Connecting students to schools may be one of the most important ways to ensure that students achieve academic success. In this age of social media and technology, students can become increasingly isolated and this can present a challenge.
School clubs and activities work in a preventative manner and promote success so all students can feel like they belong to the school community because activities and clubs foster environments that reward positive behaviors. It’s no secret that students with similar interests who are connected to each other and are fortunate enough to be led by an adult on campus are more likely to find high school meaningful and work toward success.
Providing club and activities is not enough – planning to grow athletics and activity programs should be purposeful. Just as schools gather academic data to determine the needs of students, school leaders should regularly examine the data of athletics and activity programs to determine their success, validity and even evaluate when such programs may need to be abandoned or changed to generate more student interest.
Promoting School Clubs and Activities Early
To ensure a robust activities program, student engagement needs to begin immediately at the beginning of the school year with the freshman class. Freshman transition programs are a necessity for the students to begin to understand school culture as well as gain an understanding of the overall activity and athletic atmosphere.
Some schools have even created Freshmen Boot Camps so students can discover and try new activities. To create such a program, schools can focus on eighth-grade feeder school data or address particular parts of each individual school’s culture. Some possible examples include:
One key to making each of these elements successful is to incorporate current upperclassmen and have them take on leadership roles to assist in implementing the program. Upperclassmen can connect freshmen to campus and anchor them to already successful students. Essentially, freshmen are able to find their place/ activity/program on campus and have a mentor to assist them in connecting with the school.
Like all programs, it is important to collect data and do a midyear entire Freshman class “check-in” via survey or qualitative interviews to measure progress and continue encouragement to be involved on campus.
Along with an emphasis on freshmen, there needs to be a school-wide focus on giving all students an opportunity to be involved on campus. A Club Rush model where all clubs, class officers and athletics host a booth during a start of the school year lunch time to showcase their group and encourage all students to join can really set a positive tone.
After a Club Rush, data can be collected regarding numbers of signups and compared to later data of active membership throughout the year. After a Club Rush session, club student leaders can meet with activities directors to discuss ways to improve Club Rush and brainstorm more ways for students to become involved on campus. In this way, students who do not or cannot find a group gain the ability to give feedback and possibly create their own club with a purpose and focus different from existing clubs.
Community Promotion through Activities Showcase Events
Throughout the year, athletic programs have opportunities to showcase the successes of students on an almost daily basis with numerous practices and competitions. Most clubs do not meet daily, but activities can generate excitement with a little community promotion. An Activities Showcase, similar to an “Open House,” can highlight activities accomplishments, opportunities and community connections. This kind of event can also be used to promote academics and co-curricular activities such as band or theatre.
Furthermore, an Activities Showcase is a great way to get the community and feeder-school students accustomed to the high school campus and make them more aware of high school activities. Dates for these types of events can take place at the end of the school year to celebrate successes as well as give incoming students a peek at what they can look forward to when they attend high school.
Leveraging Events to Maximize Exposure
One way that schools can increase participation in activities is by finding creative ways to combine events. For instance, maybe the theatre class has the opportunity to complete a short scene in the gym at halftime of a basketball game. Perhaps the Saturday athletic tournament may be combined with an early morning Kiwanis Key Club breakfast fundraiser, or the Dance Team performs one of its routines before a choir or music concert. Creating these opportunities allows different audiences to experience the fullness of the activities program and may create unforeseen support from all stakeholders.
Assess Effectiveness of Activities
Just as most schools conduct a census and exit interviews to gather data on athletic programs, data should be gathered on the effectiveness of clubs and activities. It is ideal to have various types of assessments throughout the year. Clubs may be asked to give numbers of members, numbers and descriptions of events throughout a school year, and present strategic plans on how each individual club plans to change, grow or evolve. Administration can distribute surveys to all club and activity members to determine individual student levels of involvement, the process for them to be involved, gather their general opinions, and how the activities program can be improved.
Setting Foundations for Success
Research shows that when schools embrace and emphasize the importance of all activity programs, they create an easy transition for incoming students to immediately get involved in a highcharged, positive atmosphere of school pride. Schools that create easy access to join activities will have students involved on campus and create a culture that welcomes students and challenges them to be their best. When students are involved, they want to be at school, attendance improves, discipline lowers and they find ways to successfully contribute to their own well-being and community.
Dana Johnston is a 25-year veteran teacher and currently activities director at Freedom High School in Oakley, California. She has spoken at breakout sessions for the California Athletics Directors Association and has been recognized as a Teacher of the Year. Dr. Steve Amaro, CMAA, is a teacher, tennis coach, athletic director and assistant principal at Freedom High School in Oakley, California. He is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.