How Do We Define “Pep”?

Unexpectedly, I decided to supervise the commons area during a pep-fest and took that opportunity to take a page from Christopher Danielson’s book and bring some games and leave them for students to “discover.”

I chose a few that were more portable and set them out.  No one bit.  

I could have packed them up and continue on my merry, grading way, but I thought, “NO.”  This was the second time this week my game-bait had been rejected and I was not having it. (The first was from my daughter who caught onto my clever placement of shapes as soon as she walked in the door)  There were about 15 kids in the commons area, and I was determined to get at least 5 of them to play Set Cubed with me.

So I called a few of them over, taught them how to play, and some serious fun ensued.  It was four boys and I for 45 solid minutes, and no one flinched for a second to check his phone.  Not one of them.

Here’s what I learned:

This week was Snow Week at our school.  Four themed dress-up days,  a talent show, a dance, and a pepfest. Something for everyone!  Well…most everyone.   Students who don’t wish to attend the pepfest must bring a note from their parent excusing them or they can sit in the commons area for the hour.  It’s safe to assume that the heavily involved students attend the pepfest, some begrudgingly go, and many students opt to bring in a note excusing themselves.

That leaves a small group of students who do not feel a connection to school spirit and do not have another ride home.  They’re marginalized for one reason or another.  And what do we do to accommodate them?  We put them in a room, ask a few teachers to supervise them, and cross our fingers that they sit down and put their face in their phones for the hour.  We silence them because they don’t want to sit in a crowded, noisy gymnasium and watch the crowning of Snow royalty and see a principal kiss a pig.

I want to be clear, my goal is not to not criticize pep-rallies or school-spirited events.  Our students and teachers do an excellent job of making sure these events are entertaining for those who attend.  But we need to acknowledge and honor the fact that there are students where school is their safe place but overt participation in it is not comfortable for them.  Their needs involve being supported by school, which doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t support their school.  And because of this deep need, we need to offer them a place where they can feel valued and not marginalized and unappreciated.

I will finish with this: it sure felt good making those kids feel comfortable today.



  1. Wow! If Snow Week in our school wasn’t in February, I’d have to check the faculty directory to be sure you weren’t a colleague. Does every school do this exactly the same?

    I am the only male faculty member who isn’t a coach, so I often get assigned the same duty as you. Next time, I’m bringing games. Thanks for this.

  2. I like the back-handed criticism of the pep rally: “…making sure these events are entertaining…”

    In case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, but unprepared with game material, there are a bunch of fun ones at Math4Love. I used several for a recent school trip: Math on a Plane.

    There is also a finger game using addition mod 5 that comes in handy whenever my family has to wait in a line. I should add that to my trip notes as it came in handy at the airport.

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