Students bring interest, identity to clubs and groups

Take a glance into a few of the student-led communities within the community
GO-KART ENGINEERS. The Engineering Club stands outside the design lab after working on their go-kart project for the year.
GO-KART ENGINEERS. The Engineering Club stands outside the design lab after working on their go-kart project for the year.
Nabeeha Qadri
Two years of leadership revives HerSpace from dwindling numbers

Sheer passion revived the HerSpace affinity group when it needed it most. Co-presidents Audrey Leatham and Clara Ann Bagnoli said that when they joined, the total members included the two of them and the group leader.

“I think a lot of people felt there wasn’t a need for a female-identifying affinity group,” Bagnoli said.

At that point, she added, the faculty advisor questioned if she and Leatham thought it was worth continuing.

“They were like, okay, ride or die,” Bagnoli said, “‘Do you want HerSpace to happen?’”

Their answer: Yes. And so they became the leaders.

“Within our two years of leadership, attendance has really gone up,” Bagnoli said.

Thanks to aggressive but well-meaning campaigning towards freshman and even middle school students, the affinity grew immensely.

“I’m so glad that we kind of revived it and have such a big group,” Leatham said. “It makes me feel so validated and when everyone shows up, it’s so nice.”

It makes me feel so validated and when everyone shows up, it’s so nice

— Audrey Leatham

The two co-presidents’ passion came from truly recognizing a need for HerSpace in the SPA community.

“I definitely have felt times where I’ve said something and it’s like, kind of discounted,” Leatham said. “There is just such a hyper-masculine energy that happens. Okay, let’s say in lower Schilling, there’s all these boys screaming. It’s like, who’s voices are being heard.”

Different from the safe space that students of a racial or religious minority need to have at school, Bagnoli said HerSpace serves as “more of a space to provide comfort and kind of freedom to be girly or be a girl without the boundaries of expectations.”

They put discussions about larger-scale issues on the back burner, Bagnoli said.

“Obviously it’s important, but a lot of the work doesn’t have to come from women; it has to come from men.”

With the co-presidents graduating, the two said they are looking for people to ensure it remains the safe space they built.

“I’m really grateful that we have HerSpace: 100%,” Leatham said. “I just hope to God that they continue it.”

SADD creates new focus on harmful day-to-day decisions

Students Against Destructive Decisions is a group where students learn about bad decisions and to prevent them in their everyday lives.

This year, three seniors led SADD: Luca Endorf, John Christakos, and Sam Murphy. As the leaders, they have made some changes to this group this year.

Senior Luca Endorf said, “This club used to be about drunk driving and bad things like that, but it is really about being efficient with your time and taking care of your body during the week.”

This club used to be about drunk driving and bad things like that, but it is really about being efficient with your time and taking care of your body during the week

— Luca Endorf

The goal is to lead by example.

Senior John Christakos said, “Being a role model to a certain extent, like getting your homework in on time and sleeping well, drinking water, because no one is gonna want to listen to what you have to say if you are not practicing what you preach.”

The leaders hope to spread awareness of harmful decisions that could affect your life in any negative way.

This club also had a lot of student engagement and has done activities within their group.

“We usually talk about how to prevent destructive decisions,” Freshman Miles Vogenthaler said.

Although this team has not had many meetings, they have been very courteous with the time they have had at meetings. One of the most significant activities this group has done was making posters around the school to spread awareness.

Freshman Evie Gardner said, “Just with reminders on some destructive decisions of what not to do and how to improve habits and stuff like that.”

These posters were hung around the school to remind the students to be cautious of destructive decisions in their everyday lives.

MSA celebrates and spreads awareness of religion through food
MSA TALKS CULTURE. The Muslim Student Alliance sits around the Harkness table in the World History II room as they chat about their days and discuss culture and religion together. (Mattias Halloran)

In a school brimming with diversity, the Muslim Student Alliance, better known as MSA, acts like a home away from home for Muslim-identifying students in the upper school. Today, the group plays host to nearly a dozen students from all four grades, spanning different cultures, languages, and countries.

This, however, was not always the case.

“MSA used to be a thing until it died out when students graduated,” senior Humza Murad, co-leader of the group, said.

He, along with seniors Baasit Mahmood, Wafa Naqvi, and a former SPA student, brought it back in their sophomore year, allowing for the continuation of the group.

Together, they place special importance on showcasing their religion through cuisine, hosting numerous potlucks and food sales throughout the years.

We had Egyptian food and a lot of Pakistani food and some Indian food and some Ethiopian food. […] We had a food sale, we raised a ton of money both times. And I think that was a really good way to spread the culture of food

— Humza Murad

“We had Egyptian food and a lot of Pakistani food and some Indian food and some Ethiopian food. […] We had a food sale, we raised a ton of money both times. And I think that was a really good way to spread the culture of food,” said Murad.

During meetings, the atmosphere is light and relaxed, with the members discussing community topics of relation to their faith. Among the list are a group clothing donation, get-togethers with the middle and lower school groups, and a retreat with Mishpacha, the Jewish student affinity group. The group talked at length about the success of the Culture Fair in January, along with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict panel in early-February.

Since the war in Gaza broke out in October 2023, MSA has been advocating for the freedom and safety of the Palestinian people, holding a bake sale to fund humanitarian efforts within the Gaza Strip.

Advocacy extends beyond the people of Gaza and into the school community: “Some of the school’s statements and actions [since October are] based on multiple affinity groups’ pressures for the school to do something,” Murad said, “so I think MSA has helped in that regard this year.”

Their dedication to fostering inclusivity and understanding within their diverse school community continues to drive the MSA forward, making a meaningful impact both within and beyond the school walls.

Youth in Government starts back up after two years of inactivity

Ever get frustrated with the adults in government running our country today? Did you know that there is an opportunity for youth to get involved with government and learn how to write a bill?

The SPA Youth in Government club is the SPA delegate to the Minnesota Youth in Government program run by the YMCA, which centers around a four-day conference over Winter Break. The YMCA program lets students experience what it would be like to be an elected official and learn how to write bills.

The club meets on Tuesdays after school twice a month, but ramp it up to once a week when they are preparing for the conference and writing bills. They do not meet during clubs period because they have an eighth grader involved, and the upper and middle school schedules are different. However, next year, when they hope to gain more participants, they would like to switch to meeting during club times.

Youth in Government currently has two student leaders, juniors Olympia Wolff and Lucy Thomas, as well as members junior Alba Markowitz Mulet and Izzy Middlebrook, an eighth grader. The faculty advisor of the club is Joe Martin.

Wolff and Thomas started up the current Youth in Government club this year. It is the first time for both of them. The club used to exist a few years ago, but it stopped meeting during the pandemic.

The club met throughout the first semester to prepare for the Youth in Government conference, that club members attended in December. This was the first year of the SPA delegation in a while.

Wolff said, “It’s a unique opportunity to be able to write bills and interact with other people from all over Minnesota at the conference, and practice what it might be like if you were actually in government.”

It’s a unique opportunity to be able to write bills and interact with other people from all over Minnesota at the conference, and practice what it might be like if you were actually in government

— Olympia Wolff

“I think it’s fun just to hear about the experiences the students have at these events, what they learned, what they liked, what they didn’t like,” Martin said.

At the beginning of the school year, there was a launch event. The students learned about the process and structure involved in writing and editing a bill. They learned how to get funding for a bill. They needed to make sure the bills were in conformity with the Minnesota Constitution and the US Constitution. They also learned parliamentary procedures, which are the rules of how to run a meeting and make decisions for a governing body or committee.

Wolff and Thomas both enjoyed the conference and they thought it was a good experience.

“My bill was about imposing taxes on single-use plastics, and another girl in our delegation, Alba, she had a bill on immigration laws,” Wolff said.

At the conference, the Lieutenant Governor spoke, which the students enjoyed.

Martin aids the club in their activities. “I help guide the students in doing the things that they want to do. So I find that I facilitate and assist when the students have a motive to do something.”

Martin is not the typical advisor of Youth in Government as a Physics teacher. A lot of advisors of Youth in Government teach government and civics classes and have backgrounds in those areas as well. He has learned a lot by being the advisor of the club.

This year was the first Martin had ever heard of Youth in Government. He needed to learn how Youth in Government works so he could be helpful to the students. He had to figure out what the deadlines were and what the optional, mandatory, and helpful events were.

After school on Jan. 30, the group of four and Martin met for half an hour to discuss the future of the club, since it was the first meeting of the semester and since the Winter Break conference. The small group had a relaxed atmosphere, and they were sitting around a table with one or two people writing notes on the SmartBoard. Their discussion included a future bake sale, funding, recruiting, and making SPA Youth in Government T-shirts. They also talked about making a Youth in Government Instagram account, which they then created.

The group discussed their pitch for recruitment for next year: you can meet lots of interesting people at Youth in Government conferences, you can learn a lot, it strengthens your independence and it gets you out of your comfort zone.

One concern that the group had with recruitment for next year was that people won’t know if they’ll be available over Winter Break. They came up with a solution: they could allow people to join the club without attending the conference.

Youth in Government is similar to Model U.N. and there are a lot of Model U.N. events in the Twin Cities. SPA has a Model U.N. club. Martin said that there’s an interest in working with the SPA Model U.N. club and looking for opportunities to work with them and have Model U.N. events in the spring.

Martin thought that seeing the places where government takes place is an important experience that helps people understand government better. He said that the students who went to the Winter Break conference had a positive experience, especially with how writing a bill works.

Martin said, “You see hundreds and hundreds of Minnesota high school students who are interested in civic engagement. That’s an inspiring thing, as the next generation comes, matures, their time will come and they’re ready for it. And there’s a lot of them who are very interested in being a part of that.”

Love and Grace created from long-term persistence
SHARED COMMONALITY. The members of Love and Grace line up to take their club photo in Huss: Scarlett Gibson, Nora Shaughnessy, Sona Jain, Eliza Bray (left to right) (Submitted by Love and Grace)

Five years ago, the idea of an adoptee affinity group was planted within SPA’s community. While deemed unfit at the time, the idea stayed alive in affinity group leader, Nora Shaughnessy’s mind. Now, with the help of faculty advisors, Love and Grace has provided a safe space for the small and often unheard community at school.

Shaughnessy first brought the idea to Naomi Taylor, the Director of Intercultural Life at SPA, in middle school.

“I technically began or thought about the whole process in 7th grade,” Nora said, “and she said that because there weren’t enough adoptees in the middle school at the time, it wouldn’t work out, so we put it on hold.”

Three years later, the idea came back to the then-sophomore, “So I got Dr. Taylor and Dr. Hodges to be the advisors,” Shaughnessy said, “and I guess really I just wanted to make sure the other adoptees felt heard and wanted because it’s a small community.”

I just wanted to make sure the other adoptees felt heard and wanted because it’s a small community

— Nora Shaughnessy

For Nora, the small size of the group, along with the graduation of former leaders, has helped her become more confident in her ability as a leader. “I think it really helped me to be more independent in myself,” she said.

Karna Ivory, another member of the Intercultural Life division at SPA who has helped advise the affinity group since last year, also sees the small size of the group as an advantage. “I think people know each other really well and there’s good camaraderie within the group,” Ivory said.

One aspect the group struggles with is ensuring that the group feels like a comfortable place for all adoptee students. “We try not to force them to come right away,” Nora said, “but, sooner or later, we [asked ourselves] ‘Why not just remind them to come?’.”

Ivory had another perspective on this struggle, “The people in the group… for the most part, are female-identifying,” Karna said, “maybe that’s made some other male-identifying students not as interested in attending.”

Despite the group’s struggles over time and a decrease in meeting times this year, it remains a safe space for those who need it. Future plans include making family trees to share with the group to show their heritage.

Go-kart project inspires creativity and invites new members into Engineering Club

Halfway through the school year, almost everybody found a club that captured their interest. Deciding on projects in a club can take time, but the Engineering Club started immediately at the beginning of the school year.

According to club leader Nijah Johnson, deciding what to build at first was hard. “We had a thousand ideas, but building go-karts was the best one because we could involve it in the school,” she said.

Building a go-kart was an enormous undertaking; one of the challenges was getting all the materials to assemble it.

Club leader Rohan Kharbanda explained, “We have a lot of parts in the design lab, which is nice, but we have to order motors and specific things we can use for the project.”

The club members split up to work on the two go-karts and race them once finished.

“We definitely want to have a little competition with the two teams because what we are doing is actually really big this year,” Kharbanda said.

Johnson also hoped finishing the go-karts would get more people to join the Engineering Club.

“[Finishing the go-karts] would just bring more people to come to our meetings … If they see we create something cool,” she said.

Involvement increased in the club’s second year, with forty people who signed up at the club fair and ten to fifteen members who showed up consistently.

Freshman Leif Rush liked the club because “We are told to just do what we want. In some of the other clubs, I feel like it is much more structured.”

He also added that it was a good opportunity to connect with students from other grades.

“I don’t get to work with the juniors, seniors, and sophomores much, and it is fun to do that with the older grades,” Rush said.

In terms of skill level, there was a lot of diversity.

“There are a few people on the robotics team who have a lot of prior knowledge and engineering experience, but there’s also a number of people who are relatively new to engineering. Maybe they are taking Principles of Engineering for the first time,” said Kharbanda.

But no matter the skill level, everybody found tasks to do. Doing a project like this took a lot of teamwork, which was sometimes challenging.

“Sometimes there are more people than you can give jobs to,” Rush said, “But it is pretty easy to work as a group because there are two different projects, so we also split up.”

Engineering Club was also an outlet for interested group members who wanted to explore engineering later in high school and even college. Kharbanda wants to pursue something in science or engineering.

“Engineering is a big part of my life and something I enjoy,” he said.

Johnson joined the club last year because she wanted to take engineering electives later in high school. “I want to be an engineer … [this club] gives me another project to do,” she said.

I want to be an engineer … [this club] gives me another project to do

— Nijah Johnson

Johnson took Principles of Engineering this year, the prerequisite for taking the advanced engineering electives that SPA offers. The Engineering Club has it all: teamwork, a goal to accomplish, and people doing what they love.

“The most rewarding part for me, for any engineering project […] [is] having the product actually work and do what you want it to do, [which] is really like fulfilling honestly,” Kharbanda said, “And one of the reasons why I wanted to lead Engineering Club was just to share that sense of fulfillment for people.”

Warm temperatures welcome Pickleball Club back outside
BACK OUTDOORS. The pickleball club stands outside in a circle as they play Spud, a strategic tag game played with pickleball balls and paddle, with the entire club. Club adviser Ben Bollinger Danielson said, “I love any opportunity to get students playing games. I like being outside and Pickleball is just a great activity.” (Audrey Jansen)

In January the Pickleball Club decided to take the club outside. While it’s usually the indoor season, the heat wave of temps in the 50s got them on the courts for the first time in 2024. The Club played Spud and took a group photo when they were enjoying their time outside.

Club leader Hazel McCarthy said the activity based club connects the community: “It’s a pretty big club, and if everybody shows up and plays pickleball.”

Club adviser Ben Bollinger Danielson said, “I love any opportunity to get students playing games. I like being outside and Pickleball is just a great activity.”

I love any opportunity to get students playing games. I like being outside and Pickleball is just a great activity

— Ben Bollinger Danielson

Spud is a game where everyone was given a number. Bollinger Danielson would call out a number and throw a pickleball ball into the air. The person whose number was called would catch the ball, and everyone else would run as far as they could get. When the person whose number was called coughed the ball they would say Spud and everyone running had to stop.

The person with the ball in their hand then gets four steps one for S, P, U, and D to get as close to someone as possible so they can use a pickleball paddle and the pickleball to hit them with the ball.

If the person hit them with the ball they would be out but if they didn’t they would be out. The last one standing wins.

Club participant Ella Bond said, “I chose Pickleball Club because you get to be outside, and I am with all of my friends. And run around.”

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