Op-Ed: Bring Morning Meeting Back!
Community is a core value at St. Stephens and St. Agnes School. It’s on display at the opening night for the Musical, the Sleepy Thompson Basketball Tournament, and Coffee House. These activities allow community to come together by promoting school spirit and encouraging the success of others, which has created a united student body and faculty. Morning Meeting specifically, now known as Community Time, is arguably the most unique tradition that forms the Saints community.
Senior Simone Holland looked back fondly on freshman year saying that Morning Meeting forced her to build character because as a freshman she was forced by the upperclassman to go on stage to make announcements. When asking a current freshman why she doesn’t go to community time she said, “I dont go because I like to change for sports and have extra time to get ready. It’s kind of pointless. There's nothing to do. It's just announcements. I feel like if it was in the morning more people would go.”
It is clear that the once positive view of Community Time has begun to fade. The question is: why is this happening?
The rise of phone usage and decline in attendance during Morning Meeting have had an obvious impact. Mr. Garikes explained that phones, “have made it harder in Morning Meetings to get the attention of the audience because there are so many kids who really have to look at their phone when there's a speaker on the stage. I find that frustrating and disappointing.”
Phone usage has not only been disruptive to Community Time, but has also increased a level of disrespect between not only students and faculty but also students and students. Mr. Garikes elaborates saying, “I think if we just all decided for that ten to fifteen minutes were gonna collectively pay attention to what's being said, that would benefit all of us.”
Community Time has not always been a productive time, but it gave us a time to come together as a community which has been crucial to our identity as a school. Mr. Garikes explained that he, “would go back to Ms. Holden's philosophy.” Ms. Holden, according to Mr. Garikes, believed that it was essential for the community to gather once a day. As Mr. Garikes pointed out we do gather as a community during chapel but we can’t turn it into an a time for announcements because Chapel is one of the most powerful things we do. It would be wrong to dilute its powerful message. After speaking with Mr. Garikes, it is clear that Community Time is essential to the overall health of the upper school. But, when speaking with students there was a greater disparity in views on Community Time.
There are many benefits to having community time in the morning vs the afternoon. The two most important benefits are beginning the day with a sense of community and an increase in attendance. Freshman and sophomore attendance specifically will increase because it's during the day.
When interviewing the Class of 2020 on their opinions about Community Time, there were a variety of answers. A lot of the responses were negative and showed feelings of annoyance. Six anonymous seniors described it as “stupid,” “a waste of time,” and that “most of it could be done in an email.” When the six seniors were asked if they would switch Community Time back to Morning Meeting if given the option they all said yes.
However there were a few seniors on the other side of the spectrum that demonstrated feelings of warmth and nostalgia towards Morning Meeting. Senior Sylvie Weiman said that she thinks “that having a Morning Meeting where everyone is expected to be there and there's not really a way to escape it is essential for building community because it's a time where everyones together, everyone’s absorbing the same information, so there's this base level of common knowledge between the whole student body and the teachers.”
Senior Alice Hurley agreed, “ I enjoyed it. I think it was so much fun. It's important but you have to start off the day with a sense of community.”
The school had its first morning meeting for the 2019-2020 school year on Monday February 24. Senior Grace Unes said, “I loved it. I love it a lot more. It's just very comforting in a way because for the past three years we’ve always had it in the morning and it's weird it didn’t feel odd at all. It felt natural. After the first period I was like ok time for morning meeting , time to go to morning meeting. It wasn’t this big thing unlike freshman who might be a little thrown off by it.” Although it might feel unnatural for freshman at first there hope that they will grow to love Morning Meeting the same way the classes have before them.
Freshman Lauren Irish said that, “I really liked it. It was a great way to kick off the morning. Especially after my first class of the day. I had a math test next period and I was really stressed out but then I went to a morning meeting and it was kind of a destresser. I really liked it and I hope we bring it back.”
These mixed feelings and views of Morning Meetings and Community Time demonstrate that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. I don’t know how we can strengthen our community, or even if Community Time is the answer. I do know, however, that it is clear that people don’t feel the same sense of community as strongly anymore. We need to start brainstorming ways to strengthen our community. It was once the foundation of our school, and if we lose that then we no longer have anything that differentiates us from any other high school.