Where Has Club Participation Gone?
Over the course of the year, senior Doni Chasen has led four clubs: Meat Club, Cholent Club, Geshmak to be a Yid Club, and Persian Club. When asked how often they meet, Doni readily admitted: “Right now, combined: zero.” Environmental Club Co-president Gefen Beldie affirmed the same about her own club — “We don’t meet. Well, not this year.”
On the other hand, some clubs continue to run semi-normally. Debate Club founder Micah Feit Mann reported that his club meets every few weeks. Similarly, new clubs and electives such as weightlifting, Dungeons & Dragons, and Robotics have started during the second semester.
Overall, General Studies Instructional Team Leader (and Palette faculty advisor) Mr. Joel Rojek placed club participation “at a three-year low,” although he said both the number of clubs and the number of students participating in clubs have been lower in the past.
Club leaders have had to schedule their meetings around other fixtures of the lunchtime schedule. Nobody wanted to take students away from Rabbi Daniel Estreicher’s Wednesday Mishmor and Mishmeret learning session, and Community Time occupies most of Thursday’s midday break.
The simplest culprit for the club decrease is COVID-19 — an accurate assessment, but perhaps not in the most obvious way. It’s true that pandemic restrictions challenged food-based clubs. Yet rather than any COVID-induced fear of gathering, most other club leaders pointed to less obvious, second-order effects for the decline in club participation.
Schedule changes rank among the most apparent of those second-order effects. Mr. Rojek explained that to keep a consistent schedule between in-person learning and possible remote learning, administration lengthened lunch and reduced the number of periods in a single day. In the past, clubs and electives had their own distinct period, yet with a longer lunch, they figured “it would be fairly easy” for a club to meet with time left over to eat and otherwise socialize.
However, as it turns out, lunchtime can get pretty busy, and students have other uses for the time. Doni said that in the absence of a designated time for clubs, “if people have the choice between hanging out with their friends… and eating lunch [or] joining a club and actually doing something, I think they would much rather have free time,” a sentiment Gefen agreed with. Mr. Byron similarly posited that students might be interested in his Disc Golf elective or other clubs, “but maybe not enough to not eat their lunches.”
“[Mainly only having Tuesday lunch for club time is] just not enough time to do electives and clubs in any kind of good way.”Mr. Dave Byron
Club leaders have had to schedule their meetings around other fixtures of the lunchtime schedule. Nobody wanted to take students away from Rabbi Daniel Estreicher’s Wednesday Mishmor and Mishmeret learning session, and Community Time occupies most of Thursday’s midday break. With remote Fridays mostly out of the picture — Mr. Rojek commented that “most people weren’t too interested in having a club meeting remote” — that left just Monday and Tuesday to jam clubs into. However, Mondays are (theoretically) dedicated to Palette and Yearbook, which have large staffs, to avoid the two clubs conflicting with the others. This only accentuated the time crunch other clubs faced.
Micah explained that his Debate Club can only meet “once every two or three weeks” since clubs that meet on Tuesdays have to share the time slot, which Mr. Rojek confirmed. Mr. Byron also described wanting to sponsor sophomore Eli Cohen’s weightlifting club, but he had to decline because it conflicted with Disc Golf. With mainly only Tuesday lunch for most clubs, Mr. Byron said, “It’s just not enough time to do electives and clubs in any kind of good way.”
The first few months of remote school also played a factor, according to Gefen. She explained that “it didn’t really give a chance for people to get the hang of meeting regularly.” Similarly, Mr. Rojek posited that the abnormal start threw off normal rhythms, which in turn could have made clubs less inviting for freshmen initially.
Mr. Rojek also commented that, to an extent, the strength of clubs is cyclical and depends on student leaders. He explained that “some of our most active club leaders have graduated over the last two years,” and students haven’t always stepped up to replace them.
Mr. Rojek also commented that, to an extent, the strength of clubs is cyclical and depends on student leaders.
As a student club leader, Gefen was willing to take some responsibility for the lack of participation. She said, “I should have been taking charge and doing all this stuff… [the issue is] definitely 90% students.”
Gefen said that clubs play a large role in giving “outside things that are fun for people to do.” Since “clubs aren’t really a big deal [this year], it kind of just feels that the AJA [club] culture is dead,” she opined.
Mr. Rojek concluded with a pitch for clubs. He called them “a cool way that students can create their own enrichment. It’s a way that you really can choose your own adventure, or you can decide this is something I want to do during my high school experience.” He was also optimistic for the future, saying, “I think we’ll wind up bouncing back.”