School board members, superintendents and principals consistently are faced with two questions. The first is a short one – “Got a minute?” This question invariably leads to any number of “why” questions: Why does school start so early? Why does the cafeteria food taste so bad? Why are you raising my taxes again?
While these “why” questions come with ready-made answers, there’s another frequent question that doesn’t seem to have an answer: “Why don’t principals treat athletics as an extension of the school day and award credit for participation?”
This is a simple question, but one without an easy, definitive answer. Athletics is an extracurricular activity, with students honor- bound by an athletic code and grade requirements set forth by the school district, the conference and the state high school association. In its purest form, student-athletes compete for the love of the game, the desire to represent the school and community with the opportunity to possibly play at the next level.
However, the advent of club sports and the money being spent by parents on camps and other opportunities has had a significant impact on high school athletics. The playing field has changed.
While most would agree that high school athletics is still the best way to connect with certain students and to motivate others, it is important to explore the possibility of expanding the role of athletics in a student’s educational journey. Therefore, the answer to the aforementioned question (Why shouldn’t students earn credit toward graduation for participation?), may carry even greater significance. While the intrinsic value of high school athletics will continue to draw certain athletes, consideration should be given to offering students something they can only get by playing for their school – elective credit.
When exploring the possibility of giving credit for athletic participation, there are undoubtedly certain issues that have long been considered roadblocks such as grading and teacher/coach certification. While these issues may merit a more comprehensive review, a valuable starting point would be an examination of a law that allows students to earn elective credit for volunteer service to the community.
The Delaware Volunteerism Act became law in 2012. The purpose of the statute states that: “The active participation of young adults in volunteer activities is necessary to achieve a truly healthy community. Therefore, a student in grades 9-12 who performs voluntary community service for at least 45 hours per semester for two semesters shall receive one Delaware Volunteer credit. The credit may count as an elective for graduation requirements if approved by – and conducted under the supervision of – the school principal. This credit shall appear prominently on the student’s high school transcript.
To qualify for Delaware Volunteer credit:
A student’s volunteer community service time shall be verified by a director or supervisor of the organization or project on forms developed by the Department of Education and the Delaware Office of Volunteerism, and certified by the student’s guidance counselor or principal, or by the principal’s designee.
If Delaware acknowledges, therefore, the active participation of young adults in an act of volunteerism that benefits themselves and the community by awarding a volunteer credit, why can’t the same argument be made for the student who represents his or her school and community by participation in an athletic or extracurricular activity?
There are many reasons why athletics should be considered an extension of the instructional day and that participation should be worthy of an elective credit. Aside from the benefits of being active and learning to live a healthy lifestyle, athletics is a natural extension of the classroom. It reinforces the values such as discipline, dedication, sportsmanship and work ethic.
Athletics also fosters an appreciation of history, an understanding of science and technology, and it teaches resiliency. For a community, student participation in high school athletics brings a sense of pride and identity to the school and community. If there is any doubt what athletics does for a community, simply attend the homecoming festivities and game.
There are other reasons to consider making athletics an extension of the school day. The credit earned may help students meet their graduation requirement or may be the motivation for an individual who needs a credit to join a team. While these athletes may never catch a touchdown pass, hit the game winning shot or do more than stand on the sideline, they will be a better person for having participated.
While awarding grades has been a roadblock, just like “volunteerism credit,” student- athletes would receive a simple pass/fail. Attendance and participation would count, not athletic ability. Students would keep their hours, the coach would sign off, the guidance counselor would verify and the principal would approve.
By using the volunteer credit format, students would receive one-half of an elective credit for a maximum of 45 hours of participation in one sport per semester. A full elective credit could be awarded a year for a multi-sport athlete. The awarding of an elective credit would in no way diminish the importance of earning the required credits in math, social studies, science, English or world language. It would simply serve as a way to round out the student’s high school experience as do current elective credits.
Another potential roadblock may be certification. While most coaches come with an extensive background in their sport, the NFHS Learning Center can provide the tools and the framework necessary to ensure that coaches will meet specific standards. The NFHS Learning Center is the National Federation of State High School Association’s online education program available at www.NFHSLearn.com. This would include understanding the rules, working with athletes, knowing the latest in health and safety and how to address parental concerns. These aspects should meet most if not all standards necessary to teach a pass/fail course for elective credit. Plus, your coaches will be better prepared to do their job.
In an effort to move forward, it is important not to let antiquated ways of looking at student participation prevent administrators from exploring and utilizing all of the tools in the educational toolbox.
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald is superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District in Delaware and a member of the NFHS Board of Directors. Fitzgerald is the 2018 NASS National Superintendent of the Year.