Lack of extracurriculars hurts school engagement during pandemic

Dive Brief:

  • Education experts fear lack of fall sports and other extracurricular activities is putting some students at greater risk of dropping out, The 74 Million reports, as being surrounded by a group of friends and adults helps keep at-risk students engaged and on track for graduation.
  • A recent poll shows 58% of U.S. students are learning only online or remote this fall, and that may lead to a loss of engagement in school. Another survey of parents indicates children ages 6 to 18 played 7.2 hours of sports per week in September, down from 11.5 hours before pandemic-related closures. The report also reveals about 30% of students have no interest in returning to their main sport after the pandemic ends.
  • Links have been made between playing sports and academic success. Research shows 80.1% of high school athletes had grade point averages of 3.0 or better, compared to 70.5% of nonathletes. And high school athletes have a dropout rate of 0.6%, compared to 10.3% for those who don’t play sports.

Dive Insight:

Without built-in, in-person opportunities to make friends and bond with adults, some students are at higher risk of dropping out. An America’s Promise Alliance survey found 29% of students didn’t feel connected to adults at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Another 23% didn’t feel connected to their classmates.

Extracurricular activities bond students to their school, making them more likely to graduate, research shows. Schools nationwide have made efforts on a variety of fronts to maintain those benefits. For example, though it is difficult to play a football game following social distancing protocols, esport teams are an alternative fit for that. Esports can keep students engaged and connected to friends, even when they can’t see them in person.

Many students are already participating in esports, even if they are not on a school team. COVID-19 lockdowns boosted esport use, with even the NBA getting in on the trend. After professional basketball games were shut down in the spring, some of the game’s most famous players participated in a video game tournament organized by the NBA and broadcast by ESPN.

Chess is another activity that transfers well to the remote school model. Not only is the game an outlet for competition and a way to keep kids connected, it supports academics by developing logical thinking and the ability to overcome obstacles and spot patterns, according to Chess Educators.

Students can also perform choir concerts online. The final product requires editing, but singing as part of a group keeps kids connected to something bigger themselves, educators say.

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