It’s exceedingly difficult to miss the large number of club-related announcements in the morning. “This club will be meeting on this day” and “Come support this club at this place” are all phrases that have been drilled into students’ brains at Atholton. This is largely due to the high number of clubs at Atholton, but where are these clubs coming from? And equally as important, where do they end up?
More often than not, clubs die off with the respective graduating senior that founded it. This is very much true with the Music Student Leadership Team (MSLT), whose peak year was 2015. MSLT was a club that was considered the backbone of the Atholton music department. Club members would coordinate concert uniforms and organize the music library, both of which are club tasks that lost participation after the seniors graduated. After the class of 2015 graduated, MSLT efforts seemed to die off along with member participation and officer activeness. “I remember we used to be super involved with concerts and such,” said senior orchestra member Celena Fei, “but after Jackie Littman and all the other seniors from our freshman year left, the club really just died off.” Littman, a current junior at University of Delaware, was principal violist in the Atholton High School Chamber Orchestra and was one of the officers of MSLT when it was in its prime.
This seems to be very true in all types of club, with Fashion Club also losing activeness after losing its senior in 2015. Mrs. Payne, the former advisor of Fashion Club, said how although the founding senior did pass it on to her best friend that was two years her junior, the direction the club took made it unappealing to club members. Payne tried “to make it fun” with “sharing fashion ideas” and such– following the founding seniors original vision for the club. However, the president at the time was less concerned with hobby-like endeavors, such as sharing ideas and designs, and more concerned with public fashion shows. Rather than running the club for recreation, the last president of Fashion Club demanded club members to do things a certain way in order to succeed at impressive fashion shows, inhibiting creativity in the process.
If this seems to be the trend with most clubs, where the genuine vision and objective of the club seems to be lost in time, then why do students form clubs to begin with? One can argue that some students genuinely want to provide an environment for like-minded people to come together. Emily Bickel founded Mobilizing Women of Atholton in 2017 because she didn’t “feel that feminism [was] truly understood in ‘enlightened’ society.” With meetings that discuss current feminist issues and plans to proactively challenge those issues, Bickel understands the impact she has made with her club and acknowledges the role it has played in her college applications. However, she felt that one can’t “be passionate about anything if… [done] for personal gain.” Having both her younger brother and sister in tow, she knows that her siblings will “take care of it when [she’s] gone.”
On the flip side, it can also be argued that most students start clubs ultimately for the sake of embellishing college applications. With the pressure of college applications weighing down on high school students at an all time high, it’s no surprise that students are clawing to stand out amongst their peers. But this pressure results in more and more clubs being formed with the intent of only trying to stand out amongst their peers in both leadership and service aspects, both of which are regarded by many academic institutions as the pillars of college admissions.
Mike Senisi, the activities manager at Atholton High School, has borne witness to all the club formations since 2016. According to Senisi, “we had 78 clubs and now we are up to 98 [this year].” Within these clubs, there are “more service clubs” than there are activities-related clubs, which correlates with the recent emphasis college admission offices have put on community service. Even Chess Club, a club very much focused on recreation and pursuing a collective interest in a hobby, focused their energy on service opportunities as a club. According to their current co-advisor, Payne, Chess Club has been going to elementary schools to teach chess to kids for the past four years.
Although it may very well be genuine motives pushing students to form service clubs, it’s not hard to question the integrity of their motives. Especially since most, except for a select few service clubs, that were formed have either “died off” or lost relevance since the departure of their founding senior. This lack of longevity in clubs, paired with the pressure to form clubs for the sake of college applications, definitely makes for a questionable culture surrounding clubs. The “clubs/activities” tab on the Atholton High School website serves as not only a roster of all the clubs, but also as the deathbed and ultimate graveyard of some clubs that were just never meant to be.