Extracurricular activities are “Activities, under the sponsorship or direction of a school, of the type for which participation generally is not required and credit generally is not awarded” (ERIC thesaurus, 2014). Participating in these after-school activities—including sports teams, clubs, student government, theater, etc.—can be beneficial for all students. This blog post shares what the Check & Connect Manual has to say about why it’s especially helpful for students in Check & Connect to participate in extracurriculars. These reasons fall into two main categories: engagement and relationships.
Extracurriculars and Engagement
In Check & Connect, student engagement is defined as the student’s:
- active participation in academic and co-curricular or school-related activities and
- commitment to educational goals and learning. (Check & Connect Manual, p. 6)
Extracurricular activities provide a way for students to engage at school (Check & Connect Manual, p. 63). Specifically, “participating in school activities” is a kind of behavioral engagement—one of four subtypes of engagement identified in Check & Connect. (Other kinds of behavioral engagement include attendance, behavior, and punctuality; see graphic below.)
So, Check & Connect mentors can improve students’ behavioral engagement by encouraging them to participate in extracurriculars, especially if they’ve never participated.
Conversely, Check & Connect students who are already involved in extracurricular activities have a strength or asset that mentors can build upon. The club or team gives the student a reason to come to school and another way to be missed if they don’t come. If the activity requires a certain level of academic achievement to participate, that’s a good incentive for the student to maintain or improve his/her grades.
When students engage behaviorally in extracurricular activities, they also can improve their affective engagement—that is, their feelings of identification with school, sense of belonging at school, and feelings of connectedness to school. This “identification” and “connectedness” includes feelings like school spirit and personal pride in representing one’s school. A “sense of belonging” is related to the relationships students form through extracurriculars, our second reason why Check & Connect promotes extracurricular involvement.
Extracurriculars and Relationships
Not only do extracurricular activities give students a way to participate in school life and feel connected to their school (that is, a way to engage in school behaviorally and affectively), these activities also benefit students because of the relationships students can build through them, both with school adults and with their peers. Or, as the Check & Connect Manual says,
One arena for increasing students’ positive interactions with caring adults is structured, supervised extracurricular activities. … [Researchers] speculate that extracurricular activities provide a gateway for at-risk youth to join social networks that include prosocial and academically successful peers and create a broader network of adults for students to talk to at school. (Check & Connect Manual, p. 90)
Extracurricular activities can expose participating students to both school adults and other students who they might not otherwise cross paths with during the school day. For example, especially in large high schools, students may only ever have a small fraction of school staff as teachers, but in extracurriculars, they can meet and develop relationships with other school staff who share their interests. If a student’s coach or activity advisor also happens to be their teacher, the shared extracurricular activity can help the teacher get to know the student in a different context, perhaps enabling them to connect with the student better in the classroom.
Students can also make new friends through extracurricular activities, including with students they’ve never had class with or with students in other grades. These students may become role models for Check & Connect students, showing Check & Connect students how to balance extracurricular involvement and schoolwork, or how to get along with others in informal settings.
The relationships students can form with school staff and other students through participation in extracurricular activities can motivate them to further engage in extracurriculars—and, hopefully, in other aspects of school too.
Have you seen Check & Connect students’ engagement in school improve because of their participation in extracurricular activities? Have you seen them form positive relationships with adults or peers in extracurriculars?
Note: All citations of “Check & Connect Manual” in this post refer to:
Christenson, S. L., Stout, K., & Pohl, A. (2012). Check & Connect: A comprehensive student engagement intervention: Implementing with fidelity. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.
About the Author: Chris Opsal, Ph.D., is a project coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration, contributor to the Attend-Engage-Invest blog, and member of the Check & Connect team.
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