Today, schools across the RGV have a range of extracurricular activities for every student to enjoy. In fact, when it comes to college applications, it is pretty much expected that students not only be successful academically, but that they have proven themselves to be well-rounded and involved in a variety of programs. This has made its way down to the elementary level, with parents getting kids started early to give them the best chance for success. But some parents may wonder whether being involved in extracurricular activities is actually good for children.
The good news is that, yes, generally, it is. Though there might be concerns about students being overscheduled, or it seems tough for parents to squeeze everything in, overall, extracurricular activities like sports, music, clubs, and more have a positive effect on students in many ways.
According to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 57 percent of children between 6 and 17 years old participate in at least one after-school activity. When talking with teachers across the Valley, they agreed that, in general, those students who participate in after-school activities are clearly more successful academically but also have also gained valuable social skills, exhibiting more compassion, confidence, as well as showing an understanding of expectations for behavior.
“In general, it’s accepted that extracurricular activities are good for kids,” said Dr. Alicia Noyola, chief academic officer of Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District. “They start to get better grades, higher test scores, and attendance is impacted.”
She also pointed out the intangible benefits. “They learn to lead, and they also learn to follow.” Leadership skills are often emphasized, but the importance of knowing how to follow and being part of a team can be an extremely important skill in many future endeavors. “Sometimes you take the lead and sometimes you have to follow. It’s all a joint effort,” Noyola said, adding that when looking at Harlingen’s top-ranked students over the years, they are always very involved and successful across the board.
To encourage participation in extracurricular activities, many of the schools highlight their programs by holding special events like science night at the elementary and middle school levels, where you might find robotics teams or engineering clubs doing demonstrations to inspire young minds and expose them to what programs are available. Many of the activities like sports teams and music groups often sell themselves, but these organizations also do plenty of outreach by participating in pep rallies at feeder schools or holding end-of-year combined choir, band, or orchestra concerts with incoming ninth-graders.
IDEA Public Schools across the RGV have recently taken an interesting approach with their 21st Century Community Learning Centers program which is facilitated by a grant awarded from the Texas Education Agency. According to TEA, the goal of the program is to create community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities for children to meet state and local standards in core academic subjects.
“One of the common misconceptions that people have about IDEA is that we focus just on academics, which is absolutely true, but we also offer opportunities that students don’t get during the school days,” IDEA’s 21st Century Program Regional Director Militza Stair said. In addition to sports, music and more, the grant program offers extra enrichment activities particularly for struggling students.
“We’re looking to extend the school day beyond what students would typically attend, and we’re targeting our highest priority students in hopes of engaging them longer,” Stair said. “They’re getting the extra academic support they need, improving grades, social and emotional health.”
In addition to activities for students, research has shown that parental involvement and having someone at home who is invested in the student improves academics as well as student satisfaction and behavior. Through the 21st Century program, IDEA campuses throughout the Valley have also reached out to parents in the community by providing ESL classes, Gear Up college awareness events, and even assistance with things like income tax preparation. So far, the program has shown great improvements in students along with excellent participation and a 96.7 percent persistence rate of the over 10,000 participants. With 100 percent graduation and 100 percent of students attending college, IDEA’s programs have proven to be very effective.
Depending on the child, some may feel comfortable participating in activities one day of the week whereas others might stay every day. With the help of their teachers and maybe encouraging them to try out something new, students may begin looking forward to school, which can have long-lasting effects on their education. With participation in after-school programs boasting proven social, emotional, and educational benefits, as well as the amazing variety of opportunities available to suit each child, parents should definitely consider finding an activity that sparks their child’s interest and leaves them with a desire to learn.