Age: 16, Grade: 11
School Name: Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, NY
Educator: Larissa Dzegar
A Lack Of School Spirit
Walking into the cafeteria at break, Packer students typically see bake sales, passionate club promoters, and inevitably hear forlorn groans from kids discovering it is fruit day. About a week and a half before any Packer performance, though, students entering the cafeteria can expect to see their talented classmates and friends selling tickets, urging those who pass to come see a show they have worked tirelessly on for months. This year, it seems that those performers’ job got a little bit harder.
On October 31st, November 1st, and November 2nd, the Upper School fall play Peter and the Starcatcher had its run in the Pratt Theater. The play invited audiences into a playful, fantastical, and vividly imaginative Victorian England, with hilarious characters exploring the origin story of Peter Pan and the creation of Neverland.
Packer’s version of this play showcased an amazing variety of student talent in both lead and supporting roles; from the impressive acrobatic skills of Zach Redhead-Leconte (‘20), to the angelic voice of Talia Hartman-Sigall (‘20), to the shockingly convincing British accent of Anna Simmons (‘20), the production was worthy of high praise.
Normally, Packer productions are well attended by students, faculty, and the families of those performing. In past years, students would line up to buy their tickets during advising/break or lunch and, more often than not, those who did not buy their tickets fast enough would have to stand in the back of the Pratt. Peter and the Starcatcher should not have been an exception to this; the play was undoubtedly equal in quality to the other high-caliber performances Arts Department Head and Director Mr. Boag and the theater program have produced. However, ticket sales dwindled for the show, begging a pressing question: What has changed?
One factor could be unfortunate timing. Many students cited the dates of the production as a reason for not attending the show. Opening night fell on Halloween and November 1st was the Early Action deadline for many seniors applying to college. According to Mr. Boag, these dates were unfortunate but inescapable due to conflicts with the upcoming Thanksgiving break.
However, actors in the play believe that larger issues in our community are to blame for low attendance. Anna, who played one of the lead characters Molly Aster, suggested that Packer students are too wrapped up in school work to come and support the arts.
“I just think people have a new hyperfocus on academics, so it could be partially people not wanting to give up their time to something that’s non-academic and won’t help them get into college. I mean, I hear freshmen talking about the college process! People need to calm down.”
Another actor–who preferred to remain anonymous–had a lot to say about the low engagement, comparing the sales of this year’s play to the past ones they have participated in.
“Usually, tickets sell out within the first couple of days, but school spirit is just really lacking this year and it sucks,” they said. “If people in this community have been working hard on something, you should want to go and support. It makes me feel undervalued.”
This notion of a lack of “school spirit” is not just affecting the Packer’s Arts Department; overall engagement in Packer sponsored events and trips is unquestionably down. The Spring Break trips, for example, which normally have to make tremendous cuts on account of how many people apply, have recently encouraged people to submit applications after the deadline in an attempt to fill spots.
“People don’t care anymore about stuff that won’t help them. Attendance for fun clubs, trips, sports games, and shows are all down because people claim they are too busy, which I don’t think is true,” said Jordana Sampson (‘21).
Mr. Boag seems to agree with Jojo’s assertion, saying, “The danger is that people substitute busyness for engagement. If you have a lot on your plate, that’s now considered a virtue, when it isn’t necessarily. Spending time at a concert, play, dance event, gallery is something we need to hold onto.”
The real question now is what can be done to restore the “school spirit” many feel has recently been lost? How can events like Peter and the Starcatcher, which warrant the support of the Packer body, raise attendance and interest in a community that does not seem to want to show up?
“The Packer Arts Department will continue to seek to produce the kind of events that would make it worth people’s while to come to see,” responded Mr. Boag. “That’s really all we can do. Whether [the community] does engage or not remains its decision.”
One of Packer’s greatest strengths is its plethora of engaging and enriching experiences available to students. This quality is what keeps families interested in enrolling, faculty enthused about their work, and students excited to delve into everything Packer has to offer them. Perhaps, as participants in this community, it is time we examine why our values have shifted. Where has our “Packer spirit” gone?