My second- and fourth-grade sons are currently participating in an after-school art program at their elementary school. After each class, they share funny anecdotes about something one of the other kids said or did. And each Tuesday, they are excited to go to school because they know they have art after school.
This is significant because most school mornings I have to drag them, sometimes quite literally, out of bed.
I am always looking for opportunities to engage my children with their school community and their peers, knowing that extracurricular activities are often where they have the most fun, develop friendships and nurture skills they will need to be good citizens, such as teamwork, sharing, communication, creativity and problem solving.
Nationally, the importance of extracurricular activities has been recognized and many schools promote opportunities for its students to connect with their peers and teachers outside of the regular classroom.
“Recent research suggests that participation in extracurricular activities may increase students’ sense of engagement or attachment to their school, and thereby decrease the likelihood of school failure and dropping out,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
With a large school, the more connections students have, the more of a sense of belonging they develop, said Raymond Kilmer, executive principal of Fayetteville-Manlius High School in the Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District.
“We’ve seen in research that connecting to the school has positive impacts,” Mr. Kilmer said.
The Onondaga County high school has about 1,445 students, and of those, nearly 79 percent have participated in at least one student club or activity, including participation on an athletic team, since the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
Each fall, the high school hosts a student activity fair so students can check out the wide array of student activity offerings to see if there is a good fit for them. Offerings can range from the traditional National Honor Society to a Harry Potter club.
“We have clubs come and go because they are based on what the students want,” Mr. Kilmer said.
Many district officials see the value of extracurricular activities, recognizing they can extend the learning that is taking place in the classroom, such as in a chemistry or writing club.
Extracurricular activities also offer opportunities for students to learn the values of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength and endurance, competition, diversity and a sense of culture and community, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Extracurricular activities also help boost attendance rates and serve as an avenue for students and staff members to forge closer relationships, which is a leading indicator of classroom success, said James Wager, director of secondary instruction and curriculum for the Gloversville Enlarged School District.
When students feel safe and supported, they are more likely to take risks because they know it is OK to try and fail, he said.
“It always feel better when you have a support system,” Mr. Wager said.
As for attendance, when a student is excited about an activity taking place at school on a particular day, they are more likely to make the effort to ensure they attend school that day, Mr. Wager said.
“There is that notion of how do we capture their interest to get them here every day,” he said. “If it weren’t for many of our activities, our attendance rate would be lower.”
The Fulton County school district has recently re-introduced band lessons in fourth grade, after the music program had been scaled back due to budget cuts, and created a fifth-grade band that includes students from four of the district’s elementary schools.
Participation in the bands has increased, and the new music opportunities have given students another opportunity to connect and engage with their school communities, as well as be excited about going to school.
Looking for a connection?
Mr. Kilmer suggests parents talk with their children about what they might be interested in joining or maybe seeing if there is enough interest in creating a new club.
Schools often list on their websites or in school handbooks their clubs and activities, both of which could prove valuable resources for parents. School counselors also are good starting points for parents and students looking for opportunities to connect through extracurricular activities. They are often aware of clubs that may match with a particular student’s interests.
Look for opportunities in the flyers that come home from school with your child, Mr. Wager said. School newsletters also are often a good resource to learn about upcoming activities, and a call to the school’s main office could be helpful, he said.
Sometimes students will see their friends taking part in an activity outside of the classroom that peaks their interest and gets them excited, he said.
“School provides an opportunity to fuel those passions,” Mr. Wager said.
Benefits of extracurricular participation
- Appeal to student interests
- Build student-adult relationships
- Connect students to school
- Encourage peer interaction
- Improve academics
- Increase attendance rates
- Promote cooperation and collaboration
- Provide structure and challenge
Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her second- and fourth-grade sons, who each participate in art, sports and drama activities.