by Tony Evers, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Recently, I visited the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. I watched as students in Mr. Roberts’ jazz vocal ensemble class sang their hearts out.
These students clearly loved this class, and of course, they’re not alone. Many students love courses and extracurricular offerings that aren’t always counted as core subjects like reading and mathematics: things like sports, world languages, agriculture, science, and civic engagement projects.
What’s more, this enthusiasm pays off. A number of researchers have found that kids involved in sports, the arts, clubs, and extracurriculars tend to develop more confidence and social skills, and achieve more after high school. It turns out nearly a third of students attending Harvard Law School were on their high school debate team.
Students who pursue arts or music throughout high school score significantly higher on college entrance exams in reading, writing, and mathematics. And so on.
Is it any wonder? Looking back on our own school years, aren’t our proudest moments often the times we stepped out of the child’s role and tried on something greater? It might be a shining moment on the stage or the field, a first taste of life as a chef or business manager, a team effort toward an engineering project or international experience, or a passionate drive to change your school, community, or world. In other words, these classes and activities give our students an incredible gift: the chance to develop a passion for achievement.
This may be the key quality for any adult, in any occupation or activity, anywhere: a passion for achievement. Motivation that gets you moving.
We have amazing students in Wisconsin. In Omro, some are working outside of school hours to raise money for an outdoor classroom (it was the vision of their teacher, Bruce Fowler, who passed away this fall). In Sun Prairie, hundreds of students came to the high school on a weekend to help create a video that showcased the school’s activities and spirit. Online, you can see the joy in their faces.
Can we doubt there are students in Wisconsin for whom these special activities are the reason they feel at home at school, the reason they keep coming and trying at the core academic subjects?
Unfortunately, some of these opportunities are disappearing from our schools. That’s partly because the federal No Child Left Behind law makes schools focus on a few basic subjects at the expense of everything else. It’s also because of funding cuts—like the ones in Wisconsin’s current budget. Nearly two out of every three Wisconsin school districts that responded to a survey this fall said they cut extracurriculars, sports, or subjects other than reading or math—and a majority of districts reported they expect the same or worse cuts next year.
If I could have one wish for 2012, it would be that we all support and prioritize our public schools, so students don’t lose the chance to experience learning opportunities that energize them. So that every child—every wrestler, every actor, every musician, every club president—can discover their passion for achievement.
Tony Evers is the elected state superintendent of public instruction.
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