A deep dive into Urban’s unique school spirit

Zoe Sokatch, Editor in Chief, Print

Urban was founded as an unconventional and boundary-breaking school meant to foster creativity and passion in high school students. With MultiCulti getting more student engagement than spirit squads and Peer Ed theater performances often garnering a larger crowd than Urban sports games, it seems that Urban has its own ethos that differs from the quintessential American high school. Recently, more students have pushed to lean into tradition, in regards to school spirit. 


For students, spirit doesn’t necessarily mean love for Urban, rather what the physical manifestation of that love looks like: the classic high school pride, big crowds at sports games with blue face paint, and pep rallies every Friday. School spirit, in a tangible sense, some believe, can be hard to find at Urban. This observation is not new, as a simple search on The Urban Legend website of the words “school spirit” will pull up articles like “Is Urban school spirit alive and well?” from 2014. But when did this incessant complaining about lack of school pride begin? And where did this culture of unenthused students come from? 


“One theory is that Urban, with its emphasis on social justice, is pretty aware that it is an elite institution and has for good reason some qualms about that,” said Ben Slater, English teacher and Urban alum (‘07) “That might limit Urban’s ability to get really excited about itself and rep itself.” Slater believes that although we may not outwardly show constant support for Urban, students do have a sense of internal pride. As Slater said, it’s “a pride about how different we are from other schools”. This nontraditional aspect of Urban is what many believe makes the school whole. 


 “I think of Urban as a school with beautiful, powerful spirit,” said Courtney Rein, an Urban English teacher since 2006. “I think there is a more traditional definition of school spirit as people actively or passively showing up for sports games,” said Rein. “That to me is a traditional middle-America definition of school spirit.” From Rein’s own definition of spirit, however, she believes Urban has an abundance of school pride. “My definition of spirit is students who have creativity and passion and excitement about the community they’re creating and the people they’re creating it with.”


However, with other San Francisco schools showing the traditional sense of pride that Rein mentions, some Urban students find themselves feeling as though they’ve missed out. “A given to going to SHC [Sacred Heart Cathedral high school] is you’re going to have the football games, you’re going to show off school spirit,” said Mia Smith ‘23. “I feel like this is a school where people aren’t expected to have school spirit unless someone tells them to.” 


Rein believes a reason for low attendance for events such as sports games may have to do with Urban students’ busy schedules. “I think it’s hard for students who are so invested in their own exciting projects, there is less time and even maybe inclination to show up for each other,” said Rein. “That’s a tricky thing because all these exciting projects call for audiences.” 


However, these activities create a spirit of their own that don’t always need to be held up by a large audience. “When I think about showing up at Winter Art Show and the kind of community that’s built in creating that amazing gallery experience,” said Rein, “I think of that as spirit that is generated that is really unique to Urban as a school.” 


This unique Urban spirit, according to Mary Murphy, an Urban Science teacher since 2008, is especially shown in school wide events like Halloween. “Halloween to me is an Urban holiday,” said Murphy. “There is a child-like quality to it, [in the way] that we don’t take ourselves so seriously, that we can still dress up, even teachers.” 


This idea of not taking ourselves too seriously has resulted in cultivating our own sense of school spirit. This unique spirit has existed at Urban for a long time, and even in greater magnitude. “My other theory is that there is a spirit of silliness or kind of whimsy to Urban that I would love to bring back more,” said Slater, “that was kind of a way to express pride in the school.” 


Slater recalled former Urban History Teacher Dan Murphy deciding that there would be a school-wide ditch day and spreading the word around campus. “[He] would go around and say ‘let’s all leave school’ and everyone would decide to suddenly leave school and go to the beach.” In addition, Slater also spoke about an award given out at the end of the school year called the “Refrigerator Perry award”—named after football player William Perry who had perfect attendance in school growing up–for the student(s) who hadn’t missed a day of school.  “Instead of celebrating who got the best grades, we would celebrate something as silly as perfect attendance.” This sort of award encapsulates the unique culture at Urban, and the way the school’s values create a nontraditional expression of school spirit. 


“I am grateful that our spirit is expressed in all these different places in the school, and that people are celebrated for all kinds of talents,” said Murphy. “Go Blues!”