Op-Ed: Sidwell Student Culture Falls Short of Expectations

I have been fortunate enough to call Sidwell Friends home for most of my life. However, compared to the personal growth and enjoyment I experienced in the Lower and Middle Schools, my high school experience has left something to be desired. Last week, I discussed what could be done to improve student life and realize the school’s potential with a group of my peers. The rigorous academics and athletic programming remain unmatched — however, the lack of extracurricular events, opportunities in the humanities and overall culture fall short of expectations.

The most prevalent flaw regarding the student experience is a general absence of extracurricular events. Unlike the majority of American high schools, Sidwell does not hold regular spirit or field days promoting athletics and school culture, instead attempting to replace these with Homecoming week or occasional Quaker Days. These events provide critical benefits to students, serving as a respite from academic pressures while also building camaraderie between students by encouraging team activities. While the occasional Quaker Days are a step in the right direction, more opportunities for students to connect across grades need to occur alongside them. Likewise, spirit days are critical for encouraging support and attendance at sports games. Spirit days should be held once a trimester to promote team spirit and cohesion, as well as bolstering existing involvement in athletics.

As for Upper School academics, Sidwell lacks opportunities for students to pursue advanced classes in the humanities. The current system at Sidwell forces ambitious students who want to take on challenging coursework to pursue advanced STEM courses, undermining students’ interests in the humanities and leaving many unsatisfied with their coursework. Sidwell boasts a strong community of diverse students, and it makes little sense to leave a large group without an outlet to channel their individual strengths. Advanced classes in the humanities would encourage students to push themselves academically without taking courses that do not excite them.

Furthermore, Sidwell’s lively student culture has gone stagnant. Throughout my time at Sidwell, I have watched student traditions be dismantled by the administration, with little reason. For example, at the recent basketball state championship game, students were forced to curb their usual fan behavior, ostensibly for the sake of sportsmanship. Students who did not comply were threatened with removal from the game or with in-school repercussions, like points. The Friends Athletic Nation (F.A.N.) encourages the existing culture of Sidwell’s sports fans which, during my time at the school, has been one of spirited enthusiasm, not quiet spectating. The ability to fully cheer on our sports teams is an integral part of the culture, and one which, like many others, is threatened by the administration’s restrictions.

Though I enjoy my time at Sidwell, I find myself skeptical of its future. Our education here empowers us to advocate for student interests and make a positive impact in our community. As students, we need to put this education to use by communicating our concerns to the administration and striving to leave a positive legacy for future students.