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Attending a comprehensive high school is part of the unique experience of receiving a public education in the United States. According to the Webster Dictionary the word comprehensive is an adjective to describe “including many, most or all things”. The fact that American high schools attempt to be all things to all people should be cause for celebration and in fact, is part of what’s great about our schools.
The purpose of our schools is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and graduate prepared for college and career. However, learning should include not just academic, but social and emotional growth as well. Participating in one of the many extracurricular activities offered by a comprehensive high school can provide a student with a multitude of opportunities for collaboration, leadership, and to express their creativity. These opportunities come from participation in not only traditional athletic and fine arts programs but clubs as well. At most comprehensive high schools, almost any student can find a club to meet his or her interest. At my previous district we had clubs that met a variety of students desires including meat society, conspiracy club junior statesmen, knitting club and fishing club.
An extracurricular activity is sometimes the factor that drives a reluctant student to come to school. The truth of the matter is that most teens, at one time are another, are reluctant to come to school. Students who see some or all of the academic work as rote or drudgery find their time participating in an extracurricular to be the most interesting part of the day. The growth and learning that occurs during clubs, sports and activities can seem effortless because the student is engaged in an activity in which they have high interest.
Athletics, arts and clubs are part of what make our schools special and are often what our students remember most fondly from their years in high school. As adults, there are one or two special teachers who stand out in our minds, but almost every adult has a variety of memories of high school from playing in “the big game”, to cheering their team on to victory, to performing in a music ensemble or drama production or perhaps watching a friend give a performance they never thought possible.
Although the economy is now on the upswing, when things get rough again, surely one of the first conversations about how to save money will be to cut arts, clubs or athletics. These discussions often ignore the irrefutable fact that these activities offer invaluable learning and leadership opportunities for our students. If we define twenty-first education skills as creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking and we recognize that athletics, clubs and the fine arts foster these skills then we should actually increase opportunities for involvement of students. Some schools have gone as far as requiring that students have extra curricular involvement because they recognize the essential learning that occurs in these venues.
American high schools are often the target of negative attention in the media and by reformers. However, the notion of a comprehensive high school with a wide array of sports, clubs, fine arts opportunities and leadership opportunities for students is one area in which our schools excel. It’s part of what makes our high schools special and something to celebrate. As an educator, I’m proud of a record of decision-making that supports and expands these amazing opportunities for our students. If you have any doubt about the importance of these programs, I challenge you to attend the next performance or sporting event at your local high school and see for yourself what our students have accomplished outside of the classroom.