Schools partner with community to maintain student activities - AZEdNews
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Schools partner with community to maintain student activities

Sebastian Ekstrand, Center, And Cooper Jones, Right, Play Together On The Flag Football Team At Higley High School As Part Of Their Unified Sports Program. Photo Courtesy Higley Unified School District.

State funding cuts over the past 10 years have made fundraisers and partnerships with local businesses and community organizations essential for Arizona schools to provide students with access to  extracurricular activities, which research shows keeps them engaged in learning.

Clubs, sports, music, arts,  student community service organizations, field trips and before- and after-school activities tap in to students’ interests, are where they develop friendships, and “are all a vital piece to providing a well-rounded education,” said Tom Woody, superintendent of Bisbee Unified School District, which serves more than 770 students in southern Cochise County.

Schools partner with community to maintain student activities BisbeeRockOurSchoolsEvent

Community members play games, enjoy rides and food at the Bisbee Unified School District’s Rock Our Schools Fundraiser on July 29, 2017. All Rock Our Schools photos courtesy of Tom Nelson and can be found at

“In many cases, it’s the driving force that improves their attendance and their grades,” Woody said. “Through these activities, we’re able to give them different life experiences and leadership positions.”

Woody said communities and state legislators need to remember how these activities support student achievement when looking at funding issues.

Research  shows a strong association between students’ participation in extracurricular activities and academic  success indicators such as better attendance, higher academic achievement, and aspirations to higher levels of education, according to “Extracurricular Participation and Student Engagement. Education Policy Issues: Statistical Perspectives” a study by Eileen O’Brien and Mary Rollefson published in June 1995.

Raising money for extracurriculars

Schools partner with community to maintain student activities FlorDelDesiertoMariachiPracticeSingerHP

Students in Gadsden Elementary School District’s mariachi program build skills like teamwork, responsibility and determination while performing. Photo courtesy Mariachi Flor del Desierto

To fill funding gaps for student activities such as clubs, sports, music and art programs, Bisbee Unified held its first Rock Our Schools fundraiser on July 29.

The rides, bungee trampoline, a 24-foot climbing rock wall, water slide, and games and activity booths stayed busy and there was plenty of food, said Carol Loy, Bisbee Unified governing board president who served on the event’s steering committee.

The event had the added benefit of and bringing in the community to help kick off the school year. Students, staff, community organizations, service and alumni groups, local businesses and media, local police officers and firefighters helped with the booths and activities. Although rain cancelled some music and dance performances and kept some people away, attendees said they liked the concept and wanted to do this again, so a possible fall carnival and next year’s event are being discussed, Loy said.

A Tom Nelson Photo Gallery from Bisbee Unified’s Rock Our Schools Event:

Providing opportunities to all students

Extracurricular activities are a large part of school districts’ student engagement, but reduced funding means there’s less money for students to travel to events, as well as provide equipment, uniforms and competitions, Woody said.

Schools partner with community to maintain student activities Unified-Sports-Photo1HP

Sebastian Ekstrand, center, and Cooper Jones, right, play together on the flag football team at Higley High School as part of their Unified Sports program. Photo courtesy Higley Unified School District.

“When you reduce funding and you go to looking at outside sources, I think that you end up with some inequities in what you see from one school district to the next,” Woody said.

It can also increase costs to students, making participation unaffordable to some.

Participating in sports, clubs, fine arts and more connects students to the culture of a school, and often helps their academic growth, said Rita Tantillo, director of language acquisition for Paradise Valley Schools, which serves more than 32,000 students in Phoenix and Scottsdale and is part of the Minority Student Achievement Network.

Schools partner with community to maintain student activities PeoriaArtStudentInside_6763

A student shows off his art work at the Peoria Arts and Culture Festival on Saturday, April 5.

In 2015, Paradise Valley Schools surveyed students and staff at each school on access to opportunities, school climate and the availability of resources as part of a study on equity and cultural proficiency in the district. Then a task force analyzed the data and made recommendations to the  superintendent. The survey included questions on participation in extracurricular activities.

“As a result, all schools now include an equity goal in their school’s action plan in an effort to strategically address areas that either revealed a gap, or where there was room for growth,” Tantillo said.

Equity means ensuring every student has the support he or she needs to achieve.

“It is critical because our efforts, together, to make a district a place where every student feels connected, relevant, and respected is at the center of our mission and vision,” Tantillo said.

Introducing students to different careers

Schools partner with community to maintain student activities Casa-Grane-Firefighter-Career-camp

Students learn about firefighting in Arizona Business & Education Coalition’s Career Camps at Grande Elementary School District. Photo courtesy of ABEC

Access to extracurricular activities like music, art, sports, and service clubs that help elementary and middle school students develop their interests is important, because that’s when children begin thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.

One program that captures students’ interests and lets them learn more about careers that incorporate those interests is the Arizona Business & Education Coalition’s Middle School Career Exploration Project.

“Eighth-grade students now have numerous options when choosing a high school,” said Patrick Contrades, vice president of Arizona Business & Education Coalition. “The importance of exploring different career paths in middle school is now even more important due to these options so that students can plan to take the appropriate courses in high school.”

To help with that and develop skilled workers, the Arizona Business & Education Coalition created the Middle School Career Exploration Project in 2012 with grant funds from Arizona GEAR Up, Intel Corporation, State Farm Insurance and AVNET that was launched in Lowell Elementary School in Phoenix Elementary School District.

Schools partner with community to maintain student activities CasaGrandePharm-Career-camp

Students learn about pharmacology in Arizona Business & Education Coalition’s Career Camps at Grande Elementary School District. Photo courtesy of ABEC

The project is a partnership with school districts, local businesses, and community stakeholders that engages middle school students in meaningful, age-appropriate activities focused on career exploration in groups of 30 or less. It aims to achieve four goals:

  • Introduce middle school students to a variety of career choices.
  • Make students aware of their own career interests and abilities or aptitudes.
  • Enable students to connect coursework to their future education and career choices.
  • Engage the local business community in the career exploration process to better prepare students in the transition from middle school to high school.

Students in Casa Grande, Glendale, Osborn and Phoenix elementary school districts have taken part in the project that can be customized depending on the students’ and schools’ needs to week-long summer career camps, once-a-month career Wednesdays that last for a full class period during the school year for seventh- and eighth-graders and include field trips, or career academies for seventh- and eighth-graders that meet once a week on Wednesdays for three hours during the entire school year.

Osborn Middle School Firehawk Productions video: Osborn Middle School Career Camps 2016

Evaluations indicate the project is working, Contrades said. Guidance counselors at one high school said students who took part in the project were better prepared and informed about their intended careers compared to most entering freshmen, Contrades said. Many students said they knew what career they wanted to pursue and the electives they wanted to take in high school, and the project either confirmed or help them change their desired career interest, Contrades said.

In April, students in Glendale Landmark School’s Health Care module, which is part of the project, formed three teams that won first, second and third place in their classification at the statewide convention of Arizona Health Occupations Students Association in Tucson, and one of those teams later finished in the top 10 at the national competition in Orlando, Contrades said.

ABEC would like to expand the project to other districts, add more format choices, align career pathways among districts’ elementary, middle and high schools, and develop regional sites for career exploration activities dependent on future funding, Contrades said.

An Arizona Business & Education Coalition Photo Gallery of the Middle School Career Exploration Project: