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Schenectady school leaders highlight clubs as key to student success

Schenectady school leaders highlight clubs as key to student success

Better attendance one of the benefits
Schenectady school leaders highlight clubs as key to student success
The Schenectady High School Roots Club meets in September.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- The Schenectady City School District's board of education learned Wednesday about the importance of after-school clubs and sports in keeping students in school and on track to graduate.

During the board meeting, Schenectady High School administrators and a group of students presented initial, albeit limited, data that shows the benefits to students who participate in after-school clubs, sports and artistic ventures.

“We know that if students can be involved in one or multiple clubs, they will have improvement in attendance, lower behavioral incidents and have higher academic achievement,” said Phil Weinman, the high school engagement dean.

Weinman told the school board that students who participated in certain clubs and sports increased their attendance, were half as likely as their classmates to be involved in behavioral incidents and were half as likely to fail any classes. Students who participated in two or more clubs and sports showed even better results; those students were three times less likely than their classmates to be involved in behavioral incidents.

Weinman acknowledged the findings were based on a limited sampling of students and clubs, but school leaders are also working to identify all students who are active in the school’s myriad clubs and sports. The initial data were based on students in two of the school’s larger clubs: the National Honor Society and the Twenty-First Century Learning grant, a federally-funded after-school program. Some athletic teams were also included.

The findings align with national research that shows students who participate in after-school activities attend school at higher rates and are more likely to stay out of trouble and to graduate on time.

Students at the school board meeting said clubs and sports helped them find their passions and interests and remain active in both their schools and local communities. The students outlined ways the activities pushed them to pursue activism and engage with students from different backgrounds.

Riley White, a senior, said his time on the baseball team taught him about community and family and helped him open up. This school year, he joined a team of students working to identify and improve disparities between different student groups.

“It helps me break down my own personal biases,” White said of the group. “It’s made me a better leader -- more connected to my school (and) a better advocate for change in my community.”

The high school offers students nearly 50 clubs and around 30 athletics teams, ranging from an anime (graphic arts/stories) club to the science bowl team. Last year, the school’s Roots Club, which highlights the traditions and achievements of black Americans and other underrepresented groups, won an award from the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission. Other clubs raise money for local organizations, coordinate activities with students in other schools or share in common interests, like robotics or a particular foreign language.

“Our students, who are involved in our clubs and activities in many cases, are asked to be activists -- are asked to go into the community to perform, to challenge people’s assumptions,” Weinman said.

During the meeting Superintendent Larry Spring pressed district officials to find more clubs and opportunities for students who are not participating in the current offerings.

Spring said clubs and activities have a high “academic return on investment,” meaning they support strong academic and behavioral outcomes at a low cost.

“I look at the list of clubs, and it looks like a pretty comprehensive list,” Spring said. “But thinking about the kids not in a club, what are they interested in? It’s got a low cost in terms of academic return on investment, so it’s a pretty efficient place to be focused on things.”

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