Parents who want to weigh a school's merits by the quality of its sports, band or theater programs -- not just academics -- now have an easy way to accomplish the task.
In what state education officials said is part of an effort to paint a more complete picture of schools, the 2013 report card debuted this fall a section on extracurricular programs. The state is not tracking the student participation rate.
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"We wanted to give parents information they could easily understand about how well their schools are doing, how they're improving and what kinds of clubs and sports are available," Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said. "This is the kind of information that parents and teachers routinely discuss and we wanted to make it available to everyone."
That means someone interested in the extracurriculars for kindergarten through fifth grade at Maplebrook Elementary School in Naperville can view the new state report card's "at-a-glance" area and learn boys football, girls badminton, debate team, journalism club and the ethnic club are among the options. Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, which serves grades six through eight, has boys basketball, girls competitive cheerleading and science club on the menu.
Grant Community High School in Fox Lake has bass fishing, band, and boys and girls sports including basketball, cross country, soccer and bowling. Elgin High School's extras include a variety of sports, mock trial and dance.
Lest you think school-based sports or other activities are not an important part of the learning process, consider a U.S. Government Accountability Office study released in February 2012. It found physical activity at schools may yield academic and social benefits, as well as prevent or reduce childhood obesity.
Grant District 124 Superintendent Christine Sefcik is among the suburban educators who say listing the sports and other programs available at schools on the state report card indicates the importance of extracurricular activities. She said it's a good move by the state.
"When parents are researching schools, information on academic performance is typically easy to locate," Sefcik said. "However, parents may also want to determine if a particular school offers the athletic or co-curricular program their child has an interest in or excels in. The addition of this category has simplified the search for them. This information is available on each of our (school) websites, but that may be a time-consuming task."
Sefcik said there is much education industry research showing a connection between involved students and higher academic performance. She said students are becoming aware of the value of teamwork, group responsibility and decision-making in everything from sports to performing arts. Those are skills that transcend into the classroom, where learning is more hands-on.
At Elgin Area School District U-46, Ronald Raglin, the interim assistant superintendent of secondary education, also praised the state for starting the extracurricular category on the annual report card. He said it should take the next step by including student participation rates. He said the goal at U-46 is to have all 40,173 students become involved in at least one school-based activity.
Raglin said parents should know about the variety of sports and other activities available for students because they are shown to help build character and improve academic performance by having positive experiences connected to a school. He said students need a chance to tap into their passions, which don't necessarily mean sports.
"We just resurrected our radio club, which is going to be huge," Raglin said of the program for U-46's six high schools. "Students are going to be getting involved in that."
Raglin said extracurricular opportunities at King High School in Chicago from 1975 to '79 laid the groundwork for his success as a school administrator and surviving a "tough, gang-infested, drug-infested neighborhood." He said he benefitted from being football team statistician, girls tennis team manager and a player on King's vaunted basketball squad.
Kaine Osburn, deputy superintendent at Naperville Unit District 203, and Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Sarah Jerome also agreed on the benefits of extracurricular activity participation by students.
"We certainly do think it's an important aspect of children's development to have these extracurricular activities," Jerome said, "and we certainly have plenty of them at all nine schools."
Osburn said the various school-based activities offered to District 203 students gives them a chance to become collaborative workers, self-directed learners, complex thinkers, quality producers and community contributors.