Get involved: the benefits of extra/co-curricular activities in school and beyond

When people discuss the value of extracurricular or co-curricular activities they often cite how good they look on college resumes or how they can help a student be more “well-rounded.” For those who take part in after-school sports and activities, the value goes far beyond these faint praises. For many of us, the memories from our time spent with a team, troupe, or club are some of our most cherished memories from school. For others, they are the only reason they even attended.

There is no doubt that being involved in a variety of activities can help students transition to life after high school in a variety of ways. “I got involved in a dance group my first year of college and was just elected president of that group for a second year,” said former MHS student Hailey Palleschi, “all thanks to everything I learned from being involved in extra-curricular activities in high school.”

For some students, their extra or co-curricular activities were the tipping point that got them into the college of their choice or even won them a scholarship that made attending college possible. For others, their after-school activities set them on their career path and gave them the skills they needed to succeed. “Getting involved with my fellow students helped me break out of my introverted shell and learn to work with others cooperatively,” said ‘04 graduate Shea Ellis who was an active participant in Drama and Pep Band.  “The skills I learned in both of those extracurricular activities still benefit me in my adult life, both as a performer and business owner/music teacher.” Ellis is now an active musician and owns Mountain Road Music in Cape Neddick where he offers private lessons on multiple instruments.

There is also little doubt that participation in sports and clubs helps students build so many of the “soft” skills that employers are looking for. Brittany Hanson, who participated in Lirima Women’s Choir and was varsity cheer captain for most of her high school career, claims she initially got involved because her mother had a rule that her kids had to participate in after-school activities or find a job. “My mom was wise and knew that extracurricular activities were important,” she said. “My involvement taught me the value of hard work, discipline, perseverance, teamwork, friendship, and how to set goals and achieve them.”

Longtime coach and MMS Athletic Director John Lisa agrees. “My belief is that the lessons learned on the field/court/stage are life lessons,” said Lisa. “Sacrifice, pushing yourself, achieving your potential, performing under pressure, being proud of your achievements, accepting defeat gracefully, and enjoying victory with humility are some of the many lessons learned for those who choose to participate in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. When we combine the lessons and learning in the classroom with the lessons and learning on the field/court/stage we have the education of the whole child. We have a student who has received the complete package.”

Just as important as the long term benefits that extracurricular activities offer is the day to day support they provide students during their time in school. For many students, their after-school activities are where they forged the friendships that saw them through. “The love and bonding I received from my drama family in those years gave me some happy times during some rather dark times in my life,” said 2009 graduate Hanna Gerrier.  “That is something I will carry with me always. I can only hope my children have an opportunity like I did to make such wonderful memories in their high school years.”

Providing a wide variety of extra and co-curricular activities is the best way to make sure every student has that opportunity for connection. At Messalonskee alone, there are multiple options to explore, even for more reserved students who tend to shy away from the attention that comes with athletic or performance groups. The GSTA  provides a place for students to gather safely and share ideas and experiences related to identity. The Civil Rights Team provides students with in-depth knowledge of issues surrounding the six categories of the Maine Civil Rights Act:  race and skin color, national origin and ancestry, religion, disabilities, gender (including gender identity and expression), and sexual orientation. Both groups projects and events teach students to solve problems creatively and work together to raise awareness and make a difference. Messalonskee Players’ Crew, the technical side of the drama productions, allows students to demonstrate a variety of abilities that are not typically assessed or celebrated in the curriculum.  For instance, students have been able to contribute their knowledge of welding, building construction, mask-making, and jewelry making. Students can also learn unique skills such as light and sound design and operation, and can even serve as student choreographers or assistant directors.

Of course, extra and co-curricular opportunities are not limited to high school. School and community groups exist for all grade levels. From Odyssey of the Mind to Running Club, younger students have many different ways to get involved and explore their passions. Early involvement in afterschool activities can also aid children’s development and boost their confidence.

Contrary to the belief that after-school activities can be detrimental for struggling students, they often provide the incentive that they need to succeed. Most extracurricular and co-curricular activities require that students maintain a certain GPA level in order to be eligible for participation. “The right coach or advisor can have a tremendous impact on a student,” said Superintendent Carl Gartley. “Teachers and parents can push a student to get their history grade up for weeks, but if one their coaches says something, sometimes that’s all it takes.”

For students that struggle with attendance and achievement, the knowledge that their team, group, coach, or advisor is relying on them can give them that extra motivation to show up in the morning. For students struggling with family issues and challenges at home, knowing that they have an adult who cares about their well being and achievement serves as a much-needed safety net. For all students, having a wide variety of extra and co-curricular activities makes our schools more welcoming and engaging.

written by Mandi Favreau


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