‘Create A Spark’
Extracurriculars Are An Important Part Of JPS Education
“We want to create a ‘spark’ in our students early on to become involved in extracurricular activities,” said Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Bret Apthorpe. “It is a goal of the district to have every student in our schools involved in, at the very least, one extracurricular activity during their time at Jamestown. But we hope they pursue more than one based on their interests and goals. We are all moving forward as a district to meet this goal.”
Apthorpe’s goal is one that many school districts face — how to get kids more involved in extracurricular activities. To meet this objective, the district has recently begun to study data related to student participation in extracurricular activities.
According to Jessie Joy, chief information officer, “We know that extracurricular involvement is so strongly correlated with student success in school. Because of this, we are tracking how many students are involved in school activities so that we can set goals for improvement, particularly among the most under-represented groups.”
At Apthorpe’s request, Joy developed a measure, called the Extracurricular Index, that reflects the percentage of students involved in one or more school activities.
Joy says that the baseline data for 2018-19 showed that “only 46% of students in middle and high school were reported as involved in one or more clubs, sports, or music ensembles. That means over half of our students aren’t involved in any school activities.” Joy added, “I believe we can do better than that by looking at whether there are opportunities that we can provide that will appeal to more students, and by engaging our principals and counselors to help students find the right match for their interests.” As more students become involved in more activities, Joy expects the Extracurricular Index to help the district to track this growth while also identifying areas in which to improve.
Engaging in extracurricular activities affords children so many benefits because experiences outside of school have just as much impact as ones during the school day. Not only does participating in extracurricular activities boost “soft skills” needed in the world like teamwork, but also helps a child’s self-esteem and resilience. Studies also show that participation in extracurriculars can also help boost academic performance and attendance. Many students also benefit from the access to adult mentors who might be missing from their lives. These important benefits are why the district is currently working on ways to increase their extracurricular participation at all levels.
JPS Athletic Director, Ben Drake, increased promotions this summer through social media and Blackboard Connect for all middle and high school students letting them know about sports that need more participation like soccer, swimming and cross country. Visits were also made to all three middle school physical education classes last year to pass out information on the different sports available to play at both the middle and high school levels and answer any questions that students might have about the programs.
“The challenge we have, which many schools do, is that there are so many outside activities competing for our kid’s attention,” said Mr. Drake. “Nationwide, athletic participation dropped last year for the first time in 30 years. We also know that participation in youth sports in declining as well. This data serves as a reminder that we have to work harder to involve more students in these vital programs,” Drake also stated, “I hope there is not a perception that you need to pay money to play sports in Jamestown. Our school district supplies everything that student-athletes need, with the exception of shoes and spikes. And, if an athlete can’t afford shoes we work with them to make sure they get them. We don’t want any barriers to kids getting involved in our athletic program.”
The district is also looking into Esports, through a community committee, as a way to involve more kids in extracurriculars. Esports is a form of competition using video games. Students from different schools face off online to compete in popular video games. Rather than gaming in isolation, Esports offers students an opportunity to come together after school and form a school team. In just the past year, the number of schools represented by the High School Esports League (HSEL) has grown from around 200 to more than 1,200.
Arts & Music
In addition to athletics, the fine and performing arts are important for student success. In addition to the regular classroom time in music and art, there are many ways students can get involved in the fine and performing arts including playing an instrument in the band and orchestras, joining the Winterguard, singing in school choirs, participating in school musicals and joining drama and art clubs.
“Our goal in the fine and performing arts is to start early with our elementary school students getting them interested in the arts and helping them decide what would be the best for them to pursue depending on their interests,” said Jamie Berg, JPS’ Coordinator of Humanities. “This is important because most students begin playing an instrument or join chorus in fifth grade. We encourage students to start in middle school because by the time they get to JHS, it may be more difficult to participate. All students take art as a class in elementary and middle school but we need to make middle school students aware of all the amazing art classes they have to choose from at JHS so that they can take the classes that they might have an interest in, such as cartooning or arts and crafts, for either a hobby or a potential career.”
Every child who plays a musical instrument receives free lessons during the day but a concern the district has been addressing in recent years is the barrier for a student who wants to play an instrument but can’t afford to rent one. The district has committed $100,000 a year to purchase new musical instruments to alleviate the need for students to rent if they cannot afford to. In addition, the Jamestown School PROMISE Fund recently held a Musical Instrument Drive, which donated $15,735 in musical instruments and $1,491 in monetary donations.
Jamestown schools offer a wide range of activities to meet the interests and needs of our students. Some of the clubs offered around the district include: culture, board games, Battle of the Books, history, running, ukulele, astronomy, mock trial, Raider Readers, environmental, Boys Who Code/Girls Who Code, sewing and foreign language to name just a few. In order to increase participation in clubs, schools have been given additional funding to create new clubs. Schools are going out of their way to promote extracurricular activities with brochures and more information on what is available.
“There are many kids who have really specific interests and may or may not want to do sports, music or art but want to be involved, and would benefit from, being involved in a club,” said Dr. Apthorpe. “We want to ensure that all our kids have the opportunity to pursue their interests at Jamestown schools and we will continue to expand and promote our extracurricular activities so that every student reaps the benefits of these experiences.”