But, another option is one that I frequently recommend: Getting students connected to extracurricular activities.
Research proves that student connectivity leads to success in school, as well as college and/or a career beyond school.
As students mature into adolescence, they begin to expand their interest areas and want to try new and different activities. At the same time, students start to resist the parent involvement at school, leaving parents at a loss for ways to be involved with their child. Many extracurricular activities have a parent component that allows parents a means to stay connected with their student at school.
We often see this stretch toward independence at middle and high school. During this time, young people develop their identity. They develop a sense of self and how they fit in the world around them. Exposing students to multiple opportunities allows them to distinguish their interests, while also developing relationships with students of similar interests.
Whether it is a club, music, the arts or athletics, studies have consistently demonstrated higher achievement of students that are connected to school beyond the school day.
The National Federation of State High School Associations compiled several studies over the past two decades and summarized their findings in “The Case for High School Activities.” The numbers included in the study are staggering. Students who spend no time in an after-school activity are 49 percent more likely to use drugs and 37 percent more likely to be a teen parent than those that spend 1-4 hours a week in an extracurricular activity.
The Harvard Educational Review concluded extracurricular activities are one of the few interventions that benefit students of low economic status. In one study, music students performed 11 percent higher on the SAT than non-music students. Yet another study demonstrated that students in athletics miss nearly half as many days of school as non-athletes, and have significantly fewer discipline referrals.
Further, a disproportionately higher number of corporate CEOs participated in extracurricular activities.
The picture is quite clear — extracurricular activities profoundly shape the lives of young people.
Unfortunately, school budgets have become tighter and tighter. Emphasis on maintaining programming and avoiding staff downsizing has been a priority. Many look to extracurricular activities as the place to make cuts.
However, the evidence is overwhelming that cutting extracurricular programming would be contradictory to what is best for student academic achievement. Extracurricular programs are in reality co-curricular programs, because they go hand in hand with the academic program.
Getting your student connected may be the most important step a parent takes in middle and high school. School counselors, principals and classroom teachers are go-to resources for a menu of options that would best fit the student.
We are fortunate to live in a community that embraces a comprehensive education. Those that take advantage can make a world of difference.
— Kevin Polston is principal of Lakeshore Middle School in Grand Haven.