The school choices in our city—magnet or cluster, public or private, private or Catholic, Trinity or St. X-- are a source of continual debate and discussion. Behind all the noise are some undebatable numbers and undeniably good news.

Are Activities:  Worthwhile? Or Less So?

So, should high school seniors bulk up their resumes with sports, clubs, volunteerism, even if they’d rather be home texting?

We asked educators on both sides of the divide: Jenny Layman Sawyer, executive director of admissions at the University of Louisville; and Robert Mullen, president of Trinity High School, and Trinity’s college guidance counselors.

Extracurricular activities in general

“We do deeply value the role that the out-of-class experience plays,” says Sawyer. “It prepares applicants to be successful, engaged, contributing college students.”

She explains that, at the University of Louisville, “We commit to accepting college-ready students in a simple manner, without essays or letters of recommendation.  Students who do not meet those college-ready criteria – grades and test scores – are encouraged to submit additional materials, often including an involvement resume.  Leadership roles, service and work experience can be ways students can demonstrate having mastered the ability to manage their time.”

“Our college guidance counselors suggest to students that quality over quantity is the most important consideration in choosing extracurricular activities,” says Trinity’s Mullen. “They counsel not to select extracurricular opportunities based on how they will look on an application. It is better if an application reader can see that a student has dedicated his time to two or three organizations and made a difference in those, versus seeing an applicant who has been nominally involved in ten activities.”

Sports Participation

Does athletic involvement get you into college if you’re not Romeo Langford?

“Many activities in high school – not only sports, but also theater or music – can require a commitment of significant time,” says Louisville’s Sawyer. “This can sometimes limit the student’s ability to have an extensive variety of involvements. However, we know that such activities also can demonstrate discipline and opportunities to learn teamwork and develop leadership skills. In the case of athletics, one of the pros can also be early lessons in good fitness, healthy living and good nutrition.”

But sometimes, she warns, “athletics and other activities can minimize a student’s time to dedicate to school work.”

“We feel involvement in high school sports promotes the development of many positive character traits: resiliency, leadership, discipline, time-management, teamwork, fair play and others,” says Trinity’s Mullen. “[However], if students write admission essays that reflect no unique take on how playing the sport applies to their future, or only search for colleges based on their chance to play a sport, then they have short-circuited the values one can derive from playing high school sports.”

Mullen agrees with Sawyer about the schoolwork portion of playing sports. “Unfortunately, today,” he says, “to put oneself in a position to play a sport in college, the student must concentrate on the sport nearly year-round. This leaves little time for involvement in other enriching extracurricular activities.”

AP Classes

"In most cases,” says Louisville’s Sawyer, “AP classes provide students with the most rigorous curriculum available at their schools. Students in these classes often have access to the best teachers, and also the most difficult levels of reading assignments. These classes provide a student the ability to master some material while still in high school and enter college ready to move on in classes that most challenge and interest them.”

She also notes that taking AP classes can often save the student some money, perhaps allowing him or her to consider minors and double majors, sometimes graduating in less than four years.

Trinity’s educators like AP classes for the benefit of challenging students to think differently. “The student must function at a higher level of thinking since the classes mimic college-level work,” Mullen notes. This can stimulate not only intellectual growth, but also self-confidence. Succeeding in a class where they had to work hard can strengthen them when facing other challenges.”

He says colleges with competitive admissions practices “will look at course rigor and GPA as an indicator of a student’s ability to perform in a more rigorous college curriculum. The opportunity to get college credit is also a benefit.

“Be cautioned though, it is always important to research what AP test score will equate to what credit in a particular college.”

Chartering a New Course 

Some time in the fall of either 2018 or 2019, the first charter schools are expected to open in Kentucky.

As Stephen Pruitt, Kentucky State Commissioner of Education, has been quoted as saying, “We’re no longer talking about charter schools, we’re doing charter schools.”

Before Kentucky pats itself on the back for being so progressive, it’s worth noting that charter schools have been around since the mid-1990s, beginning in Minnesota. We’re the 44th state in the country to authorize charter schools.

House Bill 520 passed during the 2017 legislative session, established the statutes to make charter schools legal, and called on the Kentucky Board of Education to promulgate regulations.

“That’s where we are now,” says Earl Simms, who came on board this summer as director of the division of charter schools, for the Kentucky Department of Education, after six years doing similar work in Missouri. He’s a native Louisvillian, a graduate of duPont Manual High School and Murray State University.

The board will be doing its second reading of the regulations at its October meeting.

Simms explains that charter schools are not some independent renegade educational operation, but completely accountable to state standards, testing and laws.

“They’re publicly funded by the same local, state and federal dollars as traditional district schools,” he says, “but have their own non-profit board, which is not attached to any locally elected district school board.”

As a result, they’re able to make changes in curriculum, budget, school operations and culture very quickly to suit the student population or the community. “If something is not working,” says Simms, “they can make specific changes faster because the changes apply to only one school rather than an entire county system. They can offer innovations or programs not currently offered by anyone – so they’re in fact more of an opportunity than a threat for traditional district schools.”

If the Board votes in October to post the regulations, there will be public commentary in November, with the regs finalized in January or February of 2018. Schools can then begin applying for charter certification.

Posted on 2017-10-06 by Steve Kaufman