Something to Think About

Heard Feb. 24, 2016, on KVOE AM

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Superintendent Theresa Davidson

Approximately 1.2 million high school students drop out of school each year. That is approximately 3 in every 10 students!   This decision alone can have a lasting and devastating impact on a young person’s future.  Studies show that it can reduce opportunities for employment by up to 90 percent and lower lifetime earnings by nearly 60 percent.  The decision not to finish high school confines many young adults to a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape.

A research study at Columbia University’s National Center for Children and Families suggests that nationwide, three times as many students involved in activities had a GPA of 3.0 or higher; twice as many scored in the top quartile on math and reading tests; and 68 percent reported plans to pursue a post-secondary degree; this, compared to 48 percent of kids who were not involved in school activities. Moreover, the odds of completing college was shown to be 179 percent higher for youngsters who take part in school-sponsored activities, and the odds of voting eight years after high school, a indication of lasting civic engagement, is 31 percent higher.  

A similar study of nearly 140,000 Kansas high school students echoed that students involved in extracurricular activities earned higher grades, graduated at a higher rate, dropped out of school less frequently, and scored higher on state assessments as compared to their peers who did not participate. 

Nonetheless, after years of steady decreases in education spending, it’s no surprise that extracurricular activities are an easy target for cuts when resources are scarce. Some argue that schools place too much emphasis on athletics and activities, especially at a time when money is sorely needed in the classroom. Yet, when one takes a close look at school expenditures, the cost of activities is a mere fraction of the budget. 

These facts resonated last month when Emporia High School Student Council members hosted the Board of Education and district administration for their annual dinner meeting. Speaking on behalf of Emporia High students, Student Council President Maite Garcia said, “We feel in a time when budget cuts are prevalent and sometimes necessary, it is always a good idea to remind those in charge of the decisions about the positive benefits of being involved. We think the stats are pretty impressive. Students who participate in activity programs tend to have higher grade-point averages, better attendance records, lower dropout rates and fewer discipline problems.  Students involved in extracurricular activities perform better in the classroom.”

In her remarks, Maite reminded board members and administrators that 740 of the more than 1,100 students at Emporia High are involved in one or more sports. That number does not account for equally high participation in theater, music, debate, and co-curricular organizations.

As a practical matter, students must maintain satisfactory grades and good behavior to remain eligible for extracurricular activities.  We know that students who make positive connections with adults outside of their household are much more likely to make positive choices and engage in healthy behaviors.  But there is no measure for the intentional life lessons of teamwork, fair play, hard work, initiative, responsibility, self-confidence and a sense of belonging.  When one considers the many life lessons learned through extra-curricular activities, it may be the best bargain for a truly indelible investment in our future. 

More than ever, Kansans are demanding higher standards in academic skills, as well as in employability and citizenship skills.  As a teacher and principal and as your superintendent, I have watched scores of teenagers discover their own interests and hidden talents through activities, the arts and athletics. As I look around our community, I see leaders young and old whose legacy stems from these early opportunities in high school.

The cost of extra-curricular programs in Kansas?  Approximately 1-3 percent of total district spending.  The cost of even one future leader?   Priceless!

I’m Theresa Davidson and THAT is something to think about!

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