This is a guest post from Nicole Praska. She is a recent University of Minnesota graduate with a degree in clinical laboratory science. For more information on this series and submitting your own perspective on education post, click here.
“The value of…education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.” -Albert Einstein
Learning does not happen exclusively in a classroom, and education is not restricted to reading, writing and arithmetic. Extracurricular activities are an important part of a student’s experience in school. Arts, sports, clubs, etc. all offer a chance to master new skill sets, branch out socially and build invaluable character traits such as responsibility and goal setting, among many others. They encourage students to step out of their comfort zone and challenge them to engage in the world in a different way.
However, not every child gets an opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. Electives such as art, music and language classes are always fighting for enough funding and oftentimes they are at risk of being cut altogether. The music program in Stillwater, Minnesota, which has the longest streak of superior ratings in the Minnesota High School League in musical competitions, has recently had to make some tough decisions. The school board proposed cutting the elementary level music program but the music teachers of the district have counter-proposed to sacrifice the high school levels (grades 10-12) instead in order to maintain the overall quality of the program. They say that in the long run, this would have a greater effect on more students and “allows for the possibility that the entire program will eventually heal.”
In sports, kids can be shut out by the politics. For many well-established programs, you either have to be really good or have parents who can dedicate time and money to make the team. Even when they do make the team, some children ride the bench all season because they aren’t exactly a star player. Yes, it feels great to win, but it’s an empty celebration if all you ever do is watch your teammates play. It’s heartbreaking, especially for parents who just want to see their kid play for a few minutes when they come to a game. I realize that not every player is equal in talent or dedication, and so equal playing time is not exactly the answer. However, whatever time and effort that kids put in during practice should not go unnoticed and should be rewarded with the chance to play during a game at some point.
As a young student, I was always busy both in and outside of the classroom. Throughout high school I was a member of student groups, a manager for the wrestling team, and I played the trumpet in the symphonic, jazz and marching bands. I also volunteered and held a part-time job, all while earning straight A’s. Most of my greatest experiences and best memories happened outside of the classroom. Every endeavor I pursued was because I wanted to do that activity, not for the bullet point on a resume. I could not have managed a schedule like that without passion and drive for the work I was doing. Yes, it got a little bit crazy sometimes, but I’ve found that at the end of the day, you will make time for the things in which you really want to invest.
As teachers, parents, mentors, and coaches, we need to help young students tap into their passions, even if they put it into only one activity. Besides the practical reasons for getting involved outside the classroom, there is a lot of intrinsic joy to be found in creating art or music, being a part of a team, or just conquering your own fears. Extracurricular activities should be accessible to all students so every child has a chance to find a purpose for their education. While class time is an integral part of the learning process, there’s a whole world out there to explore and they’ll never see it if they can’t get beyond the classroom.