Term Paper: Extracurricular Activities and Student Success

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[. . .] The opportunities available to students in the future may also be impacted by the extracurricular activities they participate in while in school. This is why almost every elementary school, secondary school, and college in the nation provides extracurricular activities of some sort. Schools do recognize the importance of such activities. The popularity and usefulness of extracurricular activities can be seen by the following statistics:

1) Almost eighty-three percent of high school seniors in 1992 participated in some sort of extracurricular activity.

2) Of these eighty-three percent, approximately thirty-six percent of them participated in varsity sports, making such sports the most popular extracurricular activity.

3) Females were more likely than males to participate in extracurricular activities of all sorts with the exception of sports.

4) Participation in extracurricular activities was found to be relatively the same across all ethnic groups. However, the type of extracurricular activity a student participates in was found to be influenced by race.

5) African-American students were more likely than other racial groups to participate in vocational extracurricular activities.

6) Asians were more likely than other racial groups to be involved in academic extracurricular activities.

7) Students from the highest income brackets were more likely to participate in any extracurricular activity, with the exception of vocational groups. Students from lower economic brackets were more likely to participate in these groups.

8) The participation of students in extracurricular activities was found to be more or less the same regardless of the racial make-up or economic status of the school the students attended ("Extracurricular Activities, 1995).

Another important aspect of extracurricular activities is that they not only seem to enhance the academic performance and self-esteem of students, they also seem to enhance a student's motivation to do well in school. Further, most students who are involved in extracurricular activities are motivated to stay involved with these activities, thus further increasing their motivation to do well in school. There are several reasons why extracurricular activities motivate students to stay involved with them, as well as why students who are involved in such activities are motivated to do well in school. A great deal of recent research has been done into the connection between participation in extracurricular activities and student motivation.

First of all, extracurricular activities appear to motivate students to stay involved with them because they appeal to the interests of the students. Schools that offer a wide range of extracurricular activities are more likely to ensure that the individual needs and interests of students are being met. When students have their needs and interests met through having extracurricular activities that appeal to them offered at the school, these students are more likely to develop feelings of belonging at the school, which translates into emotional ties to the school. As has been seen before, when a student has emotional ties to the school, he or she is less likely to drop out.

Another important aspect of extracurricular activities is the effect that they can have on the opportunities and world perceptions of low income students. This is especially true at the elementary school level. Low income students who participate in extracurricular activities are exposed to a wide range of experiences that would normally only be available to middle and upper income students, such as dancing, art, music, sports, and tutoring (Posner, 1999). Of course, for students to be exposed to these things, the activities must be school sponsored. Still, for the young child whose parents can not afford dance lessons, being able to participate in a school sponsored ballet group is an incredible opportunity, and gives that child a chance to experience something that his or her more wealthy classmates do on a regular basis through private lessons.

Extracurricular activities also promote peer interaction. This is an important thing, as it ensures that students who participate in such activities are exposed to a wide array of people from varying backgrounds and experiences. Many students form their own social cliques and only socialize within these groups. However, when a student participates in extracurricular activities, that student is exposed to students from other cliques and other social experiences. Students are able to learn to work with, get along with, and appreciate students with different backgrounds from their own through participation in extracurricular activities. Further, for students who are at risk for dropping out, participation in extracurricular activities can expose them to higher achieving students who have a better attitude toward school (McNeal, 1995). By being exposed to students who are more committed to school and to their education, at risk students may develop better attitudes toward school themselves.

Extracurricular activities can also promote cooperation between students. This is an important skill that will serve them well in the adult world. It will also help students who have had difficulties socially to learn how to interact with and get along with people from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. Extracurricular activities promote a less competitive environment among students. This sense of non-competitiveness may help students to realize that they are not in competition with anyone else to do well or accomplish things in school (McNeal, 1995). This feeling alone may be enough to encourage a student to stay in school.

Extracurricular activities are also important because the help to build student-adult relationships. Adults, of course, supervise extracurricular activities. Students who participate in these activities get the benefit of forming a relationship with a competent, responsible adult (Mahoney, 2000). There are many benefits to such a relationship. One benefit is that the adults who sponsor these activities are usually interested in or skilled in the activity themselves. By participating in the extracurricular activity, students get the opportunity to form a relationship with an adult who can guide them, advise them, and act as a mentor to them in this activity. Students also get the opportunity to learn how to deal with adults on a professional level. This is a skill that will serve them well when they enter the adult world. The adults who sponsor and supervise these activities can also offer the students who are involved a new and unique perspective on the world, perhaps opening their minds up to new information or new possibilities they never considered before.

Extracurricular activities provide structure and challenge for students. This is important, especially for students who are easily bored by school. Most extracurricular activities are highly organized and involve increasingly complex activities for students to learn to perform (Mahoney, 2000). Learning such skills in a way that continually challenges the student is part of what contributes to the increase in self-esteem that students normally experience when they participate in extracurricular activities. By being continually challenged with new and increasingly difficult activities to master, students gain a sense of accomplishment and ability. This sense of accomplishment and ability naturally leads to an increase in the student's sense of self-worth. Further, the highly organized structure of extracurricular activities provides students with a reliable way to measure their own successes.

It has been found that participation in extracurricular activities draws minorities and women to science. This is something that is highly desirable in our society, where white males have traditionally been the dominant force in the science fields. Studies have shown that exposure to extracurricular science activities contributes to students having a positive attitude toward science (Sorge, 2000). When extracurricular activities in the sciences are made available to students, women and minorities have to opportunity to try out this activity in a non-threatening, non-competitive way. It is a good way for students who have always been intimidated by science, but fascinated with it at the same time, to get involved and to begin to increase their science skills. When students have the opportunity to become involved in science in a way that will not affect their grade, the pressure is off of them to perform at a certain level, and they gain the freedom to explore the sciences at their own pace. Many students will find that they have an aptitude and ability in the sciences that they did not know they had.

Interestingly, young women who become involved in extracurricular sports have been found to experience an increased academic performance in the sciences. It is a fascinating correlation, especially since sports have little to do with sciences. There are several theories as to why this correlation exists. The most likely theory comes from a study done by Hanson and Krause. In this study, Hanson and Krause found that young women who are involved in a traditionally male domain such as sports may feel less intimidated by and more prepared for the traditionally male dominated field of science. It is true that most science classrooms today are still very much male-oriented. Hanson and Krause's theory makes sense in that a woman who is confident in one male dominated area is likely to have the self-esteem she needs to feel confident in other male dominated areas, as well.

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