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Balanced Approach to Activities/Academics: A Superintendent’s Perspective

By Dr. Darrell G. Floyd on March 14, 2017 hst Print

School activities and academics complement each other, are integrally connected to one another and are mutually beneficial for students. In addition, athletics, fine arts and academic competition activities peek students’ interests, keep them motivated to do well in school, and give them a reason to get up and attend school each day.

Much research has been done on the need for schools to offer both a rich academic and activities program. Many believe that the best way to meet students’ academic, social, emotional and physical needs at school is to offer them a strongly balanced learning experience that gives them ample opportunity to develop as a whole, responsible and enthusiastic learner today and, thereby, become a productive adult tomorrow.

This balance is achieved only by offering students exciting educational opportunities outside the classroom, including extracurricular activities of many different varieties, where students can explore their interests and talents – and discover new ones.

The most common school activities offered in schools today are athletics, fine arts (including music of all kinds) and academic competitions. However, many school districts have also discovered the benefit of offering activities of special interests including things like radio production, supercomputing, coding, Lego robotics, chess, outdoor leadership programs and community service/volunteer projects. All of these activities lend themselves to creating – and rounding out – an overall productive citizen.

Specific Benefits of Activity Programs

Participation in school activities benefits the student and the entire community – both now and well into the future. Here are some reasons why:

  • Activity programs provide opportunities for character development, life lessons and a way for students to begin to develop their own set of universal values;
  • Activity programs afford students opportunities to learn about teamwork, sportsmanship, self-discipline and hard work;
  • Activity programs foster success in later life. They help set the standard and framework for success in college/workforce/careers and for becoming a healthy, contributing member of society;
  • Activity programs promote positive behaviors and deter negative behaviors; and
  • Activity program participants (as shown by numerous studies) have higher GPAs, lower dropout rates, fewer discipline problems, higher college admission test scores, better attendance and better relationships with students who are academically focused.

More specifically, here are some benefits of athletics, fine arts and academics:
Athletics help students become a part of a team, develop individual skill improvement, learn about good sportsmanship and develop a better sense of health and fitness.

Fine Arts activities encourage students to explore and develop their own artistic interests and abilities. Through a mix of offerings ranging from music, visual arts, theatre, dance, debate, journalism and others, these activities provide opportunities for students to hone their artistic talents.

Academics is often thought of only as preparation for reading, writing and arithmetic. However, the “other three Rs” are just as important: rigor, relevance and relationships. Rigor is setting the bar high enough that it stretches students to achieve things they never thought possible. Relevance is explaining to students why they need to learn something and how they are going to use it later. And effective relationships are the positive, professional student/teacher bonds developed by creating an atmosphere where each student knows that there is at least one adult on campus who is taking a keen interest in what is happening in that student’s life and making sure that he or she has the best opportunity to succeed. Extracurricular academic activities and competitions help provide all of the above.

One recent study on this topic focused on identifying long-term impacts of students participating effectively in activities and academics. The study found that high school activities participation was associated with a two percent increase in math and science test scores, club participation was associated with a one percent increase in math test scores and involvement in either type of activity was associated with a five percent increase in bachelor’s degree attainment and expectations.

The Bigger Picture

In general, the proper balance of activities and academics in schools today is more important now than ever before. Many students lack proper direction and preparation in the areas of realworld life skills. Therefore, if students are not exposed to extracurricular activities in school, they may never develop these following skills:

  • Teamwork and cooperation: Everyone is working toward a common goal. Students learn first-hand how their performance impacts them, as well as the rest of the team.
  • Social relationship development: Students who participate in school activities programs often forge close friendships. These relationships are essential in the overall mental, emotional and physical health of students. Students bond together toward a common passion, and the time they spend together in practice and competition will build tight bonds for a lifetime.
  • Leadership skills development: At times, activities programs will afford students the opportunity to serve in a leadership role. At other times, they will play a supporting role. This teaches them how to provide guidance to others and how to receive guidance from others.
  • Time management skills: Participants in school activities learn good time management skills in order to get everything done in the classroom and in their chosen area of activity.
  • Practice, persistence and patience: Team members (regardless of the activity) learn that proper practice is required. They also learn that the harder they work, the better they perform. And finally, they learn that by never giving up, they are more likely to achieve their goals.

The Four Cs of 21st Century Learning

There is also a large body of research surrounding the four Cs of 21st Century Learning: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. These are skills and abilities that employers want to see in the workers they are hiring today. Many teachers strive to instill these skills in their students and to provide them opportunities to practice them in the classroom. However, it is often within the areas of extracurricular activities that the following skills, abilities and attributes are solidified:

  • Communication skills: The ability to effectively communicate in both small group and large group settings;
  • Collaboration skills: The ability to work together effectively with others toward achieving a common goal;
  • Critical-thinking skills: The ability to think outside the box and think differently in order to come up with a solution to a difficult problem; and
  • Creativity skills: The ability to use creative – and oftentimes artistic – attributes to develop new and innovative ideas/solutions.

Colleges Take Notice

College admission officers often consider a student’s extracurricular activities when reviewing applications. Why? Because they reflect the things a student does in their free time, in ways that grades and test scores cannot. A student’s accomplishments outside the classroom shows not only what they are passionate about, but also that they have the qualities valued by colleges. Here are a few examples:

  • Serving in student government shows that a student has leadership skills;
  • Being on the track team all four years of high school shows that the student is able to make a long-term commitment;
  • Doing volunteer/community service work at a hospital shows that the student is dedicated to helping others; and
  • Playing in the marching band while also playing two other sports in high school shows that the student can manage time well.

Balancing the Budget

Superintendents are always responsible for balancing the bottom line. As a result, extracurricular activities, like all school activities, must be looked at annually regarding their cost-benefit analysis. It takes a rich and robust balance of both academics and activities programs to properly educate a well-prepared student for the real world. So, what does it cost? Many studies have indicated that, on average, a high school’s activity program budget makes up only one to three percent of the school’s overall budget. And that is one heck of a bargain!