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Open Letter (September 2016)


Dear Ms. McKinley, Ms. Fairley, Ms. Galbreath, and Dr. Saunders,

I feel I should preface this letter with an obvious, but essential, disclaimer. Working with high schoolers is a thankless and difficult job, and one with which I have no experience. I cannot hope to comprehend the intricacies, the difficulties, associated with your jobs, unless I someday step into a similar role myself. The following letter, and its statements, all come from my perspective as a student. I would not presume to lecture as an educator when I, clearly, am nothing of the sort. However, with that said, I think the cancellation of HawkFest is a mistake.

In the Spring of 2014, my middle school classmates and I were bussed over to this school to get our first look at life at River Hill High School. There are many moments which stand out to me from this day— the strange curiosity of seeing complete strangers who would someday be classmates, the awe-inspiring vocals of a student run band, the seemingly endless hallways— but what sticks most clearly in my mind was the portion of the afternoon devoted to showcasing River Hill’s numerous, diverse clubs. And if they hoped to awe us, they succeeded. Totally caught off guard, I was astonished by the quality crafting put into the displays, the clear passion each and every student held for their respective group, and, perhaps most importantly, the sheer volume of clubs. There seemed to be countless groups as the students filed forwards, proudly explaining to their audience the engines of community they had constructed, the engines which kept the school running. For the first time, River Hill seemed like more than just a bigger Folly Quarter. The school transformed before my eyes into a tool for creation, an environment where kids learned, and made mistakes, and built things with their own hands. It was, as I said, very, very, impressive.

Something nagged at me when I started school as a freshman that Fall, a something which took me a few weeks to pin down. Over the course of the Summer, it seemed, the clubs and organizations around the school seemed to have halved. Now, at the time, I did not think much of it— it was difficult adjusting to a new environment, and I was not in a place to contemplate the steadily collapsing communities the school once contained. But as the years went on, and I began to find my place within RHHS, it became more and more apparent to me that the presence of clubs was diminishing here, and it was coming at a hefty price.

River Hill is unquestionably a very competitive, very stressful, school. Between the mad scramble for PSAT scholarships, prestigious internships, and academic success, something has been lost, and it’s only getting worse. High School has evolved from a pivotal life experience to a sort of transitional Purgatory, a pre-college scramble to pad one’s resume at any and all cost. For many at River Hill, being a Hawk comes second to being accepted to their dream Ivy League. I have seen students cheat and copy with little to no hesitation, deprive themselves almost entirely of sleep for the purpose of studying, and overschedule themselves to the point of insanity, all because they believe one B could stand between them and their future. I don’t blame any of us for feeling this way. Nothing is as scary as growing up, and it seems like every step we take now as stupid, impulsive, teenagers has the potential to prevent our dreams, our hopes, from ever seeing light. The students of River Hill are inherently good. They’re good people, good friends, good students, and good athletes, but like anybody, they’re not perfect, and in many ways they are expected to be.

Within this chaos, clubs emerged for many as a source of escape. A way to create and be a part of something, a chance to connect with new people and build new things. For some, like Man in the Mirror, Best Buddies, and Angel’s Network, it was a chance to change the world. For others, such as the Writers’ Guild and the Comedy Improv Act, it was a way to communicate uniquely with those around them. Still others, such as the Equestrians and River Hill Ice Hawks, took the opportunity to bring the sport they loved to the home of the Hawks.

I understand completely that there are countless factors beyond the administration’s control. The steadily decreasing student population, for one, which I know prompted a frenzy of change and rearrangement over the last few years. The changing and evolving rules and regulations from the Board of Education for another. The implementation of countless new standardized tests. And, perhaps most significantly, the disastrous removal of the Monday Hawktime from our schedule. With students stuck between a sea of regulations and a tempest of high-pressure schoolwork, it has become extremely difficult to found and maintain a club. With only one Hawktime remaining, many students have to choose between clubs, their after school schedules leaving no room for creativity. The River Hill High School Administration had no say in much of this. But they did have a say in cutting HawkFest, what was for many a rare source of school spirit, and an essential fundraiser and advertisement for the fragile clubs. With HawkFest gone, even temporarily, the clubs of River Hill are further imperiled, along with the students who maintain and enjoy them.

The decision to suspend HawkFest was clearly not made lightly. The administration’s statement listed a desire to “support school spirit”, a worthy and essential goal, but they fail to realize that one of the most important sources of River Hill community and spirit is in jeopardy. New manifestations of Hawk Pride can be created without eliminating HawkFest. One does not have to destroy something before they can strengthen it. The people of River Hill deserve a chance to be themselves, even for a moment. They deserve to step off the attendance sheet, and out of the codes of conduct, and away from their college applications, just for one shining second in the sun. They deserve the chance to cast off their worries and stresses, their pasts and futures, and just enjoy the moment.

The people of River Hill deserve the chance to be a Hawk.


Craig Selbrede (Class of 2018)

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