Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Some Positive News in Trenton on the Issue of Co-Curricluar Activities

Today's Trenton Times ran a story of page one that gives me some cause for optimism concerning the new Superintendent, but it also provided information that demands attention and scrutiny from District officials if we are to have any hope for improvement in student performance.

The positive news concerns Superintendent Duran's decision to expand extracurricular options for middle school students. In this day and age of tight school budgets, all too often it is extracurricular activities that are first to be cut; just look at Philadelphia and how they have decimated such activities throughout the city.

Extracurricular activities- I prefer to call them co-curricular activities- can play an integral role in improving classroom performance. Many studies show a strong correlation between the two. Participating in such programs helps strengthen the bond between student and the school, and the skills learned in these programs have collateral benefits for these students in the classroom. Moreover, these programs can, at the high school level, lead to important scholarship opportunities. And finally, a well run co-curricular program will involve some sort of tutoring program to directly improve student performance.

Taken together, these benefits far exceed any cost savings derived from eliminating after school activities. I applaud the Superintendent for taking a leadership role in this area, I would just suggest that he begin to adopt the term "co-curricular" in further communications; it is much harder to argue for something considered "part of" the academic program rather than something that is "extra."

The other interesting item in the article concerns graduation rates at the three high schools. As in the past, the percentage of students graduating High School West far exceeds the graduation rate at the other two high schools. It is imperative that the District begin a study to better understand the reasons for the disparity. That understanding could lead to actions at the other high schools, particularly the Chambers Street Campus, to help bridge the gap. The causes may relate to faculty, they may relate to demographics, or they may relate to some variables previously unconsidered. Whatever the result, failing to undertake this study would be a huge disservice to families in the District. Knowledge can never be a bad thing, and gaining a better grasp on the issue of student graduation and drop out rates can only be seen as a good thing. Some people may not like the "answers," but discomfort with the facts cannot be a reason not to find these answers.

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