Extracurricular Activities and Student Success: a Connection
Extracurricular activities are very popular with students from elementary school through college. These activities can run the gamut of things from sports to drama, from chess to yoga, and everything in between; extracurricular activities really cater to a student's individual interests, and there are groups for just about every imaginable interest. Extracurricular activities are normally conducted outside of the normal school day, are entirely voluntary, and students do not receive grades for participating in them (Holloway, 1999). Nevertheless, these activities remain extraordinarily popular, thereby reinforcing the notion that school is not just about grades to most students. However, despite the fact that extracurricular activities are not associated with academics (in most cases) and have nothing to do with grades, a growing body of research suggests that participation in extracurricular activities may in fact have a beneficial effect on a student's academic performance. This paper examines the connection between participation in extracurricular activities and a student's academic performance.
To start, academically gifted students have long been known to participate in extracurricular activities. One study reported that gifted students spend a great portion of their time outside of class participating in beneficial and constructive activities (Modi, 1998). This same study found that there was a fifty percent increase in the odds of a student being gifted if that student participated in extracurricular activities. Certainly, it is easy to notice just how many Harvard-bound high school students talk about how they participate in all sorts of extracurricular activities, often in leadership positions, while still maintaining a straight -- A average. It seems as if all of the bright, intelligent, and motivated students participate in extracurricular activities.
Gifted students, however, are not the only students who participate in extracurricular activities, nor are they the only students who can benefit by such participation. At-risk students also benefit from participation in extracurricular activities. One study indicated that participation in extracurricular activities is linked to a decreased rate of dropouts among both boys and girls who are at-risk students (Mahoney, 1997). This study found that participation in extracurricular activities provides at-risk students with a feeling, however marginal, of connection to their school. When a student feels a connection to his or her school, he or she tends to want to stay there and to bring honor to the school by performing well for it. This attitude, brought on by participation in extracurricular activities, prevents dropouts. By contrast, other strategies for preventing dropouts focus on the deficiencies of students by putting them together in dropout prevention groups and other such methods. This focus on the deficiencies of the students simply serves to contribute to the formation of deviant groups among those students, and does little toward actual dropout prevention.
One researcher showed that different activities have varying abilities to control dropout rates (McNeal, 1995). Participation in athletic groups was the most likely to prevent dropouts, this study found. Participation in athletic groups reduced the risk of a student dropping out of school by about forty percent. Participation in fine arts groups was the next most likely to prevent dropouts, with participation in academic groups following fine arts groups in dropout prevention likelihood (McNeal, 1995). These three types of groups, and participation in them, were shown to be the most successful dropout prevention techniques of all. This study shows that if only schools would get at-risk students involved in extracurricular activities, preferably in one of the above three types of groups, the rates of dropouts in those schools would be dramatically reduced.
Participation in extracurricular activities has also been shown to enhance academic performance overall. This holds true whether the student is gifted, at-risk, or average. One particular study showed that boys and girls participating in extracurricular soccer all reported higher GPAs during the soccer season (Silliker, 1997). Both the boys and the girls also reported a slight drop in their GPAs out of the soccer season. While the girls earned an overall higher GPA than the boys, the fact remained that GPAs rose for all of them during the soccer season. This shows that participation in extracurricular sports does not harm academic performance, as some have believed, but instead enhances it.
Many other contemporary studies have shown a definitive connection between participation in extracurricular activities and enhanced academic performance. For example, A 1996 study by Susan Gerber showed that not only did extracurricular participation improve academic performance, but academic performance was further enhanced when extracurricular activities the student participated in were school sponsored. Henry Marsh found in 1992 that participation in extracurricular activities improved both academic and social self-images for students who participated in them. He further found that participation in extracurricular activities, even those not academically based, improved the student's commitment to the school and to school values, thus increasing academic performance. These studies show that the common practice among administrators and parents of denying students the right to participate in extracurricular activities in order to get them to concentrate harder on academics is an ultimately counterproductive, and even destructive practice. The smart administrators and parents will rather give their underperforming student every opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, knowing that such participation will ultimately have the beneficial effect upon the student's academic performance that they are searching for.
There is a large body of evidence supporting the theory that participation in extracurricular activities increases and enhances academic performance. Many studies have been done in this area, focusing on a variety of areas and angles. For example, one study found that students who participated in extracurricular activities in the tenth grade, no matter what these activities were, had a much higher GPA in the twelfth grade than those students who did not participate in extracurricular activities (Eccles, 1999). Another study found that students who participated in extracurricular activities in their early high school years, as well as students who spent a good deal of time alone in their early high school years, had higher math and science scores once they were in the twelfth grade (Jordan, 1999). Participation in extracurricular activities proves over and over again to be beneficial to the student in a variety of ways.
Not only does participation in extracurricular activities have a positive impact upon academic performance, it also has a beneficial effect on self-esteem and behavior. Studies have shown that when a student participates in extracurricular activities such as clubs, groups, and sports, they gain a feeling of belonging that then serves to diminish aggressive behavior. Further, it has been found in some studies that the type of club one is involved in will have a significant impact upon a student's behavior and self-esteem. For example, one study showed that female students who were involved in social clubs had a much higher self-esteem level than those who were involved in sports or other types of clubs. On the other hand, males who were involved in social clubs reported a much higher degree of aggression than those males who were involved in sports. Therefore, according to this study at least, the type of club makes a difference in self-esteem and behavior depending on if the student is a male of a female. Of course, other studies have showed that any type of extracurricular activity is beneficial to self-esteem, behavior, and academic performance.
Self-esteem is one of the most important components of a person's psyche. It comprises their whole sense of self-worth, and this sense of self-worth can help or hinder them as they go through life, depending on whether their self-esteem is high or low. Self-esteem is liking one's self. A person's self-esteem will determine to a large extent whether a person has a "success" self-image or a "failure" self-image (Grafford, 1998).. Since self-esteem has such a large impact on a person's performance in life, the fact that participation in extracurricular activities helps to increase a person's self-esteem is a very important thing to know. The smart parents and administrators will take heed of the fact that participation in extracurricular activities increases self-esteem, and will encourage their children and students to participate in whatever interests them. They will only be doing these children a favor in the long run.
Extracurricular activities help increase a person's self-esteem because they are linked with performance of some special task that not everyone can do. For those students who are involved in sports, their performance on the field will increase their self-esteem, because not everyone can do what they are doing. For students in the marching band, it is the same; not everyone can play a musical instrument. Even students in drama can take pride in what they do, since not everyone can act or perform up on stage. Any sort of extracurricular activity has the potential to make a student feel as if he or she is special, confident, and capable.
Extracurricular activities are also important because students spend a majority of their time outside of the classroom. How this time is spent can and does have a large…