Learn how extracurricular activities during high school or college teach skills for life.
Band (marching, concert, pep), Beta Club, Black Heritage Club, Chess Club, Chorus, Co-Ed-Y, DECA, Drama, Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Environmental Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Future Farmers of America (FFA), Health Occupations Students of America, History Club, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), Literary Club, National Scholastic Sports Program (NSSP), Pep Club, Skills USA (industrial vocational education), Spanish Club, Student Council, Student Medical Reserve Corps, Teens Opposing Alcohol and Drugs (TOAD).
There is only one high school in the small south-central town of Scottsville, but at Allen County-Scottsville High School, students have all these extracurricular activity choices in addition to the usual activities like sports and yearbook. Students at virtually every high school across the state have similar opportunities. And the choices multiply when students go off to college.
But should students join in? Do extracurricular activities help or hurt a young person's schoolwork? Do they prepare them for life or just waste time? If a student chooses to participate, how does he or she choose the right club or activity? Is there a magical number of organizations to join?
Allen County-Scottsville High faculty and staff offer the following suggestions: choose one or two clubsï¿½so you do not become overextendedï¿½that match your interests. Once you have joined, participate in activities, take leadership roles, and make the commitment to stick it out even if things get tough. If you're unsure which clubs to join, talk to your guidance counselor.
The question of whether young people should participate in extracurricular activities is "unequivocally yes," according to Jane Yokley, a guidance counselor for 17 years, first in Monroe County and now in Allen County, both served by Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation cooperative.
"It makes a difference in their lives."
"There is more to school than academics, more to school than sports and academics," Yokley says. "Every child needs to find something to be involved with other than academics. With 22 clubs plus other activities such as band and chorus here at Allen County High, students can find something that interests them. It makes a difference in their lives."
That difference can be significant.
In a yet-unpublished study, Cleveland State University associate professor Dr. Vasilios Kosteas has tentatively found that being involved in extracurricular activities in high school, particularly academic-related clubs, may raise future earnings a percentage equivalent to several additional years of schooling.
"It's long been known that participating in extracurricular activities helps high school students develop social skills, which college admissions officers and future employers certainly appreciate," Kosteas says.
But there's more. In a separate study, published in the British Journal of Industrial Relations, Kosteas' analysis of data from more than 5,000 Americans also found that people who participated in academic clubs, yearbook, or the student council were also more likely to end up in supervisory positions.
He theorizes that the skills learned in these activities "are very important in management positions, affecting a person's ability to supervise others and making these skills an important determinant of promotions and the assignment of supervisory responsibility."
But you don't need a research study to find examples of the impact of extracurricular activities. Just ask students and teachers at Allen County High.
"They will learn to be a better human being."
Col. Rondal Turner and John T. Williams are good examples. Turner is senior instructor of the JROTC program at Allen County High. Williams was a senior, a football player, and a member of JROTC when we spoke. He is now serving in the Army.
On a weekend in late April, Allen County's JROTC were at Western Kentucky University for a Raider Competition, a series of challenges that test physical and mental toughness. In their first year, the club took first and second place overall. (As an organization, Allen County High School took 23 trophies in their first year.) These competitions often include an up-to-2-mile run that gauges physical endurance.
Want to determine how well someone can work with a team and deal with obstacles? How about a rope bridge challenge? Today's goal was to successfully cross a 10-person team through an obstacle as quickly as possible. Usually, no more than two members of the team can touch the rope at the same time, and the team loses points if anyone drops an object or if knots are incorrectly tied.
"They will get some discipline through the JROTC program," Col. Turner assures me. "They will learn a lot about good citizenship, and they will learn how to be a better human being."
It is irrelevant whether a young person wants to ultimately join the military if they join JROTC, Turner says.
"It is great for a kid who wants to go that route," he says. "Absolutely. But it is great for a kid who wants to go another route, too. They are learning to think and do creative problem solving and work with a team. You see these children transform physically and mentally as they go through the program."
Williams agrees. He ultimately wants to be a flight medic or physician's assistant, and believes that JROTC has prepared him well to achieve his goals.
"I learned a lot of discipline in JROTC," Williams says. "It opened up a variety of choices for me, both in the military and in life. I learned how you treat people and how to work with other people. I learned to deal with peer pressure and how to work that out."
"Being in clubs helps you become a leader."
"Everything we do is real-world," says Laura Carter, the advisor for the Future Business Leaders of America at Allen County. "Everything we do is what they might be doing later, whether they work for themselves or for someone else."
FBLA members do a lot of community services and learn from speakersï¿½typically small-business owners in their communityï¿½about how to start a business, the challenges to expect, and how to do important business tasks such as developing a business plan.
Emily Stinson found the community service particularly rewarding.
"It really helps you to give back to your community and it's very rewarding to do that," she says. "Being in clubs helps you become a leader."
Stinson has twin interestsï¿½business and graphic design. She plans to blend the two by opening a graphic arts business when she graduates from college.
Meanwhile, she has honed her leadership skills by teaching Junior Achievement to grade-schoolers, participating in all the club's community service projects, and competing in FBLA regional and state competitions.
"Are you going to show up?"
Reana Nail plays flute in the concert band and is field commander of the marching band. In addition to being president of FBLA the 2011-2012 school year, she was also president of DECA, a business and marketing club that focuses on entrepreneurship.
As field commander of the band, she is responsible for the entire 85-member marching band. That role taught her a few things about relating to people.
"I found out that you can't treat everyone exactly the same," she says. "Some people are more withdrawn, and others are more outgoing. They respond differently. What helps one doesn't necessarily help the other. You have to respect everybody's individual personality traits."
These life lessons are more important than winning trophies, according to Shawn Huff, director of bands for Allen County.
"Are you going to show up, be there, and do the work?" Huff says. "If I can get that much, get that commitment, I can get the rest.
"Everything you do in life is not fun. There is always some part of every job that you do not like. You have to learn to do it whether you like it or not. That's our major focus."
And though she is not talking about band, Reana Nail says she has learned essentially the same thing about clubs, organizations, and life in general.
"Get involved," Nail says. "It completely makes the high school experience worthwhile. You have to get involved to get something out of it."
GETTING THE MOST FROM EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Here are some suggestions from faculty and staff at Allen County High School for high school students:
CHOOSE ONE OR TWO CLUBS that really interest you. The club might be focused on something you would consider as a career such as math or science clubs, something that is just fun such as Co-Ed-Y (affiliated with the YMCA, they emphasize striving to be good citizens and community members), something you are just curious about such as an environmental club, or something that provides support for your life such as a club called TOAD (Teens Opposed to Alcohol and Drugs). Just make sure the club's focus has meaning for you.
GET INVOLVED Don't just join a club or even just show up for all the meetings. Participate in club activities and volunteer for leadership roles.
DON'T OVEREXTEND YOURSELF While there is no magical number for the right number of clubs to join, too many will leave you without enough time to study and participate in social activities.
TALK TO YOUR GUIDANCE COUNSELOR Ask your counselor about clubs that might interest you or help your chances of getting into the college of your choice.
MAKE A COMMITMENT When you join, stick with it. There will be times when you are tired or just don't want to participate. Do it anyway. The reward is greater self-esteem and learning to work as a team, which translates into skills for life.