As a former administrator and coach, the way I've always evaluated our extracurricular activities is with the question: 'Are we building better people'? Winning is right up there with it, but we want to keep the main goal in focus- building character and skills through participation in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Pew Research Center recently asked a national sample of adults to select among a list of ten skills with this question: “Regardless of whether or not you think these skills are good to have, which ones do you think are most important for children to get ahead in the world today?” Across the board, more respondents said communication skills were most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork, writing and logic.
If you've been part of an extracurricular activity, whether it's a sports team, orchestra, speech, mock trial, or Spanish club, I'm sure you can testify to the value of those activities in teaching teamwork and communication. When you are involved in a group effort like band, you learn to work together, to hold others in your section accountable, and to overcome obstacles in order to make great music. When you play on a sports team and have a loss, you learn to encourage your teammates, to stick together, and to continue to work hard. It's worth noting that the skills they need to succeed are the same, whether a student goes into the workforce, or goes on to college.
Another essential ingredient that students need for success is obvious: they need to graduate from high school, and continue on with some sort of post secondary training. One good way to do that, according to a recent study in Social Science Research, is participation in extracurricular activities with peers who are studious. According to the study, participating in any extracurricular activity during high school increased the odds of a student enrolling in college. When paired in those activities with peers who have higher-than-normal grade point averages, students are twice as likely to continue on their academic careers after high school. Our district was one of the first in the state to join the initiative to raise the dropout age to 18, but we want to do more than just force students to stay in school. We want to give them a connection to school that makes them want to be there. Extracurricular activities are one way to achieve that.
So, win or lose, whether you participate in a competitive activity like tennis or a cooperative effort like pep band, the big objective is the same: to keep students in school, to keep them engaged, to give them the opportunity to learn skills like teamwork and communication that will serve them well in life.
I know I'm biased, but in Paducah Public Schools we have a long, outstanding record of being excellent in all our extracurricular activities. We do that because that is what is best for each and every student. We can't do that without the support of our extracurricular activities by friends, family, and community. So thank you, moms and dads who drive your kids to games, to aunts and uncles who come to games, to community friends who come to band performances and plays. Every hour you give to show up at our kids’ games and performances, and every dollar you spend to support our kids makes a difference.