The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reports that almost every high school in the United States offers high school activities programs in which students can participate. Most of these offerings center around athletic options and fine arts offerings. But there are many additional activities as well (depending on student interest) that can benefit students while in high school – and well after they leave high school.
Participation in high school activities has been shown to have a strong correlation to student success. Numerous studies have shown that students who get involved in these activities have better attendance rates, higher academic achievement and increased aspirations to continue their education beyond high school.
Students learn the value of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength and endurance, competition, diversity, goal-setting, time management, prioritization, problem-solving, analytical thinking, leadership, public speaking and public performance, and the opportunity to develop a sense of culture and community. Involvement in these activities gives students an opportunity to explore their interests while creating broader perspectives.
With COVID-19 continuing to be a pervasive thorn inside of schools, the need to address the social-emotional well-being of students is more important now than ever before. Participation in activities can help by increasing students’ self-esteem. The more success that students achieve through participating in activities, the more their self-esteem improves.
Afterschool activities provide another opportunity for students to expand their social network (other than just online). They make new friends, find ways to collaborate with others to achieve a common goal, and oftentimes find ways to positively impact their community.
However, we know that students of lower socioeconomic status (SES) historically participate in activities in smaller numbers than do their higher SES classmates. As a result, it is incumbent upon teachers, coaches, sponsors and administrators to find ways to eliminate participation barriers for lower SES students in order to increase the numbers of those participants. Some barriers that educators and administrators can help remove might include transportation issues, costs and fees, meals, equipment, etc.
Even universities have concluded that a student’s participation in activities outside the high school classroom are important and should be included in the higher education application process. In an April 2021 blog, crimsoneducation.org stated that “…extracurriculars are a critical part of a university application, as they demonstrate who you are outside of the classroom and provide an opportunity to showcase your leadership skills and community involvement.”
Today’s admission officers want to see proof of tremendous ambition and initiative, illustrated by a cohesive personal narrative. Universities want students who have gone above and beyond in their intended area of study and who have made a difference and excelled in other afterschool activity programs. Today, activity programs and leadership activities account for about 30 percent of a higher education application.
Educators and administrators can help students in this regard by suggesting that they strive to possess the following:
For administrators, fine arts activities should be given as much time, effort, energy and money as athletic activities. These activities allow students to express themselves in creative and imaginative ways. Participation in these activities directly supports academic learning by developing habits of mind and promoting the skills that young people will need to be productive citizens. Fine arts programs are an integral part of the school curriculum and are often the building blocks of promoting school pride and school spirit.
It is the superintendent’s responsibility to educate school board members about the value of all afterschool activities. That way, board members can (in conjunction with the superintendent) make better decisions about investing proper amounts of monies for these activities.
Sometimes that comes in the form of budgeted funds, approved by the school board annually. Other times (when larger chunks of money are necessary), it comes in the form of successfully passing a school bond election. Board members, and administrators, are encouraged to attend musical performances, plays and other fine arts activities to see the benefits of these programs for themselves. That way, they can then more easily promote the passage of an upcoming bond election.
Diversity, equity and inclusion must also be taken into consideration when devising and implementing an effective high school activities program. ALL students should be welcomed into these activities. This means all ethnic groups, and this means all genders. Barriers to participation should be removed whenever and wherever possible. Sometimes that means tweaking the master schedule so that students can participate in multiple activities, rather than having to choose just one. Other times, it means coaching adults properly to ensure that they don’t put undue pressure on students to choose just one sport or just one activity only.
Specialization can kill a program – especially in smaller schools. Many students are multi-talented, so they should be encouraged to participate in multiple activities. Adults have to cooperate and collaborate – all for the best interest of students. This means that the adults have to communicate well and communicate often. Administrators should also attempt, during the hiring process, to mirror the diverse student population of their school district as closely as possible. One effective way to do this is to create a “grow your own” program for teachers, coaches, directors and sponsors.
And a final way that a superintendent can support, and help grow, his or her district’s activities programs is to find ways to celebrate and publicize the successes of students in those programs – such as:
Dr. Darrell Floyd is superintendent of Enid (Oklahoma) Public Schools and also a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.