YAKIMA, Wash. — They are spirited.
They are energized.
They are IKE.
By many accounts, there’s been a resurgence this year at Eisenhower High School: more fans cheering at games, larger attendance at school dances, a loud and enthusiastic pep rally. Students and administrators trace the beginnings to last summer with the invention of “We Are IKE,” a campaign to elevate school spirit and include more members of the 2,000 student body in events.
Along the way, the school newspaper drew more readers, the yearbook swelled in size and students began sporting “We Are IKE” T-shirts.
According to Principal Jewel Brumley, “School spirit has really improved. Dances have been huge this year, and more than 500 students went to prom, which is more than double from past years.”
Students are responsible for the transformation, but the architect is Duff DeWitt, an English teacher who became adviser for school publications this year.
“He brought all of us together,” said Guadalupe Solis, a senior and sports editor of The Five Star Journal, the student newspaper.
DeWitt began by holding informal meetings with student editors last July, brainstorming how they could sell more school yearbooks and at the same time increase student involvement in activities.
One deterrent they identified was not enough students could afford to buy the $50 yearbook. With 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch — an indicator of poverty — the price was too high, they reasoned.
DeWitt’s solution was to connect the school with the community; he approached a number of Eisenhower alumni with the idea of infusing enthusiasm into the school, partly through donations to make participation more affordable.
“Duff easily spent 100 hours soliciting donations,” Brumley said. “He was absolutely instrumental in elevating school spirit and student involvement.”
DeWitt raised nearly $15,000, which became the foundation for underwriting a spirit pack — for $30, a student could get a yearbook, T-shirt and ASB card, which allows for free or reduced-cost admission to events. Last year that combination would have cost $80.
“My thought was get enough donations to help kids be part of something and give them the opportunity to be representatives of their school,” DeWitt explained.
He and students collaborated on the best way to do that. “He stepped up and showed the world what Ike is and set a great example of not stopping,” Solis said. “He believes in us and said if we had ideas, bring them to the table.”
And those ideas were good, DeWitt said. “I supplied the opportunities, and the kids took them and ran.”
What they came up with was a concerted emphasis to bring the student body together. According to DeWitt, when students aren’t fully engaging in social aspects of school, they’re missing out.
“High school should be a good time,” he said. “There are also the necessary things, but it should be fun, too,” he said.
Brumley added, “His goal was to have kids enjoy their high school experience here as any kid anywhere would.”
The upshot: Students sold 1,300 spirit packs, nearly double the number of ASB cards sold last year, which means 1,300 students are getting yearbooks this year. Last year it was 440. In addition, more students went to games and other events than in many years, said Brumley.
At the same time, a group of teachers suggested that the “IKE” in “We are IKE” should stand for Integrity, Kindness and Engagement, and that met with student approval, too.
The next big change came when the 25 members of the newspaper class decided their product shouldn’t just be online. So get this: They now offer a printed newspaper, with editions every month.
“We can reach students in a better way with it,” said sophomore Karlee Van De Venter, news editor of the paper. Students like having something to hold in their hands, she noted.
Brumley agreed. “Now the interest in the newspaper is enormous.”
Student editors said they strived this year to find deeper meaning and angles in stories and wanted to stay out of comfortable ruts. Senior Mikaela Reyes, arts and entertainment editor, was assigned to cover some sports stories, which was unfamiliar territory for her, and she recoiled at first. “It stretched me, but I thought, ‘I can do these things.’”
The staff discussed what fake news is, the use of anonymous sources and the difference between opinion and fact.
Van De Venter wanted to explore how much money students were spending, and the attendant value they were getting, in coffee shops. Another topic they tackled was how people would act if a loved one contracted Ebola.
DeWitt said it was a good sign they set ambitious goals. “One reason I wanted to take over publications was the opportunity to give kids a voice. It’s easy not to have a voice.”
According to Van De Venter, they appreciated the trust DeWitt gave them. “He cares so much about students and has such a connection with us.”
Meanwhile in yearbook class, students produced a hefty, 196-page book. Staff member Victoria Rifa, a sophomore, emphasized that it’s important for as many students as possible to have a yearbook because it captures memorable moments.
“They’re personal moments, and they don’t disappear like pictures on the internet,” she said. “A yearbook is tangible.”
Then there is the 15-member “We Are IKE” club, which meets before school at 7:15 a.m. once a week. They connect the various threads of what yearbook and newspaper staffs are doing, give tours of the school to alumni and generally represent the school.
All that coordination came together initially in February when school spirit reached a fever pitch at a pep rally to celebrate the number of spirit packs sold. On that day, 1,300 students surged into the commons for the first pep rally in three years. They cheered and shouted, and that infusion of energy was still in evidence four months later, last Friday, when the yearbooks were passed out at the school.
“It’s been fantastic,” Brumley said, describing the school year.
“Seeing the students, teachers and teams all excited and at different games and events has been amazing.”
• Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or firstname.lastname@example.org.