Virtual School Meeting: An Effective but Temporary System: The Advantages of Having a Reformed In-Person School Meeting

The 45-minute nap session on Thursday morning, or school meeting as it's commonly called, is in need of fundamental reform.

The 45-minute nap session on Thursday morning, or school meeting as it's commonly called, is in need of fundamental reform. Last week, Mary Gilman '23 proposed the solution of continuing with virtual school meeting when we return to campus. This method, as Mary suggests, would allow us "to inform students more efficiently and effectively" while "los[ing] nothing by moving the information to a digital platform." Virtual school meeting has definitely been more efficient in presenting information and showcasing student talent than an in-person school meeting. However, we should not replace in-person gatherings with virtual ones when we return to campus, as there are adverse effects to this transition. We should instead look to reform in-person school meeting, learning from the successful aspects of virtual school meeting in the real world context of this term, and applying those principles next year.

Gilman accurately notes that a virtual school meeting allows for "easily accessible ways to send information and displays of student talent to the student body," but this only holds true during this specific moment in time. The worry that students will miss valuable information if they do not consistently check their email is currently not a concern, given that nearly everything from class to homework to social life is now conducted electronically. However, our off-screen lives upon a return to campus will render virtual school meeting obsolete and incompatible. Gilman also suggests the implementation of "a Haiku system that takes attendance of students who have watched the video." However, mandating that students watch virtual school meeting does allocate more freedom, but it merely changes the time of day they lose it. Moreover, the consultation period that students miss could simply be moved to another point in the week, or the administration could work to provide another break in the school day that serves to ease the pace of life. In-person school meetings, undoubtedly, are unnecessarily long and burdensome, but transitioning to virtual school meetings is not the best way to increase efficiency.

The real problem lies in the administration not regarding efficiency as an important aspect; by being more selective with performances and using games that truly benefit the school spirit instead of filling time, we can easily free up 10 to 20 minutes each Thursday for students to prepare for class or utilize in ways that benefit their own interests. Gilman states that in implementing a more efficient virtual system, "The Lawrenceville administration has, in effect, demonstrated the inefficient and unnecessary nature of in-person school gatherings." On the contrary, the administration has demonstrated that school meetings are effective when they are in tune with the needs of the community. Short, virtual school meetings that have content that brings the community together are what we need at this very moment in time and have thus proven effective. Similarly, a shorter, in-person school meeting that appeals to the entire community is what we need when we return to campus. School meeting should be limited to 20 minutes to accommodate our already overpacked schedules and content must be directed towards uniting the community by focusing on student talent.

Gilman notes that "school meeting itself is not meant to serve as a bonding experience," and while that may have been true in the past, it's also a major source of dissatisfaction with the current structure. Instead of eliminating bonding altogether in favor of announcements and information, school meeting should accentuate its role as a means of building community. The one time a week that we gather as an entire student body should be directed towards showcasing the diversity of the student body and strengthening our community bonds instead of being bogged down by announcements that can be done over email. With this fundamental change to the purpose of school meeting, we can ensure that students have more of an emotional investment and don't see school meeting as a burden in their busy schedules, but rather as a lighthearted break. In order to achieve this purpose, we must have in-person school meetings. A virtual format allows students to opt out of seeing Lawrenceville's diversity and the bonding experience that would result. Students would only feel inclined to watch topics that interest or apply to them while skipping past those that don't. Part of the appeal of Lawrenceville and other high caliber institutions is that they offer a diverse community with varying opinions, preventing us from existing in an ideological bubble. School meeting can be and should be a space where we are exposing Lawrentians to a diversity of talent, opinion, and experience.

While school meetings definitely need reform, the solution is not a virtual platform. Instead, we must adapt in-person school meeting to fit the needs of our modern day Lawrenceville community, taking the example of a successful virtual school meeting as a testament to the effectiveness of such a strategy. While virtual school meeting provides a great solution for our current situation, we should not stop here. Instead, we can transfer the best elements of a virtual meeting into resolving the pressing issues of our weekly in-person assemblies in the pursuit of a better Lawrenceville upon our eventual return to campus.

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