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Our View: Extra-curricular actives often key to academic success




When our public schools struggle, when dollars are scarce or performance lags, a familiar cry soon emerges: It's time to get back to the basics. 


At first blush, that seems like the obvious solution. Today, it seems, resources, focus and energy often seem to diverted from the most essential element of education -- the classroom and the relationship between student and teacher. 


Yet sometimes in the zeal to "get back to basics" there is a failure to appreciate how the larger school environment complements and enhances what happens in the classroom. 


This week 500 students and 160 adults will be in Columbus for the annual Mississippi Theatre Association Festival. The event offers a weekend filled with acting workshops, scholarship auditions, monologues and productions put on by schools and community theaters from throughout the state. 


There may be some people who wonder, given the state of public education, if events such as this weekend theatre festival is something that detracts time, energy and attention from the basic goals of education. 


Invariably, when resources are limited, there is some sentiment that all programs not directly related to classroom learning should be the first to go. Arts, athletics, music education are sometimes considered expendable, and when budgets shrink, these programs are often the first to suffer. 


That is a mistake. 


In study after study, the evidence strongly indicates that extracurricular activities and non-academic programs are vital to the success of our children. 


Students who participate in such programs make better grades, display better social skills and are more likely to pursue higher education.  


They are less likely to be absent, tardy or drop out of school, less likely to have discipline problems, become pregnant or use illegal drugs. 


Not every student wakes up in the morning itching to study algebra. But many are eager to get to school to paint, perform or practice a non-academic interest.  


The kid who is motivated to go to school because she wants to play softball after school is also in the classroom during school. The boy who likes to band practice, may find that chemistry is interesting, too. 


For some students, the extracurricular activities may lead to careers in those fields. For the majority, they are simply something that adds an element of fun to what can sometimes be a tedious, monotonous reality. 


We want our children to be well-rounded, curious, interested in things beyond what is confined to the classroom. 


In tough times, it is wise to focus on what matters most. 


But suggesting that arts, music, sports and clubs are dispensable is short-sighted and counterproductive. 


This week, 500 kids have gathered to enjoy, learn and share something they are passionate about. 


Removing that opportunity would not make them better students. 


And it certainly would not make them better kids.



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