If We Are Going To Invest In Infrastructure, This Is The Best Money We Could Spend

With the siren call from many, and President-elect Obama’s seeming support for investing in and re-building our long neglected infrastructure I have hope that schools and educational programs will be included.

Generally, No Child Left Behind has banked on the belief that complete focus on reading and math would be the savior of “At Risk” students. That by using essentially the entire school day outside of lunch, and in many cases, even doing away with recess to gain more time for basic literacy skills, students would “catch up”, or at least do much better.

Even before the advent of NCLB, tighter school budgets over the past 30 years have slowly eroded many programs in music, the arts, sports and other what were considered “extra-curricular” activities.  During those budget cutting times these “extras” were deemed non-essential and were therefore quickly cut from stretched budgets. Middle and higher income parents instinctively understanding the importance of the “extras” from their own school experience, filled in by enrolling their kids in sports leagues, scouts, music lessons and more … with a bit of grumbling here and there. However, when those opportunities were gone from the schools, they were also gone for many students whose parents did not see or understand the value in them, nor have the resources or job schedules required to run them around to various venues and pay the fees and equipment costs. Having these programs available after-school for free or very cheap was key to equal access, and I think to fundamental learning.

Now we hear more and more that learning the phonics and other reading skills without the schema for understanding and making connections to what we read leaves students still behind. It seems that those that have said all along that students require these “extra-curricular” activities not just to be physically fit and well rounded in the arts and social interactions with others, but to bring meaning and understanding to the world around them and to what they read were right.

Here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote 2 ½  years ago:

… If the only sport you ever played was volleyball – you still get a sense of winning or losing a close game – or just the fun of playing, getting sweaty and tired – so tired you can hardly stand-up but you keep going. You have a feel for what a good play looks like and feels like – so you have a tendency to recognize them in other sports.

When I played sports in elementary school it worked something like this. After school I didn’t rush home so I could speed through my homework, toss down dinner, have a parent drive me across town to practice – then come back and get me later – putting more cars on the road, pollution in the air, more chances of being in an accident. Instead I … stayed after school. The coach (usually a teacher getting paid a small stipend) met us and ran practice until 4:30 or so. Those that didn’t have their homework done that day in class – stayed in class and got it done before they could practice – and if it happened twice they couldn’t play in the game that week – still had to practice though. Kids that had a hard time getting homework done … suddenly didn’t. We have a soccer program for a few kids at my school – and almost every kid that is on the team does better in school during the season.

Elementary schools tend to be located in the neighborhood – most kids can walk home after practice, or it’s a quick ride home later in the day when parents are more likely to be home from work. You get home before 5:00 – in time for dinner, homework, and family time. No rushing around. We use facilities that are already there but aren’t being used after school. Kids have something in common with other kids in their neighborhood to talk about. Of course kids don’t need the exercise … they’re already in great shape … right?

All that and research shows that students that are involved in sports or other extra-curricular programs (art, dancing, scouting, music, etc.) do better in school – Is that something we should promote? The best investment this country could make would be to provide extra-curricular activities for ALL elementary school children (and middle and high school students too) – and get more use out of facilities that are already there and waiting.

Playing and doing are messy learning!
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2 Responses to If We Are Going To Invest In Infrastructure, This Is The Best Money We Could Spend

  1. Steven Kimmi says:

    Thinking about my recent comments on your posts and my own posts, I want to pull this quote,

    “students require these “extra-curricular” activities not just to be physically fit and well rounded in the arts and social interactions with others, but to bring meaning and understanding to the world around them and to what they read were right.”

    And I want to highlight the “social interactions”. It is easy to blam technology for the deconstruction of social interactions between children, but is there something more. Have our cutbacks in afterschool programs and extra-curricular activities (things that seem to be social in nature) played a part in this deconstruction? Is reducing the school day to two subjects which by nature seem to be individual (at least as NCLB measures it), lessening the opportunities for students to engage in social interactions, lessening the chances we have to guide students to develop appropriate social skills?

  2. John Howell says:

    Brian,

    I here what your saying about cutting the arts, music, and sports and it is unfortunate and probably happening at the worst time when we desperately need those types of “extra-curricular” activities the most.

    I have been looking into the KIPP Academy ever since I have heard both Bill Gates and Malcolm Gladwell reference these public charter schools in recent interviews. The KIPP Academy, although not a perfect system, has extended their school day from 7:30-5PM Monday through Thursday, and 7:30-4PM on Fridays. They attend this public charter school 200 days a year having to attend 2 Saturdays a month for enrichment activities from 9-1PM, and there is mandatory summer school to prepare those students for the upcoming year.

    Again, not perfect but certainly worth conversing about. Within the KIPP Academy’s daily schedule they have made time for the core academia and the arts and humanities. They have built that after school time in for ALL kids to be a part of the extra curricular activities.

    In all of the dialogue about transforming education I wonder if considering a more intensive model such as this has been considered? Are we as educators ready for such a rigorous schedule ourselves? Those are awfully long days and to find balance within that kind of schedule is possible but certainly challenging.

    Just thought I would throw this out there. Thanks Brian for all that you do ~ keep on keepin’ on!

    John

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