A wonderful free resource for families

For me, it was debate and tennis. What was it for you? The “it” in this case: extracurricular activities. For many people, including me, those were some of the most enjoyable, valuable and memorable parts of high school. And if you were fortunate, you found similar enriching, challenging activities long before high school.

Now there’s an incredibly useful, free resource that helps students, families and educators understand the vast range of academic and artistic competitions, challenges, programs and enrichment opportunities that are available to Minnesota youngsters.

The new booklet is not just for high school students. Some of the activities, programs and competitions are for elementary and middle school students.

So whether your youngster’s passion is chess, chemistry or current events, or math, music or mock trials, I’d urge you to get a copy of “Reach for the Stars.”

Educators statewide have teamed with Minnesota’s Synergy and Leadership Exchange and Lifetouch, a national photography company, to publish this great catalog. Reach for the Stars includes almost 100 academic and artistic competitions, challenges, programs and enrichment opportunities. It’s at www.synergyexchange.org/Edu cate/Reach.aspx.

Copies of the booklet are being distributed via schools and some social service agencies. Parents can request a free individual “hard copy” by calling (612) 578-3377 or sending an e-mail request to [email protected]

I did a quick “Google” search to look at research in this area. Here are two of many available.

Some years ago the U.S. Department of Education summarized research in this area. It concluded, “Extracurricular activities … offer opportunities for students to learn the values of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength and endurance, competition, diversity and a sense of culture and community. Extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing the lessons learned in the classroom, offering students the opportunity to apply academic skills in a real-world context and are thus considered part of a well-rounded education. Recent research suggests that participation in extracurricular activities may increase students’ sense of engagement or attachment to their school and thereby decrease the likelihood of school failure and dropping out.” http://nces.ed.gov/pubs95/web/95741.asp.

Here’s a second, more recent example. Journalist June Kronholz says she spent four years on her high school newspaper and 30 years at the Wall Street Journal. Last year, she summarized more recent research. She also described an interesting modern day experiment. She posted a question on the Facebook site of her college-attending sons, asking what they learned in high school that prepared them for college.

While acknowledging some fine teachers, “They wrote that extracurriculars introduced them to new ideas and interests, taught them to study more efficiently, developed their social skills and exposed them to caring adults,” she said. For a great combination of research and reflection, see her piece at  http://educationnext.org/aca demic-value-of-non-academ ics.

In compiling and publishing “Reach for the Stars,” Synergy and Leadership Exchange, Lifetouch and the educators with whom they’ve worked have given Minnesota youngsters a great gift.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Macalester College. Reactions are welcome via e-mail at [email protected].

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