Sally Zhu

Medini Halepete (10) adjusts the Green Team booth, which featured a spin-the-wheel with environmental questions and potted succulents in front of Nichols Hall. Fourteen different upper school clubs hosted booths in or in front of Nichols and in the quad, with posters and interactive games or activities, many designed for lower or middle school students.

Upper school campus hosts first ever Harker Day

Harker Day, a combination of the Family and Alumni Picnic and Homecoming event, welcomes school community members from across campuses

From the giant rainbow inflatable arching over the quad to the math building transformed into kitten central, Harker Day on Saturday brought together community members from across campuses and ages, to experience and showcase the different parts of the campus and the school in new, exciting ways.

Students, faculty, alumni and more gathered at the upper school campus to explore the school’s first Harker Day, a combination of the Family and Alumni Picnic and the Homecoming football game. 

Numerous student-run clubs organized booths with community-oriented activities, and performing arts students from all campuses presented dancing and singing acts. Throughout the day, food trucks provided nourishment and refreshments and freshmen distributed pizza and candy, with the day’s events culminating in the varsity boys’ football game against Marina High School. The campus became packed with visitors participating in games and club booth activities, snapping photos in the photo booth and simply milling around campus catching up with friends. 

Harker Spirit Leadership Team (HSLT) member Chirant Shekar (10), who was part of the media team and took photos and videos at the event, reflects on his experience at the event and encountering people of different ages and from different campuses. 

“It’s really exciting seeing all of my old teachers from the lower school and middle school, and interacting with some of the younger kids who seem to be really excited about the different carnival games and sporting events that are happening,” he said.

The school decided to merge the Family and Alumni Picnic and the Homecoming game into one “Harker Day” in October, as “a great way to celebrate the changing of the seasons and usher in the new school year,” according to the Harker Day webpage. From this past Harker Day onwards, the events are now held at the Saratoga campus, a change from the Family and Alumni Picnic being held at the Blackford campus previously, though parking and shuttle services will be provided at the Blackford campus. 

Director of Special Events Loni Keller started planning for Harker Day with a team since mid-summer. The team’s choice to combine the two events mostly consisted of wanting to create a single day where the entire Harker community could participate, together at one location. 

“Because we are now [hosting Harker Day] on the Saratoga campus instead of the Blackford campus, and things are changing, we wanted to create more of a community-oriented event, one that not only younger kids or older kids would go to, but both would go to and interact,” Keller said. “There’s a little bit of something for everyone.” 

The day began at 11:30 a.m. with performances in the Rothschild Performing Arts Center, ranging from upper school groups like Downbeat, Kinetic Krew, Bel Canto and the Harker Dance Company to lower and middle school groups like High Voltage, Dance Fusion and the fourth grade choir. Faculty members and preschool students acted out short, entertaining skits between performances. 

Because many of the younger lower school students are not yet vaccinated, Head of School Brian Yager included COVID-19 precautions in his email on Sept. 23 about Harker Day. The precautions required all visitors to wear a mask both indoors and outdoors, and “air filter and purification systems [continued] to provide high quality airflow,” for indoor activities. 

A group of lower school students narrated the show, explaining the different aspects of Harker Day and providing witty commentary about life in the pandemic. One student joked about getting tired of his mother’s cooking during the pandemic, with a “Sorry, mom!”, and most actors described their excitement to be on campus, in person again. 

“I was really nervous before performing because we haven’t performed for over two years in front of an audience, but it was really fun and the audience’s reactions were very exhilarating,” Downbeat member Shareen Chahal (10) said. “We kept up the energy and we tried our best, and I think that’s what matters.”

In addition to performing arts events and the final homecoming football game, junior varsity and varsity boys water polo, varsity girls water polo, junior varsity and varsity girls volleyball and eighth-grade flag football competed in games from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. 

Fourteen different upper school clubs hosted booths in or in front of Nichols and in the quad, with posters and interactive games or activities, many designed for lower or middle school students. For example, visitors spun a wheel at the Green Team booth and answered questions about the environment to receive small gifts like pencils made from recycled newspaper or make succulent potted plants. Or, students and parents could head over to the ping pong table, overseen by the Ping Pong Club, and try rallying with a partner; those who made it to 20 rallies received candy. 

Michelle Jin (11), a club member who headed a morning shift at the Green Team booth, appreciated the opportunity to meet and interact with Harker community members across different campuses and inform them about the importance of protecting the environment. 

“It was a lot of fun [working at the booth], especially because there were a lot of kids who were drawn to the succulents and genuinely wanting to know more about the environment, so it was really really exciting to see so many enthusiastic young kids,” Michelle said. “It’s really nice seeing a lot of other people around.” 

Sally Zhu

Other notable events held during Harker Day included a “Furry Friends Forest” in Dobbins Hall. Visitors could sign up for times to enter an enclosure with many kittens and hold and play with them. The El Dorado County Animal Services also set up a table to accept donations,  answer questions and collect items for displaced animals from the El Dorado fires. 

Heading into the auxiliary gym, one would find foosball tables and a claw machine, as well as the Senior Sweet Shoppe, which was organized by the senior class council. Moving out into the Quad, one could purchase slimes from HOSA’s booth and play bean bag toss or move out to the Zhang Gymnasium and eat Japanese bento boxes. For a drink, one could purchase a frappuccino from the food trucks and eat slices of pizza and candy from the freshmen manning the pizza station, a tradition from previous Homecoming events. 

“I can see people are having lots of fun, and they’re buying stuff, which is good for business,” Varun Thvar (9), who sold food at the pizza station, said. “It’s really fun selling pizzas for charity, we’re learning lots of management techniques: how to do business, how to market. It’s a really fun event.”

Finally, the varsity boys football team’s Homecoming game against Marina High School started at 6 p.m. on Davis Field. The team requested a “white-out,” or for all home team supporters to dress in white. Before the game started, juniors and sophomores competed for 3rd place in the tug-of-war event, with the sophomores taking the prize. 

Olivia Xu

At halftime, the cheer team and Harker Dance Company performed, and the seniors beat the freshmen for first place in tug-of-war. Senior Class Dean Christopher Hurshman announced this year’s Homecoming royals, Elvis Han (12) and Nicole Tian (12). Ultimately, the Harker Eagles lost to the Marina Mariners, 42-26. Homecoming court member Aaron Lo (12) enjoyed his senior homecoming game and the experience with his friends. 

“Homecoming itself was [nice] because I got to spend time with my friends, watching the game happen,” Aaron said. “It was nice, a lot better than I expected … Just spending time and talking with my friends was the best. It’s something I hadn’t tried before, so it’s a new experience.”

Harker Day also welcomed many alumni, who could eat and converse with other alumni in front of Manzanita Hall. Lisa Gassmann (‘95), who is also a parent of Harker students Brayden Gassmann (7) and Brianna Gassmann (6), attended the event with her family, visiting the upper school campus after attending Harker from kindergarten through eighth grade. 

“It’s really cool to have the community and the experience; it feels like you’re back at home,” Gassmann said. “[The day] is different, obviously from the years past, but this is really cool. It’s nice to be able to see familiar faces, especially everything that we’ve been through in the past year and a half, so it’s a really fun time.”

Sally Zhu

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