A sense of normalcy returns as both new and long-standing clubs gain their footing with in-person gatherings

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Lydia VanDeRiet

FHC’s clubs migrate from outdoor and virtual meetings to the opportunity for in-person meetings.

Principal Steve Passinault has been committed to ensuring that education could prevail through even the darkest moments this year, but to prioritize the most possible consistency for the school year, he, and every member of the administration, have been forced to make certain sacrifices. 

Clubs and after-school programs were one of these sacrifices, the community of which faltered necessarily to keep safety at the forefront of the operation.

But Passinault was able to show after-school programs a ray of hope, sending an email out a couple weeks into the semester that approved indoor in-person gatherings, of course contingent on members abiding by all necessary pandemic regulations.

The Academic Success Center was one such institution to take advantage of the green-light, and they were able to take advantage of some of the state-afforded assistance given to schools. 

“The Academic Success Center is a little unique,” said Principal Steve Passinault, “because through some of the funding we received through COVID-19 dollars [from the state], we were able to fund reopening that Academic Success Center with teachers being paid to be there in person.”

Making its way back home to the library has rekindled the vision of the Academic Success Center. In-person tutoring is undoubtedly more effective when possible and is in high-demand this year as teachers and the student body alike have learned to navigate a more complicated version of education. 

And with the extra COVID-19 money to pay teachers for their support, the Academic Success Center is a hub for learning assistance. 

“We hadn’t been able to connect some kids as virtual tutors,” Passinault admitted. “It was just really hard. So what’s nice about this is students can come down that need some support, and the NHS kids will be down there, but we’re also going to be having some teachers down there as well.”

And while the Academic Success Center managed to sustain a version of their services, an online system that remains an option for students who prefer it, not every after-school program had the resources to do so. 

For a new club, this blow was even heavier. Protect Life FHC began organizing before the shut-down last March, pressing pause on their mission for the rest of the school year. 

As English teacher and Advisor of Protect Life FHC, Kelli Potts, assessed, “it really stunk.” The club “never even got to meet in person.” 

But they pushed on, doing what they could amidst general unrest. They garnered attention over the summer through their Instagram page, and built up a standing before their first Zoom meeting. 

“They’re a new club—brand new—they don’t have a whole lot of people yet,” Potts said, “and people are kind of checking it out, and it was hard to do over Zoom. It’s just more relational when you can be [in person]. Even with masks and social distancing, people feel more open to talk and ask questions. For them, it’s just exciting because like I said, it’s their first [meeting].”

Their first in-person meeting was a long time coming, and it was just a part of the beginning, as junior Desiree Tuohy explained. Their parent organization, Protect Life Michigan, offers downtown outreach about two times a month; Desiree has been participating with whoever’s been able to accompany her from Protect Life FHC outside of official club events.

As they continue to meet, Desiree hopes to focus on their mission, on top of bringing more people into their cause; apologetics is on the agenda for their second meeting. 

“Our purpose of the club is to do a lot more volunteering with maybe pregnancy resource centers or raise money for foster care, things like that,” Desiree said. “But we also do educate people on apologetics, which is sort of combatting the [opposing] argument, if that makes sense. Apologetics is kind of hard to teach virtually, so we teach it in person now.”

While Protect Life FHC finally gains its footing, with a cause to fight for guiding their sights, another club has gained traction, starting only this year with accessible entertainment as its core: esports. 

Science teachers Joey Spadafore and Jason Colegrove serve as the advisors, after being approached by several students who had captured an interest in esports, and they work mostly in the background to help the club function. 

“I just am responsible for coordinating the kids and setting up their matches,” Spadafore said. “Any student who wants to play a particular game would let me know, and then I sign them up on a roster with their teammates and then sign them up for their tournament. I’m not coaching or anything like that; I’m just behind the scenes, making sure that these guys are able to play their games.”

Esports is an ideal activity amidst the migration towards virtual proceedings this past year. Their tournaments, by their online nature, can be played from anywhere and allow the club to easily integrate students who have chosen online schooling this year. 

However, they’ve also taken the opportunity to meet in person—with a few online students Zooming in—once to assess interest in the club and share details about its nature and again to confirm rosters and plans for the beginning of the season. 

Although esports is a perfect fit against the milieu of current circumstances, Spadafore believes it’s something that would’ve happened at some point anyway if not now. And he also has hopes for its future continuance when more restrictions lift. 

“I think if it was somewhat more normal, we’d have some opportunities for team building—get everybody involved in something outside of school or doing something to let the team get to know each other a little bit more,” Spadafore said. “Or even have days where we can actually play the games in the classroom and hook it up to the projector and have tournaments within our group. That would be something cool in the future.”

For now, he’s focused on helping his students build up the club they’ve forged, even amidst less than ideal circumstances, finding something lighthearted to ease their minds. 

Their emergence contrasts against the revival of GSA—the Gay Straight Alliance club—who had found themselves floundering up until the go-ahead to gather in person. Their virtual meetings had tapered off since the beginning of the year, and advisor John Fisher felt the disconnection potently. 

It was for this reason that he immediately began putting a plan into action for their first in-person meeting once permission was granted. Fisher talked to Passinault, straightened out some other GSA issues, and then determined it was the right time to unite his club members. 

“The fact that we were full in-person for the moment,” Fisher said, “hopefully for longer than the moment, made me decide that this was the moment to try to get the ball rolling a little bit.”

Their first meeting focused on setting their goals for the year: whether they wanted to make changes schoolwide and districtwide or whether they wanted to concentrate on being a social organization. While many of the details remain undecided, Fisher shared that the GSA had some thoughts on things they may be trying to change soon, and they’d welcome anyone to join their group. 

But as Fisher held the first in-person GSA meeting this year with around eight students seated in a circle, he was cognizant of the substantial advantages to gathering in person—exactly what’s been missing in a year that has stolen so much: the genuine, observable human connection. 

So, for the time being, no matter how insignificant their return may seem, he’s grateful for the connection that the in-person gathering of clubs can provide. 

“When you’re sitting and facing each other, there’s a lot more of an empathetic connection,” Fisher said. “There’s this whole mirror neuron thing going on where you’re actually more psychologically and physiologically connected to the other people around you.”