Extracurricular Activities and Civic Learning with Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler
This past Thursday, the Illinois Democracy Schools Network continued with its C.L.A.D. (Civic Learning Across Disciplines) webinar series. Dr. Kelly Siegel-Stechler, a Senior Researcher at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) Riverside, delivered a thoughtful presentation on “Extracurricular Activities and Civic Learning”. In this program, Dr. Siegel-Stechler explored several aspects of this element in the Illinois Democracy Schools model: why extracurriculars matter for civic engagement, what the research says, and ways that we can increase the civic impact of these activities.
Extracurriculars are part of a young person’s civic development: there is a strong association between extracurricular participation in schools and political activity in adulthood. School clubs, sports, and activities strongly contribute to a democratic school environment, cultivate student leaders, and have the capacity to include and reflect the diverse identities and perspectives of the school. They essentially serve as the “civil society” of the school.
The research suggests a considerable impact of these activities both in the life of the school, and the individual lives of students when they become adults. Extracurriculars can foster peer-to-peer interaction in safe, moderated spaces and build community by connecting groups of students that might not otherwise cross paths; they often put new networks in place. Student participation in groups like these is linked to lower rates of drinking and drug use, better educational outcomes, and positive peer and adult relationships. The activities can be important opportunities to practice civic skills that are different from what students are typically exposed to in the classroom (running meetings, planning events, managing budgets, etc.). These associations contribute to a positive, inclusive school climate by representing the many different identities, lived experiences and perspectives of its students. And engaging in extracurriculars can be habit-forming! Joining a group in school makes you more likely to join a group later in life and habituates you to civic engagement opportunities such as voting and volunteerism. Activities do not need to be political in nature to have these results.
Webinar participants reflected on the state of extracurriculars in their own schools, by considering several different aspects: level of representation of school’s diverse interests and perspectives, degree and impact of political/social consciousness in these groups, encouragement, and development of meaningful student leadership, and obstacles for student participation.
The Illinois Civics Hub and the Illinois Democracy Schools Network continue to offer free after-school PD from many of the organizations highlighted above, including the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), and the Civic Education Research Group (CERG). A description for each webinar and information to register for professional development credits through the DuPage Regional Office of Education is available on the Illinois Civics Hub Professional Development Calendar.
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