By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — There are dozens of clubs at Windham High.
Athletes, musicians, scholars, actors — all have a group in which to shine.
But there’s only one club for everyone, the Jaguar Community Alliance.
“Our basic goal of the club is to make sure everyone feels involved, has a place and the school is together,” junior Caroline Horrigan said.
The alliance, now in its fourth year, grows every year. Eighty-eight students belong.
Teacher Mike Welch started the alliance, which is patterned after a similar club he advised at Pinkerton Academy in Derry.
“When a student feels connected to their school, that feeling of belonging can open the doors to many positive effects, including improved grades and a greater rate of participation in extracurricular and curricular activities,” Welch said.
The alliance has brought together a football captain and members of the chess team, popular upperclassmen and shy freshmen.
The group hosts an event each month. Sometimes it’s a movie night or video game night. As many as 60 students have attended.
Always, there is fun involved. The alliance has an ugly sweater day planned for after the holidays.
This week is all about Friday’s faculty-versus-students flag football tournament that will benefit Windham’s Helping Hands, which helps families in need.
“It’s in our community,” Caroline said, discussing why the alliance chose to aid Helping Hands. “The people in Helping Hands are close to us.”
Junior Cassie Haley said the chance to aid Helping Hands is a reason she’s excited about the event Friday.
“I love helping out the community,” Cassie said.
There is a lot of chatter about the tournament, in which the faculty has prevailed for three years.
Assistant principal Bob Dawson, passing through the office, asks, tongue in cheek, what alliance members have been arrested for now.
The students know Dawson is playing Friday.
“We don’t fear him, he’s all talk,” Caroline said.
“He’s like the last kid picked,” sophomore Joe Zollo said. “He’s the assistant principal, he has to play.”
Later, walking past athletic director Bill Raycraft’s office, the students acknowledge he also is playing against them.
“He’s the one we fear,” Joe said of the faculty’s quarterback.
Joe and his teammates are counting on the advantages of youth.
“We will take advantage of our young age,” Joe said.
That, speed, and maybe the deep ball, he said.
Welch is pleased by what he sees in the alliance and the level of student engagement.
Students welcomed the alliance from the outset, he said.
“Right from the start, we had a lot of kids embrace the club,” Welch said.
Students don’t have to pass a test, run fast or play an instrument flawlessly. They just have to want to belong.
Junior Colin Cochrane was attracted by one of those video game nights and hung around.
“It was good to work with other students,” Colin said.
Sophomore Hannah Collins said she joined because of the usual freshman crisis of wondering if she would make friends.
“I found good friends in this club,” said Hannah, who is now a vice president with the alliance. “We help different kids come together and we help build relationships in the school community.”
Other kids get roped into the club.
“I try to do a lot of reaching out,” Welch said.
“Joe Zollo I saw in the hallway helping people out,” he said.
Teacher Janice Les is an adviser to the alliance. She said it’s different from other clubs.
“This involves a diversity of students with all types of interests,” Les said.
Other student groups are even helping the alliance.
The Student Athlete Leadership Team is assisting with Friday’s benefit competition, adviser Matthew Blair said.
Welch said the alliance hopes to have 100 students involved by the end of the school year. He would like to see it grow to 300 to 400 eventually.
But he’s delighted by what this club for everyone has done for the school community so far.
“The response has been overwhelming,” he said.