As Webb shifted into the digital realm, traditional school events and club activities all moved to online platforms as well, with the hope that they would continue to connect students and foster a sense of community.
So, do they?
In the past months, student leaders and faculty members have designed a variety of fun, creative, and thoughtful online activities, ranging from live events such as Mafia, escape rooms, art week, and Gaul.town, to posted events including a wide range of student contests. All these events aim to bring the community together through personal interaction. However, many of the events had low turnout and submission rates.
Out of 412 Webb students, 55 joined Gaul.town. Less than 25 people went to Magic Debbie’s performance, which was the main event of the Gaul.town weekend. That level of turnout was a historic high compared to past events, whose participants often hovered between single and double digits. It is fair to say that currently, only a small percentage of the student body is actively participating in online events. While the participation rates are not the best, the events still fulfill their purposes at a much smaller scale than intended.
“Even though nobody came to the escape room, I got to hang out with Daniel and Mr. Rosenfeld the whole time, which was really fun,” said VWS executive Catherine Li (‘22), who oversaw the escape room in Gaul.town.
These events are especially valuable for the freshman class, who have yet to set foot on the Webb campus. Freshmen rely wholly on the online events to bond with their fellow classmates, as well as other students. And for many students abroad, the online community events provide a rare opportunity where they can spend time with their classmates because of the differing class schedules between A-G students and evening students.
“I feel like the events help me bond with my peers more, especially with day students since I attend the night sessions,” said William Yang (‘24), who is currently located in Beijing, China.
Of course, while the events have already successfully enhanced a sense of community among some Webbies, the end goal is to expand the influence to the entire Webb community. To do that, it is important to evaluate the current activities critically and acknowledge where there is room for improvement. One issue that has been reported is regarding the different time zones.
“Because where I live, I am a day ahead of Webb time, so it would be best if the events are hosted on Saturdays,” William said.
Another major issue with online events is that students already spend the majority of their day sitting in front of a computer screen, so many prefer to spend their free time in the great outdoors with their families and friends.
“In general, I feel like people do not participate in online activities very much because we are already on our screens so much during class and for homework,” Sharon Xu (‘22) said. “I do not really want to spend more time on the computer when I do not have to like on the weekends or at night.”
There is no easy solution to this issue. Instead of unrealistically hoping that these events would have the same effect as in-person interaction in a traditional school setting, the best we can do is to understand the limitations of online events and try our best.
“Energy begets energy: when those planning their activity have really gotten excited about what they are doing, like the BioMedi Girls with their speaker series and the Math Club with their weekly competitions, they have done a great job attracting people to it,” said Ken Rosenfeld, Dean of Campus Life.
“Conversely, when those planning events are not excited about what they are organizing, attendance falls flat. Webb students are resilient, creative, helpful, and warm. If they go all-in on wanting to connect, there will be no stopping them, regardless of whether it is through a screen or safely in-person.”
“While online community events may not be able to create the same bond as real-life events, I think just by trying to do our best we exemplify what Webb community is about,” Catherine said.
In this era of online school, we are bound to miss out on certain aspects of the Webb experience, and we are bound to face challenges that have no straight-forward solutions. Online community events may not function as traditional events just yet, but they do have a positive and crucial impact on community building. And what better evidence of community is there than Webbies working with each other to bring the entire school together?