May 03, 2006

Activities Matter?

School is about more than academics. School is about sharing a common experience when we grow into young adults, learn about the world we live in, and sometimes score a touchdown, win a debate, perform on stage, and for the really lucky, fall in love at Prom. Some teachers think that extracurricular activities like sports, clubs, performing arts, and dances are not an important part of school since they can sometimes distract from the academic experience. I think that an equally important amount of education occurs when students are on campus, but not in the classroom. For some students, extracurricular activities are the reason they come to school everyday.

Think back to your own school days; did you really passionate about Social Studies? Did Spanish class make you rush to school everyday? Maybe for some of us it did. But I think that most high school students find their reasons to come to school outside the regular classroom schedule.

I have some experience in this area as not only a student, but also a teacher and advisor. In middle and high school I was involved in the Drama department. I performed in plays, hung lights, and hung out with my friends in the “cafetorium.” It was the time of my life, and the reason I loved coming to school. I didn’t love my academic class because I struggled so hard to simply survive. I was a fair, but in no way outstanding student, and I hated, really hated subjects like English, foreign language, history, P.E., pretty much everything other than Drama, band, and math. Because of my school experience I never wanted to become a teacher; that happened much, much later.

As a teacher I spent two years advising the Associated Student Body student government group at the high school where I currently work. During that time I worked closely with students and administrators planning and implementing numerous activities for the students on campus. (I even wrote a manual you can download here.) The goal was always to provide a positive experience for the students and to give them an additional reason to come to school. Student should love the school they attend and should be made to feel not only a part of the campus, but also to feel like their presence and the contributions they make to their school are part of the institution’s biology. Most of the time that doesn’t occur naturally in their academic classes. Its not that teachers don’t make students feel welcome, but that the daily focus of class should be on learning, not necessarily campus inclusion. That’s what extracurricular activities are all about.

The students I currently teach are not created from the same mold as the ones who participate in student government. Most of my advanced students would be branded “at risk.” While bright and fun to teach, most are not on their way to university, (however I am proud to say that I have two attending USC in the fall.) These kids need a reason to come to school and they don’t find it in English, Algebra, and Science. They come to school to shoot and edit video, make web site, and create animations. Those types of assignments aren’t (yet) available in most A-G course offerings. I think eventually elective courses like mine will vanish when the type of work students do in my classes becomes a regular part of the general academic curriculum. But for now, electives like multimedia along with football, cheerleading, and choir draw students in and give them a motivation to at least maintain the 2.0 GPA required to participate.

Friday nights in the fall you can find me on the football field. No, not playing, or even coaching, but working with a group of students who videotape the football game for the football coaching staff. Three students shoot from two angles, and one runs back and forth on the sideline getting up-close shots of the players and action. I love contributing my time to the football program because the students I work with love to participate and contribute to the team. We even eat dinner with the players. My students, who might otherwise look forward to party-central come Friday night, instead spend the week talking and thinking about their jobs on the field. The kids even get a small amount of pay from the parent boosters for their work.

My high school is known for more than just the football program. There are numerous elective and after-school student groups that recruit kids into positive experiences that offer them a wide variety of opportunities to shine and grow. From Mock Trial and Academic Olympiad to Speech and Debate to AFJROTC, there is a place for every kind of student to call home, and group to call family.

My lovely wife and I chaperone Prom every year. I love Prom for all that it represents: a celebration of the school year and all of the student’s accomplishments. For four magical hours on Prom night everyone looks great, the kids are on their best behavior (well, most of them) and all of the stress and complications of the school year seem to evaporate. Every year I take a group picture with my senior students. Those photos are some of the treasures I hold on to after another class of students has said goodbye.

Of course academic classes lead more students to higher test scores than do extracurricular activities, but what leads students into those academic classes? What keeps students coming to school everyday? What motivates them to earn good and even great grades? Where do kids find a place to belong? Where do they discover their unique and individual identities? Where do they have the chance to contribute to and become a part of something bigger than themselves? Where do they battle apathy and realize compassion? How do students broaden their collegiate opportunities? Where do we teachers have the most fun spending time with our students? The answer is usually on campus, but not within the boundaries of the six-period day or within the confines of the four walls of the classroom.

If you teach high school and are not involved with a club at lunch, or a sport, or an activity after school, give it a try. Sure it will require more of your time, but it will time well invested into the lives and success of your students. Like the kids, involvement in an extracurricular activity may actually make you look forward to coming to school. The more you enjoy coming to school, the harder you will work, and the more you will improve as a teacher.

Please post your comments below.

1 comment:

  1. this is a great post!! i love it when teachers realize that it's not all about academics.

    in 20 years, kids aren't going to remember that day i explained iambic pentameter to them, but they will remember that awesome homecoming rally or their first kiss on prom or getting president of state student council.