EVHS Clubs Reflect Upon a Year Unlike Any Other

Four different clubs at EVHS describe their experiences navigating through distance learning in the 2020 to 2021 school year.

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Key Club

EV Key Club attending the August 2020 DCM.

Christina Huang and Inaya Yusuf

The 100+  clubs at Evergreen Valley High School vary from Speech & Debate to ESports to Computer Programming, but none of them are an exception when it comes to how much they rely on in-person interaction. When the 2020-2021 school year started, many of the clubs that were used to the in-person club activities had to make alterations in the system they’d always used. 

Key Club

At the very beginning of the year, Key Club wanted to promote their club through making use of their social media platforms. Mindy Nguyen, president of the club, said, “Publicizing in the beginning of the school year was definitely difficult. It was a rough start, but I think we were able to execute it really well, especially with my publicist team.” They reached out to both potential and current members and made sure to engage with each and every one of them to form the connection that had become more difficult to form due to distance learning. Nguyen said, “One thing that was highly effective this year that we’ve seen that we didn’t implement in previous years was that we started doing these Instagram DM-ing, so it would be more personable. We would construct a template message, but we would use our club account and DM a lot of our active members based on the roster that we saw.”  She added, “We would construct a template message, but we would use our club account and DM a lot of our active members based on the roster that we saw. They found that “It was really effective because it was a more personable message, and it was an easier reminder for them, whether we’re trying to remind them of a fundraiser or a service event or a meeting, whatnot.”

Making use of their social media platforms also came in handy when building the club community, which was one of their biggest concerns they had coming into distance learning. Nguyen said,“We were worried about the number of people who would turn on cameras, but the more interaction, the more socials we had slowly made everything more comfortable and it’s transitioned into a tight-knit family vibe. Most people have cameras on now.” On the Key Club Instagram, they would often have people interact with the club by posting Instagram polls, have watch stories and ask fun questions that were not always relevant to the work the Key Club was doing. In addition to making use of their Instagram, they also tried to build community with social events through Zoom. Nguyen said, “We tried to build our community with social events, which we also usually paired with service events. We also allotted some time during the meetings for icebreakers and bonding activities.” 

They also found it was easier to get the competitive spirit going with the club because of how Key Club was split into different divisions. “Key Club is not just at the club level like at EVHS but we also have things called ‘divisions,’ and divisions have events of their own, and that’s a whole ‘nother type of event that we promote to our members to attend. So with more and more events there’s more space for members to come and learn about Key Club and meet new people, so that’s another factor as to how we build up this tight-knit community. ” Candice Phan, current secretary of the club, said. As a result of their efforts to bring the club together, according to Phan, EVKC specifically was one of the divisions that had the highest attendance rate.

From an officer’s position, there were many challenges the team had to overcome. Phan said, “Sometimes it felt like there was a distance between the staff members, which isn’t necessarily always bad, but I feel like if it were in person it would be a lot easier.” Nguyen added, “I think the hardest part was probably maintaining our active memberships with the members, because it’s hard to motivate them virtually to go to certain events.” The in-person events that they’ve experienced didn’t have as much attendance as they would’ve liked to, she said. “It was just mainly the motivation that we had trouble with with our members and getting close with them, because we couldn’t see them in person and some of them we haven’t even met in real life.”

In general, communication within the club was altered both for the better and for the worse because of distance learning. On one hand, Nguyen said, it was easier to communicate because it was online, but, Phan said, “At the same time, I guess it’s just that the vibe of not being physically together can be difficult sometimes.” 

Despite all of this, they still found that there were still benefits amidst distance learning. The main thing that was a lot easier to run, Nguyen said, was that “Since all those events were mainly either cancelled or moved to a digital platform, it was a lot easier to get all the paperwork done and especially track all of the members since it’s online.” 

The bulk of the events hosted by the Key Club consisted of mostly creek clean ups, 2nd harvest food bank, turkey trot, santa run, garden clean ups. Overall, Nguyen and Phan felt that the team did a good job on using their community outreach skills to find organizations that were still operating.

One thing that the Key Club struggled with the most, despite doing their best to adapt, was managing fundraisers. Nguyen said that this year, they tried to aim for one fundraiser a month, but that sadly was not possible. They decided that this would be what they would focus on the most if distance learning were to continue for another year. “Next year, I would definitely focus on finances more next year. We’ll make sure to work closely with the new treasurer to be prepared with backup plans for next year, and hopefully it’ll make things easier with filling out PAs.”

US Academic Decathlon Club

A flyer posted on USAD’s instagram during club week. (USAD)

USAD similarly relied on social media to recruit new members at the beginning of the year. But unlike Key Club, Math Club, Robotics, and many other clubs, this year was USAD’s first as an official club at EVHS. Despite advertising on their new Instagram account, creating posters, and having their club advisor, Ms. Yourman, make announcements in her English 1 and 2 classes, “The amount of members was not as many as I expected when compared with other clubs. It’s not the magnitude I was expecting, but I’m grateful,” said Manav Gurnani, current and future vice president of USAD. He furthered that “attracting people to this club without the usual resources we would get in-person” was one of the hardest parts of running a club during distance learning, especially a new one without returning members.

Besides the struggle of gaining new members, distance learning also resulted in “a lot of work behind the scenes logistically. Keeping in contact with tournament hosts, figuring out the new system that was in place with distance learning tournaments, and planning the competitions” were all major challenges, added Gurnani. 

Ruthwika Gajjala, the current and future treasurer, said that the tournament “would have gone more smoothly, since this has gone on for many years, but it was the first ever online tournament. There were a lot of technical difficulties but it was great to see how everyone persevered through it with patience. It allowed us to get to know the platform and how it worked while getting used to it to be prepared for the actual tournament.” 

However, Tiffany Dang, the current and future president continued that “When we look back, we still had a lot of great memories from gathering members, learning, and from competing in different tourneys. I remember during the waiting time for the speech and interview event, we spent our time messaging in the group chat and sharing. It helped us relieve a lot of stress.”

Gurnani agreed that USAD was able to successfully maintain a sense of unity. “The motto of the club was to commit; we had extra practices and meetings to connect and chat with team members about how they were doing and had a fun time.” The club’s advisor, Ms. Yourman, said she was pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie displayed by the students at their weekly Wednesday practices, with Dang adding that they would often have additional meetings or “stay back to share learning resources and tips to all improve and help each other.”

The club’s teamwork also got USAD through obstacles with scheduling. Gajjala explained that “In [the] beginning, the curriculum that was supposed to come in May came for us in September so we spent a lot of time on scheduling. Since distance learning slowed down the pace, we had to change it to 2 meetings per week but the members persevered throughout the whole thing.” Ms. Yourman added that because “the team is 100% freshmen and sophomores, we actually will get to fix things and commit to study over the summer. Starting studying in September has shown us the clear path for changes, and now we have two to three years to implement those new changes.”

Math Club

Previous Math Club members gather around to take a group photo. (Math Club)

The process Math Club used to promote their club was also similar to the other clubs. Arianna Cao, current secretary and future treasurer of the club, said that they utilized a lot of their social media to spread information about the club, but they also tried to spread through word of mouth as well. “We basically made fliers, and obviously during club week we presented our club, we posted on Facebook, Instagram, just posting around and talking to some people we knew that we thought would be interested.” 

As club week ended and people settled into their new clubs, Cao said that they wanted to focus on community-building from the very beginning of the year. “At the beginning of the year, when everyone was still confused, we held a lot of Zoom meetings to get people used to what it would actually be like in person. We would hold some games and other things to get people more comfortable.” 

Because Math Club is a competition-oriented club, the officers typically have to focus on organizing competitions. In person, there are a lot of logistics to figure out, so moving all of the competitions online was a benefit in some parts. Cao said, “Organizing a competition, typically there’s a lot of things that go into it, such as having where to place the event and the cost of printing all of the materials out and all of these things. Technically we saved money by putting it online.”

However, on the other side of the spectrum, when asked what the hardest part of running a club was during distance learning, she said, “I would say communication. How we’re going to organize these competitions, how we’re going to tell the people about all of these things…Communication was definitely the hardest.”

Along with communication, she also felt that the general participation within the club was also affected by having to go with distance learning. “ I feel like a lot of people decided not to come, since it’s not in person so it’s not as personal. You just don’t feel the connection, so you’re just like ‘I’m not going to go. I don’t see the point.’ She feels as if all of the meetings and events were more in-person, it would be more encouragement for them to attend.

Despite all of this, Cao would still say that the community between all of the members in the Math Club was still going strong, and that a not a lot of it has changed through distance learning.“I would say maybe it was affected a little bit, but, well, at least I would hope it’s still not terrible. A lot of people in the club already knew each other and were already friends, so at least from what I would hope they would still maintain these connections and through our meetings sometimes we can still see that.”

The routines that the club often took within club meetings did change, however.“When we were in person, often we would have meetings where we would ask teachers for their rooms during lunch and then hold competitions or hold review meetings to prepare them. It would all be in person and we would have to do it at that time, but when it’s all online, we tried to put the material online and give it to them.” Because it was online, she said, the topic lectures were slightly different because it was all online and they can just give each person the necessary materials.

Robotics

The FRC Robotics team works together on designing their robot, prior to COVID-19. (FRC Robotics Team)

Robin Yang, current co-president of the club, described how Robotics’ approach to advertising the club was different from others’ at EVHS: “Towards the summer, we take our robots, go to local middle schools, and do presentations throughout the day. We invite people to come over and take a look at our robots for new recruits for next year. This year we couldn’t do that but we still tried to use those resources so we still contacted local middle schools and let them know about our program here at EVHS. We also worked with All Stars United, which is a local non profit that also has a few FTC teams that we use to recruit new members, tell other people about how great our teams are, and just encourage an interest in our club.”

To help the new recruits catch up and learn during distance learning, Yang mentioned how “although we couldn’t build in-person, hands-on, we tried to do this through workshops. I’ve personally held several CAD workshops for our newer members, and we’ve also held programming workshops. These would be separate from the main meetings. Anyone interested from any team could join in and pick up new things from the upperclassmen and all the experience they’ve had.” 

Leads from the Artemis and Kronos FTC teams added that by starting from scratch and utilizing online tools, everyone was still able to satisfactorily learn all the necessary skills. The workshops not only helped members learn, but also helped with keeping members engaged. Jayanth Gorantla, the other current co-president, admitted how “the toughest part was retaining interest because usually, when I was a freshman at least, the most important or interesting part of Robotics was being able to get my hands on parts and put a robot together. That wasn’t possible this year for most of our freshmen so that was the biggest hurdle in retaining members and interest. But as the year progressed, we were able to retain their interest by holding workshops.”

“Communication was one of the main adjustments we had to make. [For example,] one of our main goals this year was to get our FRC team out of the school and into an outside organization. Communication between that organization, the school administration, the officers, and everyone took a long time to coordinate. We had to have frequent Zoom meetings just for small decisions.” added Yang. 

Mahnoor Rizwan, a lead on FTC Team Artemis, stated that a difficult part for their team was “figuring out how we were going to get everyone involved on building the robot and making sure they felt like a part of the team.” 

Another major change the officers had to make was to meetings. “Generally we would get a big whiteboard, write down the agenda and goals, and have meetings go on for several hours every day. We would plan everything out and then break into smaller groups…This year, for FRC, a lot of this was not possible. So our routine became first teaching our new members and current members about specific CAD and programming concepts and then applying it directly after…A lot of things were rushed and we didn’t have time to perfect certain things or go over prototypes.” Yang explained. 

Rizwan described similar changes to the meeting structure: “we had to use the things that we did have so we did a lot of CAD for mech[anical] and for programming it was having someone share their screen and make sure everyone was involved…we had to change the structure and timing of our meetings just to keep everyone involved. Sometimes we felt like we didn’t have enough people participating so we would change it up by adding socials in between the week.” She added that they would initially rotate the robot between members on the mechanical team so everyone could contribute adequately. 

Trisha Maturi, a lead on FTC Team Kronos, the other Robotics team introduced this school year, added that “if people weren’t allowed to come to build the robot, we would have live streams while we were building it so that they could watch us do it on Zoom and let us know in the chat if there was something we should do, shouldn’t do, or if they had any questions.”

Qualifiers were similarly adjusted to accommodate teams, with virtual competitions where judges would interview team members and review videos of the robot performing the task, or annual challenge. “[For FRC,] the robot that we were using for filming and recording was the robot from last year before COVID happened that was already built. We had the same challenge as the previous year.” said Gorantla.

“This time, [For FTC,] it was secluded with very little people and your entire team can’t go the actual competition and you have to follow COVID restrictions. At the same time, I think it was a lot easier as well because we were able to do it within our community and near each other’s houses. The judging sessions were on Zoom as well so it was a lot easier to answer the questions.” Rizwan elaborated.

Unfortunately, many major events, including the regionals, still had to be cancelled. Gorantla admitted that “You can’t really replicate Robotics virtually.”   

Despite missing out on certain competitions, “we held multiple socials [with new and old officers] like a game night where we all played games together and became friends with each other. We held club-wide meetings including members from all the teams. We got to know each other and played games with members from different teams.” the co-president added.

Rizwan agreed that “we had a lot of socials, especially on Zoom. We played different games and talked. And unity for our team was really important since we were a rookie team and that helped us build a better robot since we knew each other really well.”

“Generally, what we initially had was a lack of participation. But with virtual meetings, everyone was able to see the same screen, draw CAD designs, and have everyone was on board, involved, and on the same page.” said Yang. 

Maturi concurred, adding that “it was definitely a lot easier to meet up during distance learning because all you really had to do was press a button to join a Zoom meeting.”

Conclusion

Even with the challenges they faced, the adjustments they had to make, and the frustrating moments that came with tackling obstacles no club had faced before, each club was able to achieve something they were immensely proud of over the past year. 

The Key Club, for example, had an exhilaratingly successful year, with a staggering list of accomplishments to show for it, including high attendance rates at various events and fundraisers. 

The USAD club, despite being new to campus, had “every single member…studied as hard as they could, and completed every portion of the test. I am proud of everyone for having that level of determination to get through.” Gajjala said. Ms. Yourman expressed similar sentiments: “We had committed members and extremely committed officers, and I believe that the togetherness and foundation we have built is something we will lean on for many years to come.” 

The Math club was still able to help students build connections in a community that remained resilient throughout it all. Cao even claimed that distance learning helped lessen the stigma around the “daunting competitiveness” of Math Club and made it more welcoming for newer members.

Robotics, despite typically being extremely hands-on, still had all the members “really step up and really try to their best to interact with us and make this a fun process. They did a lot more than we expected them to and helped out a lot so we really appreciate that!” said Maturi. 

Even the Cougar Chronicles managed to adapt to distance learning by maintaining a website! But every club at EVHS, whether academic, recreational, volunteering, or otherwise was able to remain resilient in the face of a year unlike anything the students have dealt with before.