My 12-year-old daughter joined her middle school track team and a few weeks ago I went to her first track meet. I found myself enjoying the competition and also chatting with other parents. Many of these people I had never met, and yet they are the parents of her classmates and friends, kids who she spends time with every day. The track meet turned out to be the first time we had an opportunity to engage with other parents after an entire year of school had slipped by.
Why did it take so long? Partly because athletics have been removed (as well as art and music) from the district-sponsored school day. In our school district, if you want to play a sport you have to join and pay for a club team. Many of the sports clubs are organized by ability and not by school affiliation. As it turns out, track and field is the only athletic program at the middle school level in our school district that is organized and sponsored by the district at each school. There are no athletics at the elementary school level that are organized or supported by the schools.
When athletics, art and music are no longer imbedded components of the school day, we are removing an essential tool to the success of our children: a sense of community. When is the last time you visited your child’s school and spent time with other parents and staff to watch the students complete a math assignment or take a test?
For me, never, but I have spent time getting to know other parents and school staff at athletic events, band concerts, talent shows, and art exhibits. These activities draw us together as a group and give us a sense of community.
In addition, some students consider these activities to be the “thing” that gets them out of bed in the morning and makes them excited to go to school. Some students are not excited about reading, writing and math, but we expect them to have a level of competence and mastery of those skills and will test them until they show us they are competent. Without athletics and art in our schools we lose the opportunity to engage some students, which deprives them of the most basic opportunity for an education.
The connections we make with other parents and school staff are valuable in supporting our children’s success in school and making us a part of a larger community of support. When we get to know our children’s friends, their parents, and spend time with school staff outside of the classroom, we are able to share and communicate about the school and our community. When school leaders are making budget decisions, we should encourage them to consider the impact that cutting athletics and art will have on the level of engagement our students and families have with school. These programs have a huge impact on the social, behavioral and academic success of our children.