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WHS student council alters the norm through pandemic

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Reporter | February 10, 2021 1:00 AM

Homecoming was cancelled. Assemblies, events and fundraisers — all nonexistent this school year because of the safety recommendations regarding gathering in large groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That left the Whitefish High School Student Council members gathering socially distanced to brainstorm ideas of what they could do in place of the usual activities. Whitefish Student Body President Chaz Gillett explained that at the start of the school year it was challenging getting the club organized.

“It was very difficult for us to get off the ground as a club, figure out when to meet and how we were going to gather because there are quite a few members, so finding space and a time that works for everybody was pretty difficult,” he said.

Despite dealing with the hybrid online and in-person school schedules that Whitefish Schools implemented to start the year, having to meet socially distanced outside on the library deck, the student council began working to create completely brand new to the school activities and fundraisers, according to Gillett.

The club made a goal of organizing at least one project or activity each month.

In October the student council did a food drive to gather healthy, kid friendly foods for the North Valley Food Bank as part of the communitywide “Trick-or-Treat So Kids Can Eat” campaign. The student council also had the opportunity to judge the most decorated collection bins at various Whitefish businesses.

“We were able to band the whole high school together and collect 300 items,” Gillett said.

November is usually a time when the Whitefish Student Council puts on the Veterans’ Day assembly for the community which raises money for various veteran causes. But because of the guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, this was not possible.

“We usually do a lot for our veterans and it was pretty sad for us to not have anything for them in November,” WHS Student Council Adviser Adrienne Johnson recalled. “We were pretty disappointed because last year we were able to have a really special event and raise money for a veterans cause, so that was disappointing.”

The council adapted yet again though and put on a fundraiser for a local Muldown Elementary student whose family is facing heavy medical expenses. Partnering with the school’s HOSA club, the council organized a “wear a hat” day in which students and staff would donate at least $1 and get the privilege to wear a hat of their choosing to school. This effort raised $450.

“There was a bunch of spirit in the building of everyone sporting their favorite hat and having donated the dollar,” Gillett said.

Then in December as a send off to 2020, the student council hosted a socially-distanced Holiday Hot Chocolate Celebration. On the final day of school before winter break, the club sold hot chocolate for $1 to raise money for the student council, students were encouraged to wear pajamas and the first block of the day a holiday themed movie was shown.

“There’s a lot of things this year that we weren’t able to do,” Gillett said as he explained how the nixing of Homecoming caused the Council to lose a lot of the activities they use as fundraisers.

“So the hot chocolate holiday was a good replacement for those events that we weren’t able to have, like our parade and homecoming dance and our spirit week,” he said.

For the coming months of 2021, the student council is still working on more projects to take on each month. They are hopeful the annual Walk for Hope for suicide awareness and prevention can still happen in some capacity and are looking to safely put on a talent show in the spring. Depending on the Montana High School Association, the council is also looking at ways they might be able to organize a “Spring Homecoming.”

Although the student Council is known across campus for producing events and activities, because of COVID-19 the club has taken more time to improve communication between students, staff and the community.

“It’s given us some time to focus on our student body and how to be more supportive, how to have more access to the student voice,” Johnson said. “We’re also looking at our constitution right now and how we function as a student government, what we can do to revise it.”

As a senior Gillett says it’s been hard for his class to not have their normal traditions, but the student council has taken the current situation caused by the pandemic and found many silver linings.

“We’re all doing the best we can with it,” he said. “Many are definitely looking forward to next year and when things go back to normal. I anticipate that there’s going to be a large amount of student support and participation in the activities in the future because everyone will be so excited to go back to normal.”