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‘Sound of Us’ tells stories Northeast Ohioans want to tell — in their own voices.

Crickets and sad faces: A Richmond Heights cheerleader searches for school spirit

Devine Howard is a cheerleader for the Richmond Heights Spartans.
Keith Freund
Ideastream Public Media
Devine Howard, a cheerleader for the Richmond Heights Spartans, has noticed a dip in school spirit.

By Devine Howard

I’m a cheerleader for Richmond Heights Secondary School. Our boys’ basketball team, the Spartans, is really good. They just won the Division IV state championship.

But it seems like our students have no spirit. Not many people come to our games, and the ones who do come want to talk to each other more than they want to cheer on the players. Home games or away games — no matter what we cheerleaders do, it’s crickets.

When I was younger, I used to watch the movie "High School Musical." The characters danced in the hallways, sang in the cafeteria and were always excited about being in high school. I'd think, "That looks so fun. I can’t wait until that’s my life."

New building, broken bonds

But at our school, people don’t seem happy. It’s not just at games. People act grumpy all the time.

One day in the hallway, I asked a couple of student council members about this.

Chaleyah, the student council vice president, said she felt excited about school at the beginning of the year, but her excitement quickly faded.

She blamed that partly on our new school building, which opened this year.

A poster in the hallway at Richmond Heights Secondary School rallies students for an upcoming game.
Keith Freund
Ideastream Public Media
Rules restricting wall posters at Richmond Heights' new school building have been relaxed.

"I mean, honestly, when you look around it's like two or three colors," Chaleyah said. "It's no character, and I feel like that also affects how we act."

There are a lot of strict rules, too. We can’t put flyers on the walls, we can’t have water in class, we can’t have student meetings in the cafeteria.

Jalani, who's also on student council, blamed the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think once we transitioned to the new school and COVID and all this being inside and stuff, it kind of just changed for us," he said. "We all became more independent, not more collective. So because of that, our morale has changed."

COVID-19 has affected kids at a lot of schools, not just ours. Studies show that depression and even suicide attempts have gone up among teenagers since the pandemic started. That’s because of social isolation, and because a lot of kids have lost friends and family members to the disease.

Devine Howard's Original Music
Devine Howard, a student at Richmond Heights Secondary School, composed this original song for her story.

I’ve noticed a change in myself too. I used to talk a lot, but now I’m quiet and keep to myself more.

Modeling the 'Spartan Way'

I wondered what the adults who run our school think of all this — and what could be done to boost spirit.

Our principal, Marnisha Brown, comes over the PA system sometimes in between classes, trying to get people to come to games.

She told me she thinks open enrollment, where kids can come to Richmond Heights from other districts, has created some challenges for school spirit. This year, about 10 percent of our students are coming from other districts.

"Sometimes not having your culture and your spirit and your pride well-established, those that come in new kind of try to create their own," Mrs. Brown said. "And we always say we have to show them the Spartan Way, but we have to define what the Spartan Way is and model that for them."

Richmond Heights Secondary School's new basketball court (and its new school building) opened in 2021.
Keith Freund
Ideastream Public Media
Richmond Heights Secondary School's new basketball court (and its new school building) opened in 2021.

She said maybe we can teach more kids the Spartan Way by starting a Pep Club. She also wants to start getting rid of some of the rules that came along with the new building.

"That's why I'm going to advocate, ‘Put stuff on the walls, let's do what we need to do,'" she said. "Because this is a school. This is not an office. This is a school."

I think that’s a good start. Once school spirit starts changing inside the school, it’ll get better at games.

After the last couple years we’ve had, we all need to think about ways to have more fun.

Devine Howard, a graduating senior from Richmond Heights Secondary School, will attend Central State University this fall. She produced this story with Ideastream Public Media's Justin Glanville.

Sound of Us from Ideastream Public Media empowers Northeast Ohioans to tell their own stories. If you'd like to participate, get in touch!

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.