the actor or actress, their character and the movie or show. “We try to get students to have fun as a school and we get students to spend more time with their advisory,” Nath said. “It just feels good making people smile and happy.”
While many activities focus on having fun with classmates, others spread happiness more subtly. In November, middle school students painted “kindness rocks,” inscribed with positive messages such as “Be Happy” and “You are Worth It” to place around the school. Though not organized by the Spirit Club, the project demonstrated that Harker spirit seeps into many aspects of student life. In late March, the club helped organize the annual Cancer Walk, which raises money for Camp Oziku, a summer camp for children with cancer.
Both Nath and fellow spirit commissioner Alysa Su, grade 8, said they hope even more students will join the Spirit Club and get involved in activities.
“Some people might feel unsure or shy about joining because we’re a very outgoing group and not many people know about the behind-the-scenes work for creating Cancer Walk posters, selling snowman grams or creating spirit events,” Su said. “I would love more people to join, because our spirit group is definitely a big family that’s always willing to help, create and inspire others to keep up the Harker spirit!”
Like at the middle school, upper school spirit activities involve students competing for spirit points. Freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors battle for class points throughout the year. Muchanticipated events include pumpkin carving and gingerbread house building contests at Halloween and Christmas.
During fall Spirit Week, prior to Homecoming, students compete for points by painting 4-foot-tall eagle statues, performing skits and dressing up for various themes, among other activities. On Friday of that week, students dressed in class colors and costumes march through campus to Davis Field, where the classes compete in games and skits, and where this year the seniors prevailed in the annual scream-off. High-energy performances by the Harker cheer squad and Varsity Dance Troupe add to the excitement.
Whereas fall Spirit Week helps kick off the school year, spring Spirit Week helps keep students energized as the school year winds down.
“Spring Spirit Week has always been my favorite,” Lin said. “Everyone’s in a constant energetic mood throughout the week thanks to the daily spirit events and dress-up themes, and it all culminates in the massive spirit rally that really unites the entire school.”
The upper school Spirit Club comprises three committees. A competitive events committee plans activities in which classes compete for points; an athletic affairs committee promotes spirit around athletic events; and a community events committee encourages community bonding through noncompetitive events, explained Kallbrier.
In addition, other student groups sometimes organize activities. For example, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, Harker’s Chinese National Honor Society held a dragon-building contest. Students created colorful dragons, which they paraded through campus. Earlier in the year, Harker’s DECA chapter partnered with the Spirit Club to organize a dodgeball competition in the new gym. The event gave students a chance to unwind, promoted DECA and raised money through boba sales for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
While many spirit events have become ingrained in Harker culture, new events bring added excitement to campus. In November students organized the first-ever Quadchella festival, a light-hearted event featuring student and faculty musicians and poets. Harker spirit shows up in both expected and unexpected ways, noted Yager.
“I love hearing students support each other in everything from performing arts and sports venues, to poetry readings and student assemblies,” he said. “Spirit is also visible in the student-led projects that serve our mission, and in the work of the staff at every campus, through things as obvious as decorations at holidays to things like kind and supportive comments to students and colleagues that might not be noticed by anybody.”