Washougal High School Associated Student Body leaders are putting 21st Century Skills to use as they work to reimagine their role to unite and inspire classmates. Gone are the tried and true pep assemblies, spirit activities, work parties and school events.

Ethan Mills, WHS ASB President, said it is a challenge for ASB to do their job to help students feel spirit and unite a school community when everyone is learning remotely.  “We have been isolated for a long time,” he said. “For me, I’m definitely more of an in-person leader and it’s hard to feed off the energy of others when you are just on camera. I’ve learned that you just have to put yourself out there and do your best no matter what the situation is.”

According to WHS ASB Advisor, Kyla Ritchey, there were many discussions on how to shift the group’s thinking for this school year.  “Before the school year started the class met to discuss what we should do and how they are going to best serve their students’ needs as well as the Washougal Community,” she said. “What impressed me about the students was their honesty.  They had no idea where to start but felt the need to help. It was from this conversation that the idea of multiple surveys throughout the year would be the best way to gauge the needs of the WHS students.”

The first survey was given out before school started and ASB is using this data to drive the work that is being done.  “The surveys collected different points of views from the student body,” said ASB Senior Senator, Briahna Ruth.  “It was important to us to try and hear from as many students as possible since we are all learning remotely.”

“A possible benefit to this situation is that, I believe, we are understanding more of our student body’s needs and their expectation,” added Mills. “Through our survey there are more voices being heard.”

WHS ASB students recently split into three project groups that were determined from the collected data. Each group is assigned a specific area of concern that came up frequently in the survey.  They are social opportunities, communication, and resources.  With the help from partner organization, Unite! Washougal Coalition, a “mantra” was created for students to consider as they work on creating their projects.  It is to “connect, grow, and be well.”

“Students will need to be able to explain how each project will help WHS students and staff feel connected, grow as an individual, and continue to be well whether that is mentally or physically,” Ritchey said. “While projects have not been determined yet, there are a lot of great ideas being thrown around right now.”

A major challenge for the group is getting to know one another and working together in this time of social distancing and remote learning. “Typically, they would see each other every day during class and multiple times over the weekend when working on events,” Ritchey said. “If they had a question, they could find each other at lunch or before school to get the answers. Currently, they only see each other twice a week during Zoom meetings. We are still working on community building and feeling comfortable working together.”

Students are also being challenged to think outside of the box.  “These kids have great ideas,” said Ritchey.  “Some of the ideas though we just aren’t able to do for a multitude of reasons. Instead of giving up on the idea, I have encouraged them to think outside of the box to make some changes to the idea that would make it work. It may not be the exact picture they had in their heads but at the end of the day, it will accomplish their overall goal.”

“Our role as ASB, especially for the younger grades, is to help them keep in mind that they will be getting back to class,” explained Ruth.  “There are still good things to look forward to.”  For instance, the group is working on ways to celebrate virtual spirit weeks, exploring socially distanced events when it is safe to do so and is making plans to reimagine the Stuff the Bus food drive.

The biggest challenge for Ritchey as their advisor is to keep the students motivated. “A lot of them feel overwhelmed and hopeless, this was not the year they had pictured,” she admits.  “I try to keep it positive during class, encourage them, and let them know that even though it may not look the same, we can still create some new experiences and traditions.”

Overall, the WHS ASB students have shown resilience time and time again.  “Whether it be the laughs we share instead of showing frustration in the situation, or finding common ground when disagreeing on a topic,” said Ritchey. “These kids are really great and impress me more and more every time we meet. Being a student leader during this time is more of a challenge than ever before, but I couldn’t pick a better group of students to work with.”

“This is definitely a challenging year, and everything is harder to get done since we are not all together in person,” said Mills.  “I am learning a lot about leadership and resilience that should help us all prepare for our futures.”