COVID’s Souring Effects on Spirit


Selah Ilunga-Reed, Editor-in-Chief

When you arrived back at school this year, you probably noticed the noble crusade which Jared Winston, director of student life, has taken on: the restoration of Poly spirit and school culture to its past formidability. When I began at Poly nearly six years ago, the booming presence of the spirit captains and mascot at each community gathering gave me the lasting impression of Poly spirit as ineffable, yet over time it seems this spirit has been crushed. However, the efforts of Winston, spirit captains Olivia Umeh ’23 and Justin Mondesir ’23, and various others have been largely effective and certainly have not gone unnoticed by the student body. The mission to emulate Poly pride of the past forces us to confront the question of what Poly spirit was like in the “before times” and what exactly changed? 

Of course, the obvious and most comprehensive answer to what happened to Poly spirit is the changes the school community experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Extended school closures thoroughly killed school spirit as social distancing forced Poly to eradicate things like fan sections and field days. Poly students can all agree that pep rallies and schoolwide chapels hosted on Zoom didn’t hold a candle to the real thing. Without the ability to gather together physically for months the fibers of our community began to disintegrate, with each community member being forced into some extent of social isolation. Taking or teaching classes from home removes the feeling of collective space and time from the school experience, and therefore makes the nature of education seem individual, rather than collective and collaborative as it is supposed to be. Due to the risks of gathering during the pandemic, the Poly experience was reduced to classes and  work, rather than day-to-day interaction with the community at large. Naturally, the loss of a sense of community led to  a breakdown of the once legendary Poly pride. Where were the crazed Friday Night Lights fans? The cheering chapel-goers? The Blue Devil mascot itself? At home, in quarantine of course. 

The second way Poly spirit was tacitly fragmented was students’ newfound reluctance to buy into the Poly experience, and conversely their predisposition to question and critique each system they exist in. With political upheaval seeping into the adolescent experience for every teenager in 2022, particularly teens from New York, as the city is a hub for civil action like anti-racism marches and sustainability walk-outs, students have developed an instinct to constantly appraise and challenge each form of authority they experience. Because of the failures we’ve observed of systems in our government with regards to issues like anti-black racism and the spread of the COVID pandemic, large institutions like Poly have been characterized by the base of young activists born from the COVID-era as always corrupt and malevolent; therefore, young people often feel discouraged from wholeheartedly supporting them or their interests. In many ways, this knee-jerk reaction to question Poly’s systems has served and will continue to serve us well in terms of dismantling real, existing flaws in the school in that it has encouraged Poly students to participate in civics-related action like DEIB and fostered courage to question and change Poly’s long standing traditions and norms. At the same time, it has also pushed students away from leaning into school spirit for fear of committing themselves to a system which they’ve deemed to be imperfect and essentially flawed. Part of the challenge of restoring Poly’s spirit is balancing students’ instinct to oppose Poly with their wish to support Poly. 

Our senior leaders and varsity sports teams have had a significant impact on school spirit like posting recurring updates on Instagram stories encouraging fans to show up to games, or the senior spirit captains’ new additions like Senior Sunrise. Although the design of the mascot, athletic fields, and athletic administration will never be the same as a pre-Covid Poly, the resurrection of the Poly spirit is now in the hands of the student body.