Monday, July 20, 2009

The Value of Leisure

One of the casualties of Mayor Bloomberg’s Small Schools Initiative is extracurricular life. Many of New York City’s smaller, theme-based high schools do not have the requisite funding and resources to provide or support clubs, teams, or arts-oriented activities. This lack of possible involvement has decreased student enthusiasm while simultaneously increasing opportunities for at-risk behavior. Extracurricular life is essential for self-efficacy, socio-cultural empathy, and academic supplementation. It generally provides students with healthy alternatives that are traditionally characteristic of secondary experiences. Loss of fiscal support for extracurricular activities in New York City’s public schools is ironically widening the gap between struggling academic environments and those Bloomberg hopes to emulate.

One study found that

diversity of leisure activity involvement had stronger associations with subjective well-being and self-perceived health than did frequency of leisure involvement (Rose-Krasnor, et al.).

This discovery mirrors Erikson and Marcia’s theory of adolescent identity surrounding exploration and development. Providing students with a breadth of possibilities allows them to exercise various alter-egos, convictions, and prior knowledge/experiences. Once this experimentation process takes place, students can more fully assess their capabilities and desires in preparation for developmental paths, self-regulated behavior, and goal setting (Erikson, 1968; Marica, 1966)

Additional consequences of offering students a spectrum of activities are

…supportive relationships, opportunities for belonging, positive social norms, support for self-efficacy beliefs, chances for skill building, and a sense of safety (Rose-Krasnor, et al).

Giving students the opportunity to choose among multiple extracurricular activities increases their agency, shifts the locus of control to magnify self-management, and helps build alliances among students with similar interests who otherwise may never interact.

Participation in some high school clubs and prosocial activities…introduces youths to political ideas that they might not have been exposed to and offers them the opportunity to learn interpersonal and leadership skills that are likely to inspire continued involvement in civic causes in young adulthood (Glanville, 1999; Hanks & Eckland, 1978) (Fredricks 2006).

Given the underlying hostility associated with seemingly incompatible racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds of many students in urban educational settings, extracurricular outlets, especially those that enhance community building and celebrate multiculturalism, are imperative. Students cannot learn academic skill sets in a vacuum; practical application is required if students are expected to internalize the consequences of their intellectual investigations. Providing extracurricular activities that either support or parallel problem or inquiry based learning objectives should be the ultimate goal for any institution attempting to take interdisciplinary learning seriously.

Unfortunately, sports and school clubs are often viewed as less important than the academic curriculum and are some of the first items to be cut during fiscal constraints. Educators should reevaluate these assumptions because of the potential developmental benefits of participation in extracurricular activities for many high school adolescents (Fredricks 2006).

For the last day of school this past June, my school administration finally managed to approve and help organize an after-school student -faculty basketball competition. The timing was obviously not ideal, considering three o’clock marked the beginning of a long-awaited summer vacation to which many of my students had prematurely fell victim. The games lasted for four hours. I sat in the bleachers with more students than had been in my classes that final Monday and watched chronically disengaged students play enthusiastically below. If this isn’t a testament to one of the most obvious incentive programs with social, emotional, and indirect cognitive benefits, I don’t know what is.


Dahl, S. (2007, January 1). Turnitin: The student perspective on using plagiarism detection software. Active Learning in Higher Education, (8)2, 173-191. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ767170) Retrieved July 18, 2009, from ERIC database

Eccles, Jacquelynne S. & Fredricks, Jennifer A. (2006). Is Extracurricular Participation Associated With Beneficial Outcomes? Concurrent and Longitudinal Relations. University of Michigan: American Psychological Association 2006, Vol. 42, No. 4. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from ERIC database.

Gilman, Rich. (2001). The Relationship Between Life Satisfaction, Social Interest, and Frequency of Extracurricular Activities Among Adolescent Students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 30, No. 6, December 2001. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from ERIC database.

Rose-Krasnor, Linda, Busseri, Michael A., Willoughby, Teena & Chalmers, Heather. (2005). Breadth and Intensity of Youth Activity Involvement
as Contexts for Positive Development. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 35, No. 3, June 2006. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from ERIC database.

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