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Chief Sealth International High School: Changing the Status Quo 

Summary: Returning to campus after nearly two years of building closures is allowing high school student leaders to redefine school spirit.

Leaders of a New School 

Chief Sealth International High School: Changing the Status Quo 

As students trickle into Sarah Martin’s office to gather supplies, she doles out paper, scissors, and paint with ease. They are working on signs for their first in-person assembly in over two years. As she takes stock of the room, Martins’s eyes land on the school’s “spirit shield,” a prop that has been a long-standing tradition at Chief Sealth International High School’s pep assemblies. 

“Students don’t know what it is – don’t know what it is at all,” the activities coordinator said. “It’s a good thing and a bad thing because we are missing out on these passed-down-from-student-to-student traditions, but we also are getting to start fresh.” 

After meeting with dozens of student government leaders within Seattle Public Schools, we were able to capture a glimpse of how the pandemic changed the way students defined school spirit. Through this series on student government leaders, we examine how they are working hard to rebuild school pride and create new traditions.  

All Are Welcome 

Before COVID-19 brought the world to a grinding halt, Martin was feeling the need for a change. She noticed the traditional leadership roles of president, vice president, secretary and treasurer were not working for Chief Sealth. Studies have shown that elections do not determine the quality of a leader, but rather how well they run a campaign for office. 

Martin knew there were many kids who would be great as student government leaders, but they were too intimidated by the election process to run for a position.  

“It was uniquely timed because we had started to think about this pre-pandemic,” said Martin. “The traditional roles of officers and running for elections … was this barrier where a lot of students who would be good at doing this sort of stuff didn’t see themselves as an officer.” 

The pandemic allowed Chief Sealth’s Associated Student Body (ASB) the opportunity to reinvent itself. In 2020, the school did away with traditional leadership roles in favor of a more inclusive model. Rather than have an election, students could opt into leadership. Interested students sign up for Martin’s Project Management class where they share ideas and come up with creative ways to boost school spirit. 

A Seat at the Table 

Elections were a barrier for students who did not think their voice would be heard in a standard popular vote election. Opening the door to all students reinforces Chief Sealth’s belief of providing an environment that is anti-racist and intersectional in all its practices. 

Solveig Defant joined ASB at the start of second semester. The junior opted in because she felt like her ideas were not being heard. 

“I didn’t really have a place to share them,” she said. 

As the lone junior in the group, Defant said one of her goals is to get more of her peers involved.  

“I’m hoping I can get people excited about it this year, so that next year when the senior class – who is majority of our ASB right now – we can get some juniors to join and be excited so that next year we can also have that,” she said. 

Defant said the mix of grade levels has allowed her to get to know students she may not regularly have interacted with in class. 

“I think it’s great because … we often get cut off by the classes … and it’s nice to hear the freshmen’s ideas too,” she said. “It’s just different because of the ages, and some people haven’t quite learned some things yet, but it just gives you a different perspective.” 

Leading the Way 

Joselyn Panganiban serves on ASB as a senior class representative. As a member of the only class of students who got to experience a full four years of high school, she knows just how much the underclassmen have missed.  

“We’re getting a senior experience as best as we can right now, but there are certain aspects, like homecoming and pep rallies … that freshmen haven’t seen yet,” Panganiban said. 

The leadership team has made it a priority to show students it is okay to show pride in their school. For Martin, dismantling the traditional leadership model has helped redefine school spirit. 

“It really is just meeting students where they are at,” Martin said. “I think it is changing what it looks like to be spirited because it’s not always going to look like being a cheerleader. It’s going to be about doing stuff.” 


Student Government at Lincoln High is Finding Creative Ways to Unite Their Peers

When Lincoln High School reopened in September 2019 after a nearly 40-year closure, students and staff had no way of knowing a global pandemic would close its doors again just seven months later. For the class of 2022, who were sophomores when Lincoln opened, the closure interrupted a pivotal time for the 600 students who were in a new school and still in the early stages of getting to know one another. Now with 1,400 students on the roster, building a connected community is even more critical. 

After meeting with dozens of student government leaders within Seattle Public Schools, we were able to capture a glimpse of how the pandemic not only upended students’ lives but also changed the way they define school spirit. This series will highlight how Associated Student Body (ASB) and other student leaders are working extra hard to rebuild school pride.  

Six students stand together in front of school building entry steps.

Growing Pains 

Students at Lincoln were already struggling to establish relationships. Most of them had been moved from surrounding schools like Ballard and Roosevelt to ease overcrowding. Making friends was difficult but trying to build school spirit through a computer screen was even harder. 

“We already had a really hard time starting out in-person because no one knew each other,” said Nyah Curcuruto, Lincoln’s ASB president. “There was not a lot of students here; we only had two grades our very first year.” 

Curcuruto said when the district went into lockdown, her team felt troubled because they did not know what to do. ASB leaders sprang into action by producing virtual assemblies over YouTube Livestream. Students were invited to submit videos, and the team recorded some of their own content to make a compilation of skits, how-to videos, and performances by the school’s dance team. 

Curcuruto said their goal was to get students and staff to feel a little bit of connection and to create online that could carry forward when schools reopened for in-person learning. 

“We want to leave all other grades with something to grasp on to,” she said.  

Do It for the ‘Gram 

The pandemic hit just as students were getting to know each other in meaningful ways. ASB had to get creative in order to keep students connected. They have a communications director on their leadership team whose sole job is to engage with students and keep them informed. Lincoln’s ASB advisor, Christina Neuschwander, has helped the leadership team push through the pandemic by allowing them to have complete ownership of their roles. 

Anvita Deenadayalan is the communications director and runs Lincoln’s ASB social media accounts. She said using social media, especially Instagram, had an immediate impact. 

“It was a gamechanger, the way we used social media,” she said.  

Deenadayalan said crowdsourcing for students to share images – especially during COVID – drove up participation during spirit weeks. Students send in pictures of themselves wearing school gear or dressed up for one of the theme days. 

“Being able to use that to bring everybody together is a great way to get participation,” Deenadayalan said. 

According to Senior Class Co-President Alicia Salva, social media was also a way to share resources around mental health to let students know they were not alone during the pandemic. 

We’ve Got Spirit 

Senior Ryan Shigley has one job – keep spirit alive. As the ASB spirit coordinator, Shigley’s specialty is getting students to not take themselves too seriously and join in on the fun. 

“It’s been cool to see … throughout a spirit week how the participation increases every day,” he said. His perception of what it means to show school spirit has shifted since his days in middle school. 

“In high school, I think a lot of people have school pride,” he said. “That was something that I wanted to build.” 

Lincoln now has a full slate of students, but two of the grade levels had never had an in-person school experience. Shigley says he tries to lead by example. 

“The juniors and seniors and some underclassmen are willing to put themselves out there then that makes other people feel more comfortable.” 

Under Construction 

When it comes to building connections, Lincoln’s ASB has found a formula that works. They eliminated pitting students against each other based on grade level. Instead, they have built four “Houses” (Alki, Mohai, Madrona, and Pike). Students are grouped together based on their advisory/mentorship class – an even mix of students across all grade levels. The move ushered in another opportunity for students to bond with peers who may be in a different grade. 

“It’s our way of trying not to create such a divide between classes, but to help people get to know each other,” Curcuruto said. “It’s definitely difficult for some people to transition into … you really want to resonate with your grade. We do things that are grade-oriented but doing it by House has really helped create a lot of connections between students.” 

Junior Class President Chelsea Chen is thankful for the senior leaders and how they have laid a foundation for the next group of officers.  

“I think the seniors this year have set such a high bar – in the best way,” Chen said. “They’ve really brought this school together, especially in terms of spirit. I think it sets the standard for all the future classes coming into it.”