How clubs and activities contribute to the overall school experience

Improv class. Lego robotics. Swimming lessons. Treasure hunting. Comic Book Club.

Those are just some of the exciting new extracurricular activities Chicago schools offer their students. Now, staying after school is no longer a bad thing, but rather an exciting opportunity for kids to try something new and spend time with classmates. They likely don’t realize just how much they are learning in the midst of the all the fun.

In recent years, schools have been adding an increasing number and variety of extracurricular activities for a variety of reasons.

“We recognize that families continue to need quality extended day options for their children. Our flexible program offerings are designed to meet the needs of today’s parents and students,” says Abby Aloni, head of Lower School at the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago.

Providing support and child care for parents as well is one reason that Near North Montessori offers numerous after school activities for kids of all ages, but Directress Audry Perrot says there are additional factors that the school considers when adding extracurricular activities.

“We want to appeal to many different interests and give students a chance to try something in a safe environment, one where it’s OK to make mistakes. The stakes aren’t high and it’s a chance for students to put themselves out there a little bit,” Perrot explains.

Many schools see their extracurricular programs as helping students explore their interests and possibly discover a passion for something new. “All the classes we offer support our desire to create students who can explore their passions, take risks and learn skills within the comfort of the school environment,” says Aloni.

Extracurriculars are also a welcome break for kids. “They are an outlet for the students, something outside the rigorous academic curriculum that we offer,” says Diana Angelucci, admissions coordinator at the Science& Arts Academy in Des Plaines.

Often, students are responsible for initiating extracurricular activities. “If enough kids want to form a team, we will,” Perrot says, citing the time students started a Frisbee Golf team. “It continues for a while and sometimes they fizzle out, sometimes not.”

Similarly, at Roycemore School in Evanston, Sara Dreiling, coordinator of Student Life, says “most clubs’ activities come from students’ interest.

Many activities spring from student interest that was sparked in the classroom. At the Science& Arts Academy, a teacher started the Coding Club after hearing about several students attempting to code during class time and seeing an essay a student wrote for class arguing that schools should include coding in the curriculum.

Participating in extracurricular activities is certainly meant to be fun for the students, but enjoyment is just one of the many benefits.

“Students who participate in after-school activities are more likely to experience academic and social success, and one of the tremendous benefits to small schools like ours is that opportunities to participate abound, while obstacles to participation are almost non-existent,” Dreiling says.

Students often find more self confidence as a result of their participation in extracurricular activities. That is true of the Science Olympiad team at the Arts& Science Academy, which finished second in the state and placed 14th at the national competition.

National competition, however, is not always necessary for an extracurricular experience to significantly impact a student’s life.

Dreiling recently read a college application essay by a current senior who said she did not view herself as an athlete prior to beginning at Roycemore. But in her years at the school she developed her skills, earning the spot of captain her junior year, and she now sees her athletic commitment and participation, not skill, as one of her strengths.

At the Art& Science Academy, a student participated in his first after-school play in seventh grade. He discovered a passion for performing and went on to help found a theater company with some friends. He is currently a senior in high school and is applying to the country’s finest drama programs.

One of Perrot’s favorite stories is about a sixth-grade boy who joined the school choir. “He literally found his voice, singing his heart out and just enjoying it. It was transformative.”

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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