The M in MS is for Minecraft!

A pandemic won’t get in the way of the PFO’s Pumpkin Festival! Faced with social distancing rules, the PFO innovated and found that the solution to bringing HKIS on campus was to create a campus online! Editor Veronica Booth sat down with incoming PFO president Bonnie Bajaj to reflect on the innovation of “Pumpkincraft”.
THE IDEA came to Bonnie Bajaj out of the blue. The HKIS community had been disappointed when the 2020 World’s Fair had to be canceled due to Covid-19. The PFO Board was trying to work out how on earth Pumpkin Festival could go on, with Hong Kong’s social distancing restrictions making it hard to have a big event.

Then, one day, Bonnie, a PFO Board member, walked by her daughter Audrey, who was playing Minecraft. This video game allows players to build a virtual world, a pixelated block at a time. They can meet up with friends to go on quests, or simply have a chat. Bonnie immediately asked: Could you build an HKIS campus in Minecraft? Could you set up a virtual Pumpkin Festival? “Yes, it’s possible,” said Audrey.

Excited, Bonnie contacted Kelly Hah, the PFO’s VP Events, about the idea. “Doing nothing is easy,” says Bonnie. “But the entire PFO team thought, let's go, let's do it! From the beginning, we knew we needed help creating a world; we knew we’d have to talk to the kids, the real experts.”

Through Audrey’s friend network, Bonnie was introduced to tech-savvy High School student Geneva Cheng '22. “I explained to her what we wanted to do,” recalls Bonnie. “I asked, can we do this? And Geneva said, yeah.”

Virtual IRL Pumpkincraft goes live. MS campus (top) complete with amphitheater and school buses; PFO volunteers oversee Pumpkin Festival virtual games in the Command Room (middle); Students lead a Pumpkincraft tour (bottom). 

Upon consulting Hamlet Lin, the High School Technology Coach, Bonnie and Kelly realized that for Pumpkin Festival to be accessible to the most people, the Minecraft campus must be accompanied by a dynamic website to host the Festival itself. With this important adjustment, and simplified blueprints of the school (thanks to HKIS’s fabulous Facilities team), the students were off and running: Pumpkincraft was born!

"The PFO was impressed by the students’ perseverance and creativity...They had a client and a deadline, and they had to make it work.   was a lot of responsibility for the students, with very little oversight from adults. And they delivered.”

Leading the High School’s Student Digital Leadership Team along with other MS and HS students, Geneva and co-leader Jonathan Chin '22 created an astonishing world which was one of the Festival’s most popular activities. Middle School students participating were delighted to find that they could run wherever they liked on campus – in the words of one, “Dude! I'm in Dr. Kim’s office!” (Dr. Connie Kim is our Middle School Principal.) Event sponsors, such as the American Club, also got a virtual presence, with a special “Thank You!” banner created in Pumpkincraft.

The PFO was impressed by the students’ perseverance and creativity. “The students worked independently, and with the mentorship of Mr. Lin, could see what working in the real world is like,” says Bonnie. “They had a client, the PFO, and a deadline, and they had to make it work. It was a lot of responsibility for the students, with very little oversight from adults. And they delivered.”

On the day of the event, volunteers gathered in a “Command Room'' at the American Club to run the online event, the culmination of countless volunteer hours over eight weeks. It was also the first time that many of the volunteers had met each other! “We were giving each other air hugs and air high-fives,” says Christine Carballo, who got involved with the Festival’s games, which participants enjoyed on Zoom. (Has any other school adapted fairway games or student talent shows online? We don’t know of one!) Other Festival favorites, such as pumpkin carving, cupcake decorating, Halloween arts and crafts rounded out the offline offerings, such as drive-through pumpkin pick-ups and bake sales.

In the end, over 1,000 participants joined the Festival online and off, including alumni from around the world. Looking back on the experience, Bonnie sees that the big lesson is resilience: “The pandemic has created hardships – but Pumpkin Festival 2020 tells you that anything is possible!"

Continuing with the innovative methods used in 2020 PF, the 2021 World's Fair came to life, better and stronger! See a round-up of the 2021 World’s Fair, with the theme “The World at Your Table”, which included “NOM NOM” Minecraft, as well as a curry cook-off competition among the four principals and their teams!
Terrific Trio Bonnie Bajaj, Karena Belin, and Kelly Hah oversee the Command Room on the day.
R - E - S - P - E - C - T !

Jonathan Chin '22 and Geneva Cheng '22 created a code of conduct, allowing everyone to move freely around Pumpkincraft and enjoy the novelty of being on campus online (in a different way from Zoom!). In fact, if gamers did step out of line, MS Student Digital Leadership Team members penalized them with “time outs''. Online or off, students expect students to respect the community!