Extracurricular activities support school culture

I am co-hosting the #CultureED Twitter chat on 2/4 with Rob (@CoachRobEDU), and our focus is extracurricular activities, so I am deep in thinking about questions and the positive traits of extracurricular activities. However, it is also “Budget season” in schools, and the worst phrase in public education makes its annual appearance “What can we cut?”

Sadly one of the items annually on the top of the list is our topic: extracurricular activities. As a school leader making school budget decisions and now a district leader with a district lens, I, unfortunately, have heard too many times “extracurricular activities are not very important in a student’s life. We can cut it and save….” I strongly disagree!

As a participant in activities as a youth, hearing and learning the impact of extracurricular activities at Springfield College, and now witnessing the positive impact as a school/district leader, I fully see how a student’s social time and relations are critical for the classroom and social development.

There is so much stress on students to “Ace” exams or earn high grades. Yes, academic performance is essential; however, if academic success comes at the cost of students having no life outside their classrooms, students will not develop as people and individuals.

Sadly, some parents also don’t see the value because “those after-school activities” distract students from schoolwork or arriving home later than usual. I genuinely believe extracurricular activities are just as important as academics. They complement each other to develop a well-rounded student with more social skills than one who only concentrates on their books or, for that matter, just sports. Education should go beyond the four classroom walls!

So what are extracurricular activities? Extracurricular activities are activities or organizations sponsored or created at a school but fall outside the scope of the regular curriculum. Extracurricular activities require a consistent schedule and time involvement. There are so many extracurricular activities that a student can choose from, including sports, debate, chess, theater, or music, to name just a few. Some students often participate in more than one activity.

Studies have shown that students who engage in extracurricular activities have a marked improvement in achievement. I think this can be associated with the skills they learn, like management, organizational skills, and commitment, all while boosting their self-esteem. Students learn how to express themselves better when they have higher self-esteem. Participating in activities students are passionate about increases brain function. I have participated in and coached high school sports. I know these activities will prepare students to focus and build endurance in the face of extreme challenges. This productive struggle provides students an advantage when it comes to studying and taking exams. Click here to read one of many studies showing students who participate in them have higher grades, more positive attitudes toward school, and higher academic aspirations.

Extracurricular activities provide students with experience in balancing their academic life with their activities. They need to learn how to allocate enough time for school, activities, and social life. Students learn how to plan out their day and balance the free time they may have.

Extracurricular activities provide students opportunities to learn new skills that are useful during the school day, such as teamwork, better social skills, critical thinking, and leadership skills. These skills improve academics and how to relate better with their peers. Peers are a vital part of a student’s life. Extracurricular activities allow students to meet and spend time with new people and forming new friendships.

Increased academics, improved self-esteem and belonging, time management, and meeting new peers are just a few benefits. Other benefits include:

Sense of commitment

Students who participate in extracurricular activities have a sense of responsibility for the activity they are involved in. This responsibility is because as they take part in a sport or club, they have to commit to it and give their all. Learning commitment extends to all other areas of their lives.

Productive Breaks

In Daniel Pink’s Keynote at FETC20, he stressed the importance of “breaks,” and we need more, not less of them in schools. Extracurricular activities give students something fun to do aside from school. It also gives students the chance to explore things students may be interested in academics. Extracurricular activities provide the opportunity to get outside (for some), exercise, see friends, pursue a hobby or destress and refresh their minds. Participating in activities will help limit the time students are spending in front of a TV or computer screen.

Less Screen Time

If children participate in after-school activities, they will have fewer opportunities to consume media. Instead, they will learn new, useful skills. I won’t turn this into a screen time blog, but shift back to one of the positives of extracurricular is students are off their phones or way from X-Box and engage in person with peers.

Decreased Risk of Obesity

Students who participate in sports will lead healthier lives, be physically fit, and be more active than their peers who do not participate in activities.

Boost a Resume

Extracurricular activities are excellent to include on a college application as evidence of balanced interests and talents. Participation in activities can indicate that a student can work as part of a team, drive to reach and improve on goals, and commit to attending regular meetings or practices. If students earn a leadership position, that role immediately catches the eye of enrollment professionals.

Join In

Our goal as educators is to be a part of a student’s journey to becoming the best individual they can be. Extracurricular activities provide students the ability to develop many skills to become well rounded. Being part of a group or team provides a sense of belonging, with extracurricular activities offering an opportunity for students to interact with others with similar interests and potentially build friendships outside of their usual circle. Extracurricular activities can help increase thinking and problem-solving in ways that traditional classrooms often can’t match up.

Extracurricular programs are fun and offer students the chance to spend time with peers of similar interests. Yes, the classroom can encourage and develop many professional skills, but extracurriculars can take learning and add relevance to put learned skills into practice.

Extracurricular activities should not be considered “extra” but weaved into the fabric of school culture.

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