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Extracurricular Activities

After-School Programs That Give Your Child an Edge

By H.M. Cauley

For thousands of students across the metro Atlanta area, the school day doesn’t end with the final bell. In fact, that’s when the fun begins. Sports, drama club, the French conversation group—all of these and more get going once the traditional school day is over.

Extracurricular activities, which are offered in addition to a school’s regular curriculum and usually take place after school, serve to enhance classroom instruction by encouraging students’ interests and fostering teamwork and social skills.

While sports teams, intramural leagues and marching bands are often the most visible offerings, many schools provide an extensive range of activities and organizations, including the yearbook committee, Key Club and the National Honor Society, as well as competitive teams like chess,debate, math, robotics and glee clubs, designed to help students develop skills they might not otherwise learn.

Building New Skills

“[Extracurricular] activities help students identify their strengths and allow them to take risks and challenges, either artistically, academically or athletically,” says Lory Pendergrast, upper school dean of student support at The Heritage School in Newnan. “That’s important, because when they get to college and beyond, they’ll have learned how to stretch, to take risks in an environment that may not be as safe as high school.”

As the marketing manager—and a parent—at Landmark Christian School, Paula Dobbs has seen firsthand the key role that programs outside the classroom play in a child’s development. She currently has one child on the volleyball team and involved in theater, while another is on the leadership council, in the praise band and on several sports teams. About 865 students at the school’s two campuses in Fairburn and Peachtree City enjoy access to a wide range of activities.

“Our philosophy is to develop the mind, body and soul to make a wellrounded student, and whatever your child’s dream is, we’re able to help them develop it and still get a great education,” says Dobbs.

“We have more than 120 organizations, clubs, theater groups, bands, choral groups, competition teams, honor boards and a leadership academy,” she continues. “About 85 percent of our athletes are in the fine arts programs, too.”

John Braswell, dean of students and sponsor of clubs at Mount Paran Christian School, agrees that extracurricular activities provide students an avenue for growth outside the classroom.

These programs “allow students to experience many other things that meet the needs of the whole student,” he says. “Socialization and communication skills, like sharing your opinion while considering others’ opinions, are fine-tuned. Leadership skills are discovered and enhanced. Clubs also encourage members to experience and understand how collaborative efforts are important in the decision-making process and give students opportunities to find their niche.”

The DeKalb County School District offers a range of academic, cultural and service clubs that expand students’ horizons and introduce them to new concepts. And the public school system’s sports programs do the same thing, says Horace Dunson, the district’s executive director for athletics. About 6,000 students take part in the system’s 17 varsity and five middle school sports programs, he says, and not just to build their physical skills.

“There’s a very, very strong relationship between kids who learn how to participate in sports and kids who learn time management,” says Dunson. “Obviously, we encourage kids to participate from a wellness standpoint so they can get physically fit. But participating in athletics can also develop skill sets such as team-building, which are very important, not only in college but in the workplace. And sports offer some great opportunities for leadership. Sports really aren’t about how good a kid is. It’s about having the opportunity to be part of something.”

Developing Future Leaders

Athletics aren’t the only extracurricular offering that emphasize teamwork and leadership skills.

At The Heritage School, which serves more than 400 students from pre-K through high school, students partake in a variety of service organizations, athletic and intramural programs and student government organizations, along with activities centered around most academic subjects. These groups provide leadership roles that allow students to learn to speak in front of their peers, to serve as ambassadors to people who visit the campus, and to learn skills that will serve them well when interviewing for college, jobs and internships.

“Leadership roles show that you are stretching yourself,” says Pendergrast. “You’re independent, you’ve been given a role that peers recognize and respect. That’s important for college applications. Colleges aren’t looking so much for people who have done everything but for those who have shown a commitment beyond the classroom. That can come in many forms—as a mentor, as part of a youth group, as a camp counselor. It could be someone who is dedicated to service in their community, or someone who’s a fine artist.”

College admissions officers often look for these kinds of skills in addition to strong academic performance when reviewing applicants.

What’s more, involvement in such activities and organizations indicates an active and engaged student who is likely to continue to participate in groups and events in college, thus adding to the richness of the university experience.

“Students who are involved in extracurricular activities are likely to do the same in college,” says Stephanie Caine, a counselor at Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw. “Colleges believe they will contribute to a lower attrition rate at their institutions.”

“That extracurricular could make a difference,” says Pendergrast. “It’s something that sets you apart.”

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