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Elevating Leadership: The Power of School Spirit

Adam Blumenfeld, Chief Executive Officer, Varsity Brands

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The Power of School Spirit: An Antidote for Today's Challenges


In today's society, our kids are battling depression, isolation, and a widening gap in shared experiences. As we engage with schools across the country, we see a common thread among students thriving despite the issues plaguing their generation: school spirit.  

School spirit is more than just a rallying cry during sports events or a burst of color on game day. It’s an unstoppable force that creates a sense of community and fosters character growth. This unique phenomenon sparks a sense of pride, resilience, and unity within students. It creates an environment where students feel not just connected, but supported, inspired and driven to excel in their pursuits.  

The beauty of school spirit lies in its inclusivity. It welcomes and unites students from all walks of life, creating a sense of belonging and mutual purpose. It’s this sense of unity that propels students to flourish academically, socially and emotionally, fostering a sense of belonging and unity. 

In 2014, our research revealed a compelling correlation between school spirit and student achievement.  This year, we embarked on a deeper exploration to better understand how school spirit and extracurricular activities influence students' overall wellbeing. The results not only confirmed our initial findings, but also reaffirmed the power of school spirit as a catalyst for student success, impacting various aspects of their lives.  

To do this, we joined forces with Teneo Research to undertake an extensive study involving more than 1,000 participants, including high school students, parents, coaches, principals and administrators. The results were clear: students who engage in spirited activities, particularly through extracurricular involvement, embark on a transformative journey that fosters community, builds character, and cultivates essential life skills. These spirited students outperform their peers academically, are more likely to pursue higher education, show increased resilience to challenges, and gain lifelong skills such as leadership and relationship building. 

Our white paper, The Power of School Spirit: Elevating Student Wellbeing and Academic Success, presents these findings and emphasizes the critical role school spirit plays in student success. Here’s what we discovered: 

Getting Involved Sparks Engagement and Enjoyment 

  • Increased Engagement: Students involved in extracurricular activities, especially sports, exhibit significantly higher levels of school spirit. 
  • More Enjoyment and Satisfaction: High-spirited students are nearly twice as likely to enjoy school events and are less inclined to want to attend a different school compared to their low-spirited peers. 

Strengthening Resilience and Wellbeing 

  • Resilience: Students with high levels of school spirit are more resilient. Nearly double the number of low-spirited students reported feeling lonelier or more isolated since the pandemic. Additionally, 83% of low-spirited students experienced heightened negative feelings about themselves after using social media. 

  • Life Skills: High-spirited students show a notable advantage in essential skills developed through extracurricular participation, including communication skills, relationship building, and self-management skills. 


Cultivating Inclusivity and Acceptance 

  • Inclusivity and Acceptance: Participation in extracurricular activities fosters a sense of respect among students from diverse backgrounds. Coaches report that sports teams are more diverse and accepting than the general student body, with 94% of coaches stating that their teams are more accepting of all types of students. 

Fostering Academic and Long-term Success 

  • Stronger Academic Results: Parents of high-spirited students report higher grades for their children (91% A’s and B’s) compared to parents of low-spirited students (70%). 

  • Academic Ambition: Students with higher school spirit have greater expectations for higher education, with nearly 60% anticipating earning a graduate or bachelor’s degree. Parents of high-spirited students echo these expectations and report stronger academic performance. 

Creating a Connected Community 

  • Community Connection: Survey data indicates that high spirit acts as a vital connective tissue within the school community. High-spirited students and their parents are about twice as likely to feel connected to peers/fellow parents, teachers, principals, administrators, coaches, and their school in general. 

  • Motivation for Extracurriculars: High-spirited students are more than twice as motivated to participate in extracurricular activities and are more likely to want to build a strong school community. 

  • Growing Desire for School Spirit: A majority of students now express a desire for stronger school spirit, a significant increase from a decade ago. 


Our team had the privilege of walking the halls of Olentangy Berlin High School in Delaware, Ohio, and saw firsthand the magic that happens when students, parents, and faculty rally together under the banner of school spirit. Hear their powerful stories of the profound impact school spirit brought to their school community.  

Our team at Varsity Brands, including our divisions BSN SPORTS and Varsity Spirit, has made it our purpose to fan the flames of school spirit. We’re here to draw out the best in each individual. With our comprehensive suite of resources, from social and emotional learning tools to mental health resources, we aim to empower students to reach their highest potential.  

I invite you to join us on this journey. We’re working to champion the power of school spirit and improve student wellbeing and academic success. Explore “The Power of School Spirit: Elevating Student Wellbeing and Academic Success” to learn more about the transformative power of school spirit and discover how you can get involved.  

We’re building stronger, more resilient communities and shaping the leaders of tomorrow. Check out the resources we offer, reach out to your local schools, and be part of this positive change. Together, we can harness the power of school spirit to create a brighter future for our students. 

Resources

  • IMPACT Program: Focuses on philanthropy, character education, and social and emotional learning to enhance school spirit and student engagement. 

  • School Branding: Reimagines school brand identity, promoting excitement and community awareness. 

  • Believe in You Program: Offers social and emotional learning tools and motivational speaking tours to foster mental health and student leadership. 

  • The Collective: Provides free mental health resources to address the challenges faced by today's students. 

  • Philanthropic Program: Supports St. Jude Children's Hospital through school-wide fundraising and awareness activities, connecting students to their communities. 

  • SURGE: Empowers coaches of female athletes through free tools developed to power girls forward and develop strong mental and physical resilience for life.