ExtraCurricular Activities:

Why They Are So Important

Laurie Foley, Principal of Blyth Academy Etobicoke

The inclusion of extracurricular activities as part of school programming for students has always been important, but I would argue that it has never been more important.  Research shows the positive effects of extracurricular participation upon students’ socioemotional behaviour, peer belonging, and academic achievement. Let’s face it, whether we like it or understand it, we live in a world where teenagers are spending much of their spare time online (whether gaming, using social media or browsing the web).  On the tail end of a global pandemic where the only place our students could “go” safely was online, engaging students in extracurriculars has become tremendously important in our schools.

As students returned to our physical classrooms last September, we noticed a marked difference in them.  The kids we had sent home for March break months earlier were quieter, more serious, and generally hesitant. The new students, many of which had turned to Blyth Academy due to our robust virtual classes at the end of the 2019/20 school year, didn’t know anyone, and due to cohorting requirements related to COVID-19, we couldn’t facilitate our typical new student orientations, meet and greets, and mixers.  There was a large amount of fear and anxiety around the return to school for all stakeholders this year, and in that we saw an even greater need to connect the students in our school community.  

As small schools with enrolment of 80-200 students per campus, we have the luxury of catering to our students’ interests in terms of both academic and extracurricular planning and delivery. Our philosophy around extracurriculars at Blyth Academy has always been based on the interests of our students which can (and should) change from year to year.  At the end of each school year, our Director of Student Life surveys students to find out what types of teams, clubs, or activities they’re interested in for the year ahead.  As part of our new student interview process, we talk about extracurricular activities that students have participated in or have interest in participating in at Blyth Academy. Once this information is collected and reviewed, we get started with organizing and scheduling clubs. Whether we have ten or two students interested in an activity, we run it and encourage others to join when they hear about the interesting things we are doing and the fun we are having!

This year, we’re running all of our extracurricular clubs virtually, though we’re hopeful that we’ll soon be able to meet in person and resume sports activities as well.  Despite being virtual, we’ve found increased participation in clubs this year, as students are eager to “meet” without masks on and reconnect with others who have common interests. It’s the connection piece that is most important for our kids right now. Through extracurriculars, we create opportunities for students to meet with their colleagues, work collaboratively to achieve common goals, explore interests and passions, or explore new pursuits in a safe and supportive environment.   



Term Four (Apr 26 to Jun 29)

Though our physical doors remain temporarily closed, the minds of our students stay open. Summer classes are continuing to meet on their regular daily schedules, in virtual classrooms with face-to-face instruction and peer interaction.  The Blyth Academy model of small class sizes, flexible scheduling and individualized approach have enabled us to remain faithful to our standards. Our commitment to ongoing and meaningful communication between school, teachers, students and families has been critical to this effort.

Although our students have transitioned into summer mode and COVID-19 restrictions have begun to loosen, we are looking ahead to what September will hold for our campuses and families.
We want to be clear - our preference and our priority is to get students back to our campuses, but we must ensure this is done in a safe and effective way. While we await official guidance from Public Health and the Ministry of Education, a "return to school" task force has been hard at work putting concrete operational plans in place for all likely scenarios. This includes a full return to campus with safeguards, a blended model of virtual and in-campus learning and the continuation of fully virtual classrooms. All scenarios will provide robust learning and live, daily instruction and interaction with teachers and peers. 
With ten campuses across Ontario, we realize that each one of our schools is a unique space and community. We will be implementing across-the-board policies on hand washing, facility cleaning and social distancing measures. Each school is also prepared to pivot individually based on the guidance of local health authorities and to best serve students and families. 
Our recent survey showed that over 80 per cent of Blyth Academy families are eager to return to campuses, and we are hard at work to prepare for this day. As September's scenario becomes clearer and more information becomes available, we will continue to communicate. 

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