If you haven’t heard, there is a new school finance bill trying to make its way to a vote in the Kansas House of Representatives. In case you didn’t know, last year, Kansas did away with its old school funding formula (because it was too complicated) and replaced it with the new block grants that we saw this year. I’m not here to talk about the block grants, although I do feel comfortable stating for the record that public education in Kansas is not adequately funded, which the Supreme Court has also stated. In fact, school funding has been found unconstitutional in the state of Kansas, and if our elected officials don’t get it sorted out before the June deadline, schools will not open up in the fall. Again, I’m not here to give you a report on all of this, but if you’re not familiar with school finance in Kansas, give it a quick Google. Hint: It won’t be quick. Back to the bill I want to speak on for a few moments – it wouldn’t actually give public education any more money, but it would redistribute how it is spent, and quite frankly, it uses a more confusing formula than the one that was nixed before our lovely block grants. The new bill would highly restrict how school districts would able to spend their state aided funds. I could probably write a separate blog post on almost all of these restrictions (and I may), but for example, we wouldn’t be able to use state aid to pay for food services, because having well-fed students has nothing to do with delivering effective instruction. (Also, there is wording in the bill that allows for our state aid to fund private schools – let’s save those opinions for another day, shall we?) The bill restricts school districts from using state funding to pay for anything that doesn’t directly affect classroom instruction. What this blog post is going to mainly defend is how, contrary to some legislators’ beliefs, extracurricular activities do indeed have an instructional impact on our students. You see, extracurricular activities are one thing (of many) that the bill specifically outlines that state funding could NOT be used for. And let’s just say, that doesn’t settle well with me.
I’m not here to spit research or statistics at you. I’m here to speak from the heart. I may not have statistics, but I have stories. I haven’t spent hours researching the effects of extracurricular activities on students’ lives, but I have lived it. I’ve seen it as a student, as a teacher, as a coach, and now as an administrator. And while that may not be enough in some people’s eyes to qualify me as “educated” on the topic, I’ll take my experiences any day over the “numbers” that some of our legislators may have, although they’ve never worked in a public education institution and seen first hand the impact these activities have on students.
If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in a classroom as an educator, you’d know that each student is motivated by something different. Some students are motivated to learn just for the sake of learning. Some are motivated because they know their parents won’t accept anything less than their best. Heck, we have students whose expectations for themselves exceed those of their parents. But guess what, we don’t just teach those students. We teach those students who are motivated by external factors as well. And guess what one of those external factors is for a good portion of our student body – the ability to participate in an extracurricular activity. Now, I want to make it clear, that although a good portion of the rest of my blog post will revolve around athletics, that athletics are not the only thing at stake here, and every other extracurricular activity is just as important, carries just as much weight, and can have just as big of an impact on a student’s life.
Life As A Student Athlete
First, let me tell you about the things that I gained from playing high school sports. (How much time do you have?)
Time management. When you are playing a high school sport, you typically either have a game or practice every day after school. Sometimes, you don’t get home until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And guess what – you still have homework to do, tests to study for, projects to work on. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it possible? Absolutely. You might struggle at first, but being a student athlete teaches you early on how to manage your time, work efficiently, and prioritize. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yep.
How to interact with adults. Sometimes when playing a high school sport, we are put in situations where we have to communicate with our superiors (adults) in uncomfortable ways for adolescents. For example, we have to learn to advocate for ourselves, and we have to learn to listen to reasoning from our coaches, and deal with news that maybe we don’t want to hear. We can’t just “change teams” because we don’t get along with the coach – we have to find a way to work through the situation in a respectful way, and find a solution that works. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I’d hope so.
Effective communication. Sometimes, you take on the role of a leader in a high school sport. You work with underclassmen and your peers to assimilate them to the program. You work with them to build camaraderie, and ultimately to work towards the same goal. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I vote yes.
Overcoming difficult situations. Losing is hard. But you know what? Sometimes it happens. What I learned in high school sports is that a loss is only as good as what you can learn from it. Also, sometimes, giving your best isn’t good enough. (That’s a hard pill to swallow.) You can give it your all and still lose. You use that as motivation to get better, work harder, and stop making excuses. Do I still apply that to my life today? Yes. Has playing high school sports helped develop my grit and overall ability to cope with situations that just plain stink? Yes. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Absolutely.
Dependability/Personal Responsibility. On the softball field, I had eight girls depending on me to do my job every pitch. On the basketball court, four other girls counted on me, just as I counted on them. They counted on me to put my best into practice every day, to push myself to become better, and to push them to become better. They counted on me to run the plays that coach set forth, and to work within the system that had been designed for us. They counted on me to pull my weight, to do my fair share, to contribute. If you didn’t do these things, you didn’t play. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? Yes.
Commitment – This one is directly related to dependability and personal responsibility mentioned above. When you make a commitment to a team, you see it through to the end – you don’t flake out. Is this something that we want to teach our students within the walls and time frame of our school day? I think especially today, it’s a resounding yes.
Working with people you don’t get along with. I learned that just because a teammate and I didn’t get along off the court or field, it didn’t mean that we couldn’t be good teammates to each other. I’ll let that one sit for a minute, because this is something several adults have a hard time with as well.
Bottom line – if you think that these skills – these soft skills that are a huge push in education right now – are not a vital part of a students’ success in the K-12 public education system, I’d argue that you haven’t spent much time in a classroom lately. If you tell me that these skills don’t play a part in a student’s ability to effectively receive instruction, and a teacher’s ability to effectively deliver instruction, again, I’d argue that you haven’t seen these things in action. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for many of our students to gain these ever-important skills.
Life As A Teacher and Coach
Coaches. It’s easy to look at their positions as an easy “cut” to the budget and a place to save money. But what are we losing as a result? We’re losing mentors to our students. For many of our student athletes, they develop a bond with their coaches that go beyond the playing field. They look to their coaches as role models and adult leaders in their lives. Can teachers play this role? Yes, I’ve known many who do this every day to many students. But again, I argue – would we reach all of our students? Some of our students form stronger relationships with coaches than teachers – to no fault of the teacher. I know that when I was a teacher struggling to build a relationship with a student athlete, who was one of the first people I went to for advice? Their coach. Their coach would either give me advice on how to best reach that student, or the coach would work with that student to be more successful in my class. And as a coach, I had teachers coming to me for the same reasons. Sometimes, if a student doesn’t want to work hard for a teacher, they may not want to let their coach down, and working together, we can help that student find success.
As a coach, I was able to work with more students than I would have in my classroom alone, and I feel so blessed to have been a part of these young ladies’ lives. As a high school coach, you work with every skill level of athlete, from beginners to the elite, and you teach each one how to find success, and you help them through many of life’s ups and downs. I’ve been there for student athletes who needed academic support. I’ve been there for student athletes to help them overcome the typical adversity and pressure of the sport which they wear very heavily on their shoulders. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were going through a divorce. I’ve been there for student athletes whose mental health was not stable, and they were engaging in less than healthy behaviors. I’ve been there for student athletes whose parents were not supportive, and they were looking for approval elsewhere. I’ve been there for student athletes who have gone through more tragedy in their lives than anyone deserves, and were looking for something positive to pull from their day. I’ve been there to teach a student athlete how to win with grace, and lose with dignity. I’ve been privileged to pass along all the lessons that I was able to learn as a student athlete, and hope that I have had a positive influence on our next generation of student athletes. If I was not afforded this opportunity to coach, I would never have met some of these young ladies. Would they have found another mentor? It’s hard to say.
This point is pretty simple to make. Students who have “bought in” to their school are more likely to succeed in school academically. When you see school as a positive place to be that provides you opportunities, and you have multiple positive adult relationships, you’re more likely to put more effort into your school work. Why do you think that one of the first steps that poor performing schools take is to build up morale and school spirit within their students? When a student takes pride in their school, they take pride in doing their part to make their school great, including in academics. Disengaged students tend to do the opposite. I’m pretty sure there is research to support this, but talk to any teacher, and they’ll tell you this trend is accurate. Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for students to buy in to their school.
Opportunities For Our Students
Do some student athletes have the opportunity to play club sports? Yes, there’s no doubt. Do all of our student athletes have this opportunity? Absolutely not. In fact, there are some sports, where their primary season is the high school season. High school athletics afford students the opportunity to play at a level higher than recreational sports do, and provide opportunities for students to try to reach the next level – college. We are all about trying to find opportunities to get our students scholarships for college. Many of these are academic scholarships. Several of these scholarships require that students are involved in extracurricular activities. Some students even receive athletic scholarships. Guess what these athletic scholarships require? Certain academic standards need to be met. So if a student seeks an athletic scholarship, let’s say for cross country, they’ll also be motivated to meet that college’s academic requirements to be accepted into their school. And if cross country wasn’t offered at our school because we couldn’t afford to fund it from our local taxes, that student may never get looked at for said scholarship. I would hope the state wouldn’t want to take these types of opportunities away from our students.
Focus on the Whole Child
It will be a sad day when we stop focusing on the development the “whole child,” and we are only concerned with the old three Rs of education – Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic. We have come so far from those days in order to support the ever growing needs of our students, and to provide them with opportunities that did not used to exist. Let’s please not go back. Instead, let’s look ahead to our potential new accreditation system, and 5 better Rs that are being proposed within it: Rigor, Relationships, Relevance, Responsive Culture, and Results.
We Want It All – It’s What’s Best For Kids
Do I think that athletics are more important than providing sound instruction in the classroom? Absolutely not. I’m simply trying to make a point – extracurricular activities support what we do in the classroom and help us reach more students who may otherwise remain disengaged from school. Do I think that we should take funds out of the classroom and into extracurriculars? No. Call me crazy, but I want to have my cake and eat it too. And is that such a bad thing when all you really want is to see opportunities for kids? I’d like to see a bill come across that supports extracurriculars (and everything else this bill undermines) AND puts substantial money into teaching staff so that our schools can continue to grow in their academic offerings. When you get into the field of education, you’re constantly thinking through the lens of “What’s best for kids?” It’s unfortunate that many of our elected officials do not go through this thought process as well. (And thank you to those who do.) So where does the answer lie? I’m no economist, but I think this comes with a responsible tax formula, and not by robbing Peter to pay Paul, and certainly not by taking away opportunities from tomorrow’s leaders. So, as voters in the state of Kansas, let’s stay aware of the types of bills that are trying to make their way through the legislature, and advocate for our public schools.