BHS Club Presidents Find New Ways to Engage Members Virtually
Senior Shirley Zhu opened a Zoom call and cheerfully welcomed students to Student Council’s annual icebreaker social. Her enthusiastic greeting garnered nothing but silence. Empty boxes displaying standard student initials served as the only indication of human beings listening on the other side.
Zhu, Bellaire High School’s Student Council President, is one of many club presidents struggling this year to run high school clubs virtually. Following HISD’s announcement that in-person school is postponed until at least mid-October, Bellaire club officers search for new methods to keep their members excited, motivated, and passionate about their events.
“When in person, it’s a lot easier to engage in conversation,” Zhu said. “Sometimes it becomes harder or more awkward for people to speak up in online meetings. Hopefully as the school year continues, people are more willing to have their cameras and mics on.”
Despite obstacles like distance and normal teenage shyness, Zhu and several other Bellaire presidents continue to plan club events. The innovative teens are substituting in-classroom lunch club meetings and after-school volunteering with regularly scheduled Microsoft Teams meetings, engaging Instagram posts, and frequent Remind app messages.
“I think it’s also important for us to be respectful of people’s time, so when we’re not doing Student Council activities, we’re not necessarily bombarding people with messages,” Zhu said. “We’re just sharing the most important information and making sure that everyone is on the same page.”
Junior Anna Maag, President of Opt for Action, realizes that students stuck at home are more prone to distractions, causing them to not attend club events like they used to during the normal school year. She stresses the importance of catering to the interests of club members in order to see more involvement.
“We like to push out events that our members choose, so having polls on our Instagram is really important because that means that our members are doing activism events that they want to participate in,” Maag said. “After trying this, I’ve had a couple DMs on our Instagram account asking when our first meeting will be, and that’s really exciting because that just means that our members are excited to be a part of Opt for Action. It makes us feel good about member retention.”
Senior Amiel Katz, President of Partners in Health Engage, is using more personal methods to increase club member recruitment and meeting attendance. As a high school senior, she’s learned that reaching out individually to potential members produces more dedicated recruits than schoolwide, often-overlooked advertising.
“I actually think with this approach, the virtual setting is not going to be as difficult just because we are doing a more one-to-one approach and are talking to people personally,” Katz said. “When you do that instead of having those morning announcements or flyers posted around, people are more willing to join or hear what we are about. Our club runs through the dedicated people, and it’s expanded by the ones who are just there to listen and educate themselves, and that’s all we need.”
However, the club leaders realize that participating in a school club won’t be the same this year. Maag worries about student excitement simmering down as coursework gradually begins to increase.
“There’s still the fear that with school going on people will start to forget about clubs because of online school,” Maag said. “I think you can make such a difference when you’re able to see your club members and talk to them to their faces and not over a Zoom meeting. It creates a bond in a sense of family, familiarity, and community, which is one of the most important things in clubs, to make sure everyone feels welcome. And with freshmen coming in, a big thing was to show that you’re always open to them and that’s really easy to do in person and a lot harder to do online.”
Katz shares her own observed drawbacks about virtual clubs.
“In our prior club meetings, I tried to create a space where anyone can come, sometimes we didn’t even have a PowerPoint and we would just sit around and discuss things, and that’s what you want to have,” Katz said. “But in a virtual setting, that does not happen.”
As dedicated leaders, the club presidents still emphasize the significance of staying involved in school activities during the school year.
“Even though we’re in a virtual environment, it’s still important for students to find that balance where they’re not just doing homework, they’re doing work on issues that they care about,” Zhu said.
Maag feels the same way.
“Although school is really important, it’s also really important to have some sort of outlet,” Maag said. “And I think practically any club at Bellaire gives a different type of outlet to students, so whatever it is you’re looking for, Bellaire offers it.”
Ultimately, Zhu has high hopes for Student Council this year, despite the circumstances. “I think the key is communication, being open, and listening to other people and making sure that you’re getting your word out there,” she said. “As long as people are staying connected, we can get through this pandemic.”
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