A wonderful, free resource for families

For me, it was debate and tennis. What was it for you? The “it” in this case: extracurricular activities. For many people, including me, those were some of the most enjoyable, valuable and memorable parts of high school. And if you were fortunate, you found similar enriching, challenging activities long before high school.

Now there’s an incredibly useful, free resource that helps students, families and educators understand the vast range of academic and artistic competitions, challenges, programs and enrichment opportunities that  are available to Minnesota youngsters.

The new booklet is not just for high school students. Some of the activities, programs and competitions are for elementary and middle school students.

So whether your youngster’s passion is chess, chemistry or current events, or math, music or mock trials, I’d urge you to get a copy of “Reach for the Stars.”

Educators statewide have teamed with Minnesota’s Synergy and Leadership Exchange and Lifetouch, a national photography company, to publish this great catalog. Reach for the Stars includes almost 100 academic and artistic competitions, challenges, programs and enrichment opportunities. It’s at http://www.synergyexchange.org/Educate/Reach.aspx.

Copies of the booklet are being distributed via schools and some social service agencies. Parents can request a free individual “hard copy” by calling 612-578-3377 or sending an e-mail request to [email protected]

I did a quick “Google search” to look at research in this area. Here are two of the many available.

Some years ago, the U.S. Department of Education summarized research in this area. It concluded, “Extracurricular activities…offer opportunities for students to learn the values of teamwork, individual and group responsibility, physical strength and endurance, competition, diversity, and a sense of culture and community. Extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing the lessons learned in the classroom, offering students the opportunity to apply academic skills in a real-world context, and are thus considered part of a well-rounded education. Recent research suggests that participation in extracurricular activities may increase students’ sense of engagement or attachment to their school, and thereby decrease the likelihood of school failure and dropping out.” http://nces.ed.gov/pubs95/web/95741.asp.

In compiling and publishing Reach for the Stars, Synergy and Leadership Exchange, Lifetouch and the educators with whom they’ve worked have given Minnesota youngsters a great gift.

Joe Nathan can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]