Miami Palmetto Senior High School, known for its lively ambiance and school-wide events, has seen a decline in that contagious sense of school spirit for the last two years.
Since the initial COVID-19 lockdown back in March 2020, Palmetto had not been at full capacity until this year. For the 2020-2021 academic year, Palmetto only welcomed back a fraction of the student body for in-person learning, while the other portion of students attended virtually.
As a large number of students attended school from home, the typical in-person events also remained limited. This year, with a 100% in-person return to school, PalmettoStudent Activities Director Elizabeth Valero has made it a point to bring back those events deemed impossible last year.
“We are going to bring back all the different events that we have had in the past. So you are going to have the hallway decorations, Panther Prowl, the election of the homecoming court and of course that homecoming dance,” Valero said.
At Palmetto, homecoming has always coincided with the month of October. The week-long event consists of games, competitions, pep rallies and more. The festivities kick off with spirit week, followed by Panther Prowl, then the football game and finally, the highly-anticipated homecoming dance.
In years past, Panther Prowl took place in the auditorium and consisted of each class at Palmetto competing against each other for the best performance. Classes choreographed lip-sync and dance routines to songs correlating to that year’s homecoming theme and then performed on stage for a panel of judges. Although similar, this year’s event is taking place on Oct. 14 in the gymnasium and serves as more of a pep rally rather than several performances.
“I really love Panther Prowl because it is so exciting and it is great to see the kids’ hard work pay off, get to see them perform and then get to see the school come together for that kind of pep rally,” Valero said.
Behind the scenes, Student Council Special Events board member Isabella Diez engages in weeks of preparation and planning for all these events to take place. Alongside the other board members, Diez’s main tasks include organizing decorations, communicating between the board and her own class and planning all aspects of upcoming events.
“It has been really cool planning everything. When it comes to decor for events, especially Prowl, I always like drawing my visions and ideas on paper, so it is really rewarding to see the paper turn into real life, and just watching everything come together has been amazing,” Diez said.
After Prowl comes the homecoming football game, and then finally, the dance. Valero announced the homecoming theme as HOCOWEEN via the Palmetto Activities Department’s Instagram (@mpshactivities). Due to COVID restrictions, Palmetto plans to host the dance on Saturday, Oct.16 in the gymnasium — something totally new.
“The catering is picked by us. It is not just whatever the hotel is offering for food; we were able to pick a caterer that we thought was going to have really yummy food,” Valero said. “And who knows, if it is something that really works out well, and everyone really likes it, it can be what we do from now on. Just have [homecoming] on site.”
Aside from homecoming, Friday Night Lights is another event students could not take part in last year. This year, however, students are encouraged to attend the games and cheer on their team.
“It has been such a fun experience going to the football games and seeing the band, the cheerleaders and the Chatonettes perform. Just being out there and supporting the Palmetto’s football team is a great way to experience Panther pride,” Class of 2024 President Emma Behar said. “Friday Night Lights are one of the biggest parts of high school and I am looking forward to making so many more memories, especially while supporting our team.”
However, for the majority of students at Palmetto, the bigger “landmark” events like homecoming week and FNL games remain a new experience. Especially for underclassmen, many have never even heard of the events.
“I realized that most of the underclassmen and even some of the older students have never experienced events like Panther Prowl or homecoming. This year, we are really focusing on bringing all these traditions that Palmetto has had back up and bringing back that spirit that we have always had,” Diez said.
In terms of pride on campus, the return to classrooms physically allowed many to get back into the Panther spirit. CAP Interventionist Linda Dwyer remembers last year as a learning curve that shows Palmetto’s resilience and flexibility.
“Panthers are smart, funny, talented, resilient, flexible, motivated and enthusiastic. We got through last year, and I am hopeful we are slowly moving past that chapter,” Dwyer said. “I am really excited to have the major events, but even seeing kids laughing in a corner while eating lunch or seeing kids practice a sport on the field. I love it all. Palmetto is alive with the students back and it’s amazing.”
For students and faculty members alike, even walking in the hallways has felt different this year compared to last. For Dwyer, the return of students to the physical campus has made all the difference.
“I truly felt the building itself was sad without kids in the halls last year. Remember in the book “The Giving Tree” when the tree shook because she was so happy to see the boy? Well, Palmetto is not Palmetto without the kids. I swear that on the first day back I could feel the building shaking with joy. The people are what make Palmetto,” Dwyer said.
As students returned to school, they were greeted by a different campus and many new buildings. Assistant Principal Daniel Barreras has experienced all the drastic changes throughout his five years at Palmetto first-hand. To him, seeing kids excited to attend school is something he did not experience last year.
“I can tell walking through the halls that the kids are excited to be here; there’s definitely this new energy in the building compared to last year, which is exciting to see,” Barreras said. “I definitely feel it, you feel it and I am sure all the other kids feel it.”
Over the years, despite the short break, Palmetto’s Panther Pride continues to shine through, whether on campus, in the stands or at special events. The events hosted by the Activities Department have made a lasting impact on the high school experience of many.
“In the end, the events are the stuff that make memories. You may not remember who you sat with in English class, but you remember who you went to the homecoming games with or you remember what you wore on pajama day for homecoming week,” Valero said. “These things create memories. They make moments that last.”