When social studies teacher and comic book enthusiast Gerry Zelenak of Osseo Senior High School in Osseo, Minn., taught in a junior high, he noticed that his in-class references to comics’ storylines and characters were helping him build connections to a group of students who hadn’t seemed all that connected.
As this comic- and anime-adoring group of students took their connection with him one step further and began using his room as a place to congregate before and after school, Zelenak asked his principal if he could make it official and start a comic book club.
“No one ever approached me,” Zelenak said. “I just thought, ‘Hey, these kids need something.’ ... so why not club it?”
The success of the club in the junior high convinced Zelenak that he had to start something similar when he moved to the senior high in 2003, and the club has been a huge success, providing a school-sponsored activity for students who usually wouldn’t take part in traditional school-sponsored activities.
A place to belong
For Zelenak, who wants to see all his students find their places in school, the Graphic Literature Club fulfills this purpose. “The kids that stick around walk away with a sense of belonging that they struggle to find in such a clique-y institution of American high schools,” he said.
That sense of belonging is part of the reason extracurricular activities exist. Because while they’re good for building new skills and teaching participants to be more disciplined with their studies, they’re really good at getting students to feel more connected to their schooling by helping them toward greater personal fulfillment.
It’s in one’s extracurricular activities that people get to use school time and facilities to work on their real interests and passions -- whether that means being on the football team or discussing manga in the Graphic Literature Club.
A measure of success
When you throw in the fact that these activities also allow their participants to be with people who share their passions, leading to positive relationships, it’s easy to see why many find a correlation between extracurricular participation and school-connectedness.
Because of the kinds of “soft skills” (e.g., ability to work in teams, leadership, etc.) and work habits fostered in extracurricular activities, participation might tell us more about a student’s future successes than grades or test scores.
“That’s not to say that academic achievement in high school doesn’t matter -- it does,” Lleras said. “... Academic achievement is part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. You’ve got to have the social skills and work habits to back those achievements up.
Can’t find one? Then found one
If, after surveying your school’s offerings you don’t find that activity you’re looking for, get together a group of students who share your interest and look over your school’s policy to see how new groups can be started. You might be surprised at just how easy it can be. Many times, all you need is a proven group of interested students and an adult in the building to agree to be the advisor. (You and your friends should think of teachers or staff members you like; chances are, you like them because they share your interests. Then ask!)
Once your group is formally established, you can promote it by hanging flyers, doing announcements for the broadcast system, etc. By founding an organization, you’re doing something all those college admissions people and hiring managers love: being a leader.
So, not even one meeting, and you’ve practiced a “soft skill” that positively jumps off applications and resumes.