Michigan’s largest high school virtual live remote Winterfest assembly is occurring on Friday


Lydia VanDeRiet

A picture of last year’s window paintings during Winterfest week

Most mornings, history teacher Laura Stiles can be found sitting in Principal Steve Passinault’s office trying to find a new way to make Winterfest COVID-19 friendly.

Some of her most recent ideas include the orchestra playing at the Winterfest assembly, organizing snow sculptures, and announcing court via Zoom conference call. And while these ideas are all something she’s proud of, the one she is most excited for is Ellen Degeneres inspired.

“I kept seeing the Ellen Show popping into my head,” Stiles said. “We’ll go over to a remote location. We’re going to go to somebody’s house, giving them $10,000, and then there’s like a little band or music guy.” 

Now, the issue was how do they take this idea of an Ellen Show interview and scale it down to a high school level? The answer: Zoom calls.

“If we have three remote locations and a zoom call,” Stiles said, “then they can do a lot more things. People are spread out, and there are zones. Nobody’s in any space for more than five minutes.”

The man Stiles has put in charge of broadcasting the Winterfest assembly to not only all of FHC’s students but the elementary schools as well is none other than broadcasting teacher Jeff Manders.

“The plan is to have events and things going on in these big open spaces so we can social distance,” Manders said. “Using the auditorium, using the gym, using the TV studio [to host the assembly]—we have some technology now that allows us to go live from multiple locations.”

Another one of Stiles’ ideas that Manders is helping make possible is live streaming the assembly on Youtube so parents at home can watch and even people from other schools.

Stiles has hopes of including the Elementary schools—Ada, Pine Ridge, Thornapple, and even Central Woodlands—in our “This Is Ranger Country” cheer through a zoom call which increases the area for error, but both Stiles and Manders remain optimistic.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Manders said. “There are [many] opportunities for a disaster, but it’s also a really cool opportunity to try something new that still allows us to have an assembly and incorporate tons of different people.”

On top of the assembly that’s happening Friday afternoon, the Student Council and Winterfest planning committee have a plethora of activities planned for this week. Monday they had a jeopardy game planned during lunch and had a student from each grade participate for points. Junior Russell Baird ended up winning this game of jeopardy that was hosted by English teacher Jon Fisher

While the hybrid schedule made spirit days a bit more complicated than in years past, Student Council and Stiles overall decided that Monday and Tuesday would both be pajama day. Wednesday, for the first time in years, each class is in charge of making snow sculptures outside of the school to be judged along with the normal window paintings in the gym lobby. 

“The thing that I’m most foreign to is the snow sculptures,” said junior class president Benji Zorn, “We [haven’t] been able to do them for five years because [it’s] really [icy], not enough snow at all, or really warm. This year, we hope that we have perfect conditions on Wednesday, so we’re able to do the snow sculptures.”

Continuing with the theme of keeping Winterfest as normal as possible, and since a dance isn’t possible, Thursday and Friday are formal days at school complete with a red carpet and a photographer.

“The senior class wanted to dress [up] like what you would wear to the dance,” Stiles said. “Then you have to have pictures, right? So then [I was] like, okay, red carpet. We get a red carpet for someone who’s a photographer. I called Jim Hill—he does everything for everything.”

The next step of planning this formal day was making sure it followed COVID-19 guidelines.

“You have to come into the new gym entrance,” Stiles said. “We were going to use the window paintings for the backgrounds of your picture, [but] it’s just going to be a mess, and it [could turn into] a party if I have the music going. [Then I thought of] the new gym. I’m going to try to [have] three backdrops as you would really have in a photoshoot. The whole thing is about flow, numbers, and space.”  

On top of everything else, it’s on good authority that a special Ranger just might be making an appearance at Friday’s assembly adding to the list of fun activities planned for this week. 

While planning this jam-packed week has been stressful, Stiles is nothing but happy to have established some normalcy this year.

“Sure,” Stiles said, “I love to stand there and play tunes, and it gives me a rush, but it’s more seeing you guys cheer, and do your stupid dances, and your crazy competitions, pulling on that tug-of-war rope, and playing in the band.”