The Alliance for Student Activities is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the value of student activities. Through printed materials, videos, and live presentations, the Alliance provides compelling information about the importance of student activities in increasing standardized test scores, lowering the dropout rate, and improving social and emotional outcomes.
AS THE PRIMARY LEADERS of our nation’s schools, principals have an enormous responsibility. They are charged with facilitating a quality education for each and every student who walks through the classroom doors. And while mandates often require schools to “teach to the test,” many administrators are discovering that academics alone are not enough to prepare their students for a promising future. Instead, the most successful administrators understand that academics and a vibrant student activities program go hand in hand.
FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, the Minneapolis-based Search Institute has been seeking to define the language of human thriving. In 2003, they joined with experts at Tufts University, Stanford University, and Fuller Theological Seminary to conduct a series of studies aimed at explaining and promoting positive youth development. The researchers discovered that the presence of adult mentors—or champions—is a critical factor in a student’s ability to thrive.
WHEN WE TALK ABOUT CHARACTER EDUCATION, topics like service learning, social-emotional instruction, leadership, respect, honesty, and compassion come to mind. But recently, societal factors like poverty, parental attitudes, and an emphasis on academics have chipped away at the attention given to character education in our schools and our homes. In order to teach the whole child, we must include character development as a nonnegotiable element in the education equation. Student activities offer a perfect venue for providing kids with the skills and ideals to face the world as responsible, caring, and contributing citizens.
THE RESEARCH SUPPORTS A COMMON-SENSE TRUTH. When students find their school’s climate to be supportive and stimulating, they are more likely to thrive: academic, social, and behavioral outcomes improve. Included in the research is Search Institute’s extensive study of developmental assets. Many of the attributes defined by the institute as critical to healthy development—including student engagement, creative activities, and a caring school climate—are rooted in our schools. But with today’s educators already juggling a full plate of responsibilities, the challenge to build a healthy school environment can seem daunting.
IN THE REAL WORLD, competition comes with the territory. People regularly compete for rewards, recognition, jobs, and promotions. So it should come as no surprise that competitions at the high school level can provide big benefits for student participants. By offering opportunities to showcase and develop skills and talents through real-world scenarios, quality competitions can help students boost their confidence, build marketable skills, and gain valuable feedback from industry experts.
THE SECRET TO STUDENT SUCCESS doesn’t have to be a mystery. Most youth advocates understand that students thrive when given opportunities to practice their “spark”—an activity that captures interest, allows for creative expression, and motivates each unique student to be his or her best. Unfortunately, too many of today’s students are in danger of losing their spark. Budget cuts, scheduling constraints, and renewed directives to teach to the test have reduced creative opportunities for young people to shine. An alarming 75 percent of today’s kids feel disconnected from their schools and communities.
A WEALTH OF CREDIBLE RESEARCH demonstrates that student participation in civic-related activities leads to improved outcomes for individual students and the collective community.1 But as academic pressure to perform continues to mount in our schools, today’s civics courses are often scratch-the-surface summaries about the basics of government. Although this approach might fulfill the citizenship criterion on a list of required credits, these crash courses fail to empower students to become active participants in their own civic learning. In order to develop the skills and dispositions that lead to a lifetime of meaningful civic engagement, young people need regular opportunities to serve as active, impactful citizens in their schools and communities.
WHILE MANY EDUCATORS ACKNOWLEDGE THE VALUE of extracurricular, cocurricular, and after-school activities in helping students thrive, securing sustainable funding for these programs can be a daunting task. Although the cost for a viable activities program in most districts is less than three percent of the overall budget, it can be difficult to claim these dollars when finances are already stretched to the limit. But for stakeholders who believe in their programs and are willing to invest elbow grease and advocacy, funding is available, obtainable, and worth the effort.
THE EVIDENCE IS TOO IMPORTANT TO IGNORE. Student activities offer an affordable, common-sense strategy for keeping kids in school and helping them to thrive. So how can educators ensure that all students are engaged, especially those who are at risk of slipping through the cracks? An easy-to-use web-based application from the Alliance for Student Activities and Software 4 Schools is providing the answers. With ENGAGE, educators can efficiently map activity participation, measure performance, and build a community that offers nurturing connections for all students.