Club Sponsorship Controversy

Alex Broening, Staff Writer

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Since the founding of the Governor’s School, the Maggie Walker community has taken great pride in student clubs and the high level of involvement that is typical for Maggie Walker students. The vast number of clubs at Maggie Walker is the result of the student-driven club creation process: any student, as long as they have a sponsor and a purpose, can found a club, and develop it as a part of the Maggie Walker community.

However, as the number of clubs has grown over time, sponsors have become more scarce and difficult to find. More and more, students struggle to find willing sponsors, preventing them from creating new clubs.

Often, teachers simply refuse to sponsor additional clubs in addition to their current responsibilities.  Teachers at Maggie Walker have a high course load, often teaching as many as, or more than, five courses each year. When Julia Ochsenhirt (’20) and Kate Driebe (’20) attempted to find a sponsor for their service club called Key Club, by far the most common response they received was that teachers simply didn’t have time for the additional responsibility. Many teachers already sponsor many clubs, and are unwilling to take on any more.

The time and energy associated with sponsoring clubs is often significant. Because teachers are expected to chaperone their clubs on trips and events, clubs like Model UN and Model Congress can require more time and effort than teachers are able to commit to. Even clubs with smaller sponsor responsibilities can stack up and become a major burden.

Other reasons also influence teacher’s decisions.  Throughout his significant experience—having run Model UN for 9 years and started its annual GSMUN conference and sponsored Honor Council for 15 years – Mr. Wilkes believes that variation among teacher’s instructional load has caused some teachers to decline club sponsorships.  Noting the amount of time he has committed to student clubs on top of the high number of students he teaches, Mr. Wilkes commented that, “I haven’t refused sponsorships out of protest, but rather out of lack of time and a sense of workload equity.”

Pay and compensation for club sponsorships has been problematic too. According to Mr Wilkes, stipends for club sponsors in the past were highly imbalanced. In more recent years, with the establishment of a committee to allocate stipends, compensation has been both increased and balanced. A tiered system, based on the time and effort required of the sponsor, now decides how pay is distributed.

Despite these changes, the majority of sponsors still receive no compensation for the clubs they support, and the sponsors of clubs on the highest tier receive only about 3000 dollars – still relatively little for the work involved in maintaining clubs. While teachers support clubs because they believe in the importance of supporting student leadership, the time commitment is often substantial, and teachers, already paid too little, may not find it viable to commit time with no possibility of compensation.

Finally, some teachers simply have little interest in sponsoring clubs. “We have some teachers that have been here a long, long time, and as they get older and more experienced, they feel like they’ve done their bit, and it’s time for someone else to do it,” says Dr. Lowerre. “Some teachers,” he adds, “just want to teach and go home to see their kids and family.”

This problem extends beyond students attempting to start new clubs. Clubs such as Bhangra, Chess club, and Drama have had difficulty keeping their sponsors. Over time, teachers’ circumstances and priorities change, sometimes leaving clubs without a sponsor and in limbo. Chess Club, now sponsored by Ms. Heather Kemmerly, had long been sponsored by Mr. Tom Boyle. However, according to chess club participant Nicholas Xie (’20), inconvenient travel times for the club and an increased teaching load pushed Mr. Boyle to give up the sponsorship. Drama Club too has experienced turmoil. Previously sponsored by Ms. Carol Piersol, the club was taken on this semester by Ms Devon Mattys. However, with the return of Ms. Boswell in the second semester, the club’s fate may, once again, be uncertain.

Despite the challenges facing teachers, some teachers continue to take on new sponsorships. When, after asking multiple teachers, John Staley (’21) approached Mrs. Grois to sponsor his Rubik’s Cube club, she agreed to help him. “I agreed to sponsor his club because, as teachers, part of our mission is to make leaders out of our students,” she says. However, she recognizes the challenges: “We’ve got so many clubs that it becomes difficult for teachers to say I’m going to sponsor three or four clubs.” Dr. Lowerre found himself in much the same position. A couple weeks after starting in his job, he was approached about sponsoring Model Congress. “Without really thinking about it, I said sure.” When asked why he took it on, he replied “Because it’s the Governor’s School for Government and International Studies – we should have a Model Congress!”

While some teachers continue to take on clubs, most do not. Some possible solutions have been raised. “In the past,” says Mr. Wilkes, referring to his experience as department chair and his role in hiring teachers, “a discussion of club responsibilities was a large part of the hiring process.” Dr. Lowerre agrees: “When I hire people, I’m very conscious about asking them what else are they going to do besides teaching.” “However,” he adds, “We have such low turn-over that there aren’t that many opportunities to hire new teachers.”

While greater stipends could offset the time and effort required for club sponsorships, Maggie Walker runs on a limited budget, and simply doesn’t have the money to pay for additional stipends. While greater funding for teacher stipends would be ideal, distributing the existing money as fairly as possible is the best that the school can do.

Clubs form the backbone of student involvement at Maggie Walker, but now they seem to be at risk. “Some of these clubs, like Model Congress, will just die without sponsors,” says Dr. Lowerre. All teachers, however, seem committed to trying to improve the situation. Lowerre adds: “It’s definitely worth trying to make better.”

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