Making the Grade
Making sure your child stays active and healthy is one of a parent’s biggest responsibilities. Research shows that sports participation by students has the power to combat everything from drug abuse to teen pregnancy. So it’s no wonder that so many parents encourage their children to get involved in extracurricular sports.
When a child is part of a team in their own school, chances are good that they won’t even think of quitting before they have a diploma in their hand and a sports trophy on their shelf.
Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette has come a long way since hiring Athletic Director Tom Beck over twenty years ago. "When I got here, there was just one after school program," says Beck. "Now we offer twenty or more each and every year. I encourage all of our students to try to get on at least one sports team while they are here."
Besides their extensive roster of sports teams, Baker Demonstration School has put much emphasis in integrating sports into a number of the community service projects they offer to their students. The school’s annual Swim-Walk-a-Thon and Sneaker Week give students the chance to raise money for charities while working together to stay in shape.
"I have gone to other schools where the kids are limited in their fitness opportunities," says Beck. "You can tell who are the athletes and who are not. We work hard to make sure that all of our kids are in the best shape they can be."
Getting in shape is also integrated in Baker’s school field trips, including the annual 20-mile bike trip and the middle school ski trip to Alpine Valley.
Of course, the health benefits of sports participation are many. But some studies show that sports can also offer children a safe haven from the streets and a reason to battle against peer pressure.
"These activities help students learn teamwork, time management and working with a group," explains Trinity High School Principal Michele Whitehead. "It also helps strengthen friendships with a good variety of students. And, of course, there are all of those good memories that come with truly getting involved with your school."
Trinity High School in River Forest offers over 25 different clubs and organizations in addition to their rather extensive athletic program. In fact, Trinity offers their athletes eleven different sports teams to join throughout the year.
The school’s blocked daily schedule gives students the ability to use one hour in the middle of the day for various school activities, allowing many students the flexibility to participate in both athletics and other school related activities.
"Many of our students use this hour to not only eat lunch but attend various club and organizational meetings at the same time," explains Whitehead. "It gives all the students an opportunity to become an active part in the school community, especially our athletes."
Children involved in sports are often surrounded not only by their family, but also a number of caring adults who want to see them succeed.
"At Southwest Chicago Christian Schools, we develop leaders - and sports programs are one more opportunity for leadership development," ssys Robert Payne, Superintendent at Southwest Chicago Christian Schools. "We have tremendous coaches who provide positive role models for our students. This additional contact with adults who are committed to a student’s growth is beneficial."
Schools are even beginning to offer team sports to children as young as pre-K! St. Andrew School in Chicago is well known for their Biddy Basketball program, which is currently in its tenth year! The intramural basketball league is open to boys and girls from pre-kindergarten through third grade and runs from December through March.
Sports are not the only way for students to stay active in their school. Sometimes it takes a little while for a child to figure out just what they are interested in and would like to pursue. Often, the middle school years are a great time to try an assortment of different extracurricular activities. Francis Xavier Warde School of Chicago offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities for their students.
"We want to make it as convenient for the parents as possible, so we have a wide variety of programming scheduled after school till about 6pm," says Louiza Williamson, the after school program director at the Holy Name Cathedral campus of Frances Xavier Warde Schools. "We also offer many classes that are not usually offered at the traditional school."
Students can stay after school to participate in the FXW homework club for those who might need some personal tutoring. The school also offers chess club and classes such as dance or cooking.
"These classes give students who might not be sports inclined the chance to boost their self esteem in another area," says Williamson, who notes that nearly half of the middle school students in fifth through eighth grades take advantage of their after school programs. "We feel that it’s a win win for both student and child. We hope that the middle schoolers find an interest where they can increase their skill level as they prepare to tryout for different things at the high school level."
Especially at the high school level, success in sports can mean big scholarship opportunities when it’s time to graduate. While it’s far from the main reason for participating in sports, it is something that both students and parents can really benefit from.
"At Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, athletic ability results in scholarships for many of our students, impacting their opportunities when they leave us," explains Payne. "The skills needed for 21st century workers are some of the same skills developed on the playing fields: critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, self assessment, hard work, and perseverance."
Payne goes on to say, "We encourage our students to strive for success; this will result in winning some times and losing sometimes. Our goal is that SCCS athletes win graciously and learn when they lose."
Of course, no parent wants their children to become too overloaded by all of their in school and out of school responsibilities.
"Time management is a challenge," admits Payne. "Our student athletes report that they are actually more productive in all areas of their lives, including academic, when they are involved in sports than in the off season."
Whether the sport is athletic or academic in nature, chances are your child will grow just by being a part of it. Encouraging their involvement is yet another gift a parent can give their child as we prepare them for the real world outside of the classroom.