Schools and parent groups that take the time to build school spirit instill a sense of pride in their students that can result in better attendance and grades and a positive school culture. Building spirit can range from simple fun like Spirit Fridays to more complex plans, like a schoolwide community service project. And when schools are closed, school spirit helps remind students who are learning from home that they’re still part of a close-knit community.
1. Celebrating school history
To give students and staff a sense of historic pride, dedicate a day for them to dress up in period outfits that reflect the year the school was built.
2. Spirit Fridays
Students and staff can sport their school T-shirt, school colors, or other attire that reflects their school (leopard print for leopards, black and white for pandas, etc.). Address students by their mascot name—pandas, cardinals, hawks—to create camaraderie.
3. Themed spirit weeks
Dedicate the week before standardized testing or an extended school break to themed spirit days to keep kids excited about school. Some examples include backward day, silly shoes or wacky socks day, decades day (’60s, ’70s, ’80s), and Hawaiian day.
4. Penny wars
Stimson Middle School in South Huntington, N.Y., assigned each homeroom to collect as many pennies as possible for a week. Students also brought in nickels, dimes, and quarters to put in the buckets of rival homerooms during the penny war. Classes tallied the change then subtracted 5, 10, or 25 cents for each nickel, dime, or quarter in their buckets. The winning homeroom got to put a pie in the principal’s face, and the money collected went to a hunger charity. A less competitive alternative would be to have kids donate their change for a week and allow the highest-earning class to choose which charity will receive it.
5. Design contest
Ask interested students to submit a design idea for a school spirit T-shirt early in the year. You can still sell regular spiritwear, but getting students involved in one of the designs promotes a sense of pride.
6. School grounds cleanup
Work with your principal to organize a weekend day cleanup for weeding flower beds, cleaning up raised garden beds, or doing simple painting projects. Create a list ahead of time, ask parents to bring tools and refreshments, and crank the music while everyone works. Be sure to follow your state’s social distancing guidelines if necessary.
7. Promoting world awareness
Abraham Lincoln Elementary in Glen Ellyn, Ill., collected more than 1,200 pairs of gently used shoes for the nonprofit organization Stuff for the Poor, which helped send 15 Ugandan children to school. For visual effect, Lincoln’s students lined up the shoes from one end of the school to the other and out the door, filling the students with excitement and pride. The kids also collected almost 1,300 pairs of new socks to donate to two local charities. Explore your community for similar opportunities.
8. Door decorating contest
Decide on a schoolwide theme in advance, such as a favorite book or movie, and invite each classroom to design and decorate its classroom door. Award prizes if you wish.
9. Local service tradition
Create a school tradition that gets kids involved in service, like a cleanup day at a local park, collecting non-perishable items for your food bank, or contributing to a holiday toy drive for local children.
10. Walking “together” for health and the environment
One year, Columbia Elementary in Bellingham, Wash., decided to “walk” to its sister city, Bellingham, Mass. A U.S. map was posted in the main hallway with both towns highlighted. Each day, teachers compiled the mileage of kids who walked or rode bikes to school (participating families measured the distance to school in advance), and each week a pair of paper legs advanced farther across the map. The journey took nearly nine months, and the kids kept a close eye on the map all year long. Any destination will work, and you can count weekend walks to include kids who take the bus to school so they’re also included.
School spirit becomes especially important when schools are closed, like in spring 2020 during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
11. Mascots in Zoom rooms and social posts
To keep kids engaged, school mascots made appearances all over social media during the school closures. In Mountlake Terrace, Wash., Cedar Way Elementary’s PTO vice president posted photos in their Facebook group of the school’s eagle mascot lounging on a beach towel over spring break, wearing spiritwear, and modeling a face mask. The eagle even held a Zoom call with other school mascots from around the country!
Mascots made random appearances in virtual classrooms, participated in birthday and graduation car parades, and even mowed lawns. In Middlesex, N.J., the Hazelwood School Husky appeared at school and in front porch photos for a fundraiser with proceeds given to a local organization that provides meals for elderly residents.
12. Virtual school spirit week
When schools closed, parent groups moved spirit weeks online. The Spotswood PTA in New Jersey set up its Virtual Fashion Frenzy Spirit Week schedule, which included crazy hat day and inside out day, and asked families to email or post photos of participating students to the group’s Facebook page and on Instagram. The mayor gave out prizes each day to winning submissions.
When California closed schools and instituted distance learning for the remainder of the term, the North Hillsborough (Calif.) Elementary parent group’s social media feeds became a lifeline for the school community. The group held three virtual spirit weeks as a way to spread positivity and stay connected. Families engaged in the spirit week posts by sharing photos of students participating in the day’s theme, such as wearing school colors one day and displaying their artwork another day.
13. Face masks as spiritwear
In states whose guidelines required face masks, parent groups got crafty and personalized masks to give as teacher appreciation gifts. At Mount Mourne School in Mooresville, N.C., the PTSO president sewed 55 masks in the school’s colors and added vinyl mascot cutouts to give to teachers.
14. Combine school spirit with community service
In Moorestown, N.J., the districtwide Home and School Association created a school spirited fundraiser to benefit the Moorestown food pantries and thank workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic response. For a $10 online donation, families received three yards each of black and yellow ribbons (the townwide school colors), which they used to decorate wreaths or tied as bows around trees to show their appreciation.
Originally posted in 2015 and updated regularly. Terri Frank and Emily Graham contributed to this article.