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Study finds activities help students finish high school
By Allison Matthews
Southern Rural Development Center
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Kids involved with extracurricular activities are more likely to complete high school than students who spend time alone between the end of their school day and the end of their parents' workday.
Children who participate in adult-supervised activities, such as band, sports or after-school clubs, benefit from interactions with adult leaders who reinforce the importance of education. The relationships students and adults have during these extracurricular activities can have a major impact on the students' overall academic success.
Bo Beaulieu, director of the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University, co-authored a study (with his University of Florida colleague, Glenn Israel) about the importance of after-school activities.
"Our research illustrates that schools are not the only important factor in determining the level of achievement in young people. There are several other factors outside the classroom that help students learn and do well, earning better grades and finishing the educational goals set before them," Beaulieu said.
"Adults who regularly interact with youth play an important role in the success of those students. Parents are a primary source for this type of interaction, but mentors such as coaches, youth leaders and other adults who work with kids also do a lot to encourage and motivate young people," Beaulieu said.
Israel, a community sociologist, said the study shows that 90 percent of students who participate in extracurricular activities will graduate from high school. Only 84 percent of students who spend three or more hours a day alone are likely to receive diplomas.
"When you look at single variables in these large studies, you aren't going to see huge swings," Israel said. "But with the potential consequence to students' lives, every one that we can keep in school counts.
"After-school programs in which caring adults offer a variety of activities will be helpful whether they are on school grounds or at other locations, such as a YMCA or community center," Israel said. "These are places where adults can nurture children, model positive behaviors and provide support they don't get if they go home and sit in a house by themselves."
The study applied a statistical analysis to a University of Chicago survey of 24,000 students in 1,000 schools nationwide. The U.S. Department of Education funded the survey, which looked at students from eighth to 12th grades between 1988 and 1996. The study did not include children who participated in structured after-school care programs. Analysis showed that students who spent significant amounts of time after school without adult supervision had a greater tendency to drop out of high school than kids who were involved with school clubs, community organizations or religious groups.
Beaulieu said when caring adults take the time to have meaningful relationships with children and youth, they build what sociologists call "social capital."
"It is very important that the personal assets of children are nurtured and developed so they will be prepared to take on challenges in the future. The sharing of values, beliefs and norms between adults and kids is the essence of social capital," Beaulieu said. "Our research applies these concepts to educational outcomes, which are important issues in our society."
Beaulieu said many adults are positive influences on students, but family interactions are among the most important for determining students' success. Parents and their children should discuss homework, classes, college plans and overall academic expectations.
"Family support is vital to helping students achieve. This one factor seems to be the most important and cuts across all socioeconomic lines," Beaulieu said.
The researchers presented study findings at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society in August. The association also published the study in the March issue of the journal, Rural Sociology.