Changing a Stubborn School Culture

In high school, I was involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. I was a varsity gymnast. I was on student council; attended football and basketball games; went to a few high school dances (but only when I had a date because that was the unspoken social rule at my school), and took advantage of volunteer opportunities. I was proud of the school I attended and looking back now I realize that a large part of my high school social life revolved around school activities. Nerdy? Maybe. But, I enjoyed those four years immensely, and I did well in school.  It seems I enjoyed those four years enough to return to a high school and to dedicate my time working with teenagers. My guess is that if you are reading this, you enjoyed being in school as well, and it is part of the reason you returned as a teacher. But what about those students who only put in the required attendance time? Could they be enjoying their high school experiences more by getting involved in extracurricular activities? Would their grades improve by simply joining a club or sport? Data suggests that they would. So how do we as educators encourage reluctant or uninvolved students to become involved in extracurricular activities and in turn improve the culture of our schools?

Stephanie Fike

Stephanie Fike

We start by making the 7:00 am – 3:00pm school day more enjoyable for our students so that they are more likely to stay after hours or return in the evening. Before you roll your eyes and tell me there is no room for fun while aligning to common core standards or practicing for the ACT, think about your favorite class or your favorite teacher. What made it enjoyable? Was it an activity, a routine, an approach to learning that you connected with? Maybe it was a personality trait of the teacher, or maybe it was the first cIass in which you felt understood or part of the group.  What if someone from that class, or the teacher of that class, invited you to become part of a club or activity you had never tried before? Would you have taken that risk? This is exactly the issue the staff at Wauconda High School, in Wauconda, IL, is examining.

Using a database program called 5 Star, Wauconda High School learned that it is operating within a 50/50 culture. The data showed that slightly less than half of our students participated in at least one activity/sport/club.  This means slightly more than half of our students remain uninvolved in anything other than required attendance in classes. This revelation was disheartening. Certainly, we want to create a stronger feeling of inclusion for our student body and change our 50/50 culture, not only because we are aware that participation in extracurricular activities improves grade point averages, but also because we want our students to have great experiences, fond memories, and skill sets such as time management, self motivation, and self confidence.

If we can identify which students choose to remain at school past the required time to participate in activities, and pinpoint which students never return in the evening hours for performances or athletic events, then we can start to discuss why. We suspect that some of our students have after school jobs that make it difficult to participate. We also suspect that some of our students are charged with caring for younger siblings while their parents work. Sadly, some of our students opt to not participate because they do not buy in to our mission, or they feel that they do not fit in. So, how do we remove those obstacles? In all honesty, that remains to be seen. The 2014-2015 school year will be the rollout year for Wauconda High School. We plan to use the preliminary data from last year to guide our focus.

This year is going to require a great deal of individual and group effort on behalf of both students and staff to change this 50/50 culture.  It will be a calculated, sometimes awkward effort. But make no mistake, it will be worth it for all parties involved. I envision a culture this year in which teachers and staff speak directly to students about whether or not they are going to attend a club’s meeting because it sounds like something the student may enjoy. I envision faculty and staff handing a student a free ticket to the homecoming dance and encouraging that student to bring a friend. Don’t worry student council advisors; this is not lost revenue. These students had no plans to purchase tickets to homecoming, but they may come now since someone has included them. I see a student inviting a classmate to show up at his club’s meeting tomorrow because the two of them have worked well on a class project and that bridge has already begun being built. Activities directors will invite specific students to free pizza lunches in order to discuss what clubs the non-participating students may have an interest in starting. There may be sibling days where clubs welcome in the younger siblings of active members, or there may be off site meetings now and then at locations other than the school that might attract a few newcomers. The possibilities are endless, and part of our mission this year will be to explore some of them.

The ultimate goal for Wauconda High School is to improve our 50/50 culture. We would like to see much more than half of our students participating in extra curriculars, feeling more connected to our school community, and in turn performing better in their classes. We do not let our students opt out of participating in our classrooms because we know that they learn best by doing; we should be viewing extra curricular activities in the same light.

Stephanie Fike (@sfike11)
English Teacher
Wauconda High School, Wauconda, IL.


3 thoughts on “Changing a Stubborn School Culture

  1. Great ideas, Stephanie. It sounds as if your faculty members are genuinely concerned about your students’ all around well-being. I wish you the best!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s