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Extracurricular IS one of the basics

The upcoming educational levy presented to voters for a decision on February 24th is a hot topic for many citizens. A difficult economy makes marking the “YES” box a challenge. Many letters to the editor have talked about trimming the budget and getting “back to basics”.  In the same sentence, naysayers often write about the elimination of all extra curricular programs.  They claim that athletics, academic contests such as Aca-Deca, Mars Rover, instrumental and choral competitions, yearbook and school newspaper are all frills.  

I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I would claim that all of the above have been public school “basics” for many years.  I attended public school from 1956 through 1969.  During that time extra curricular activities were an integral part of the public school experience.  As a high school student I sang in the choir, served as a student body officer, and lettered in football, wrestling and baseball. As a teacher, principal, and district leader from 1974 through today, I am happy to note that extra curricular activities have continued to flourish. Between my school and work, that is 58 years.  To those wishing a return to the basics, I ask this question. How long does it take before something is considered a basic?  Surely 58 years is long enough.

Aside from my personal opinion, there is a vast amount of research linking participation in school activities to success in school. Plain and simple; students who participate earn higher grades and are more involved in their school. Some of the latest data link participation in athletic and academic competition to leadership positions in roles outside of the school setting. Many of our current leaders in government and industry learned the values of teamwork, sacrifice, and leadership on the athletic fields, music rooms, and stages of our schools.

Beyond the role of extra curricular activities in creating better students and better leaders, I would ask those who suggest that extra curricular activities be eliminated to consult with our local law enforcement officials. Ask them where they want students to spend their time after school, on Friday nights, and weekends. Do we want our youth engaged in wholesome activities at a time in their lives when experimentation is common, or out on the streets, unsupervised? I believe I know how they will answer.

From a public health standpoint, extra curricular activities play a major role in both physical and mental health. Childhood obesity has turned into one of the biggest health issues facing our nation. In fact, life expectancy for today’s youth as a whole is not spiraling upward as it should. Childhood diabetes, heart issues, and overall wellness are at risk when students aren’t engaged in healthy activities.  I do not believe it is wise to create another excuse for students to go home, sit in front of a computer or television, and continue a sedentary lifestyle.  Finally, all data from school violence studies indicate that schools must continue to create an atmosphere of trust and belonging for students. Extra curricular activities may be the single greatest variable in keeping students connected in a positive way to their schools and friends. We do not need to be eliminating opportunities for students to be a part of something greater than themselves.

I hope the next time someone suggests that we can eliminate extra curricular activities and return to the basics that you will make sure they understand these activities are a basic and have been for many years. Thank you for supporting our students on February 24. Please vote “YES.”

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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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