Today the Bangor Daily News reported that “Maine students say school does not challenge them.” My short response: duh. I graduated from high school 11 years ago and I felt unchallenged then. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but I’m pleased that Maine officials are starting to articulate accurately where our educational gaps are.
(Let’s set aside my utter distaste for the blind cuts our governor is making; clearly I’m an advocate for education funding. The governor’s disregard and ignorance of what educators need to be successful, to be blunt, pisses me off. Let’s recognize that the damage has been done, yet we still have a duty to our students. Let’s make the best of this.)
So K-12 teachers across the state are being stretched thinner and thinner. Indeed, this has repercussions that affect an entire generation of our youth. Besides just keeping our wits about us, how do we provide a well-rounded and yet broad spectrum of education to our Maine students on the shoe-string budget currently being enacted? How do we challenge these students who proclaim themselves to be bored in class? A large part of the solution lies in co-curricular activities.
Co-curricular activities include programs like chess, math team, Destination Imagination, service organizations, Model State/UN, theater, pep band, academic decathlon, and forensics (of course). It’s the stuff that happens after school that borrows and expands on the courses offered during school. These programs are less or more structured, bigger or smaller groups, and sometimes sneakily disguised as “fun.” The leaders are often teachers, but also include community members and professionals with no teaching certificates. It takes a passionate person to dedicate time to these programs because they rarely pay well. And that’s largely okay! You could argue that because co-curriculars don’t pay well, they encourage the best of the best to take the role. (Of course I’d love to see my coaching salary double, but I don’t coach for the money.)
It’s not uber cheap to run co-curriculars. Forensics, chess, and math team would be cheap if it weren’t for the bus trips to tournaments. Honestly, I’m not sure how these programs compare to the expense of paying a teacher to run a classroom for a new AP course, but I’d bet there’s a significant enough contrast. Plus, a lot of these after school programs build fundraising into the activity, putting part of the burden of maintaining the activity onto the students and families, not the school. Complain all you want about how many kids knock on your door to sell candles, cookies, raffle tickets, or flat out beg for money, but these kids—the ones who are exercising critical thinking, creativity, and goodwill—will graduate and be running your government, tending to your medical needs, engineering your streets and parks, teaching your grandchildren, serving your food, and building your technology. Do you want shoddy results?
Colleges already recognize that public schools struggle to maintain solid core curriculums. As a result they hunt down the graduates who participated in co-curricular activities. It’s not just about finding those who put in the extra effort, but those who exercise their minds beyond the minimum requirements. At this point, co-curriculars are seen as extra programs for students to opt into, but if we shift our priorities to make them more formal supplements to core curriculum, we will have an economical and efficient part-solution to our students’ boredom. We barely have to establish anything other than thought-shift. Let’s recognize the benefits—no, the results of co-curricular programming and start encouraging students to expand their education to already-established programs. If administrators and community members saw co-curriculars as more than just something to do after school, they could encourage more academic integration:
- An English classroom could recruit the drama team to help breathe life into literature.
- Civics could host a formal debate.
- Health class could include volunteer experiences to spur discussion on mental or medical health.
- Math team competitors could share problem-solving strategies with those struggling with the subject.
Certainly placing an emphasis on co-curricular programming doesn’t absolve our system of maintaining and increasing the integrity of core subjects; the point is to supplement. Plenty of schools already have some sort of co-curricular programming; the key is to recognize it and encourage it as part of the core curriculum. Perhaps we needn’t worry so much about the student who’s blazed through every science class by sophomore year if there are co-curricular opportunities.
Posted in Commentary |