Outside the Early College/Dual Enrollment Classroom: Extracurriculars, Sports, Clubs, and Work
The high school students are divided into two groups. One group, sitting in a colonial-era conference room on the campus of Phillips Academy -Andover, is working on homework with the assistance of a staff member. A participant brings in a FAFSA for help from the staff, a vast pile of financial documents entrusted by the parents to the program. The other group, deep in the bowels of an ancient gymnasium complex, are putting on their sneakers, getting out on the indoor courts, and most importantly, getting their squash balls warm enough to start playing. Lawrence program director Dora Lubin introduced me to the organization's approach, and it has benefited many students in Boston, Lawrence, Providence, and beyond.
This is SquashBusters, which starts working with students in 6th grade, and continues support into their college years. The program supports students with academics, physical activity, and building a supportive cohort of students, overseen by a professional staff trained in positive youth development. This means that their concern is always with the whole student and the whole family, and eventual success in life; not with producing professional athletes. When it comes to combining sports, academics, parental support, college access, and long-term support onto the college campus, SquashBusters is at the top of the game. The organization also manages to bring support from the wider squash community to these students, and to literally build structures on campuses that embody the program's aspirations.
Q Lead to Launch: Robert Snowden, Ph.D.
Dean Robert Snowden has created an early college/dual enrollment program in his work at Los Rios Community College District. He has worked to develop ways of recruiting young people who otherwise might not identify themselves as college material through their out of class interests:
The Challenges of Sports and Extracurriculars for Early Colleges and Dual Enrollment Students
For everything that traditional comprehensive high schools do poorly (academics, engagement, equity), they excel at delivering sports, extracurricular, and social activities. Even at high schools where the graduate rate is modest, and the dropout rate is high, students moving through the system have a variety of options to feel included in the school, and to contribute to school spirit. This can be taken to the point where it is dysfunctional - where a school district, in danger of being closed down for poor performance by the state, assigned its administrators to help build floats for a homecoming parade.
Many early colleges have moved in the other direction completely. Some early college programs either have no sports or extracurriculars on their own, or they simply allow students to participate in their activities at their local schools. Many early college programs encourage students to participate in more individual sports (think fencing or running) than team activities. Many of the families attracted to early college, immigrant families in particular, are not seeking a high-powered sports program from their school, leading to less demand for investment in this area.
For students in dual enrollment classes, sports may or may not interfere with classes. For many programs, a college class might take place at high school after-school hours, prime time for sports. College courses also have more out of time studying and preparation, making them difficult to fit into a schedule of practices, workouts, and games. While some students are able to balance all these activities (much as they will have to as college athletes), many students let some responsibilities drop in the process.
Having sports and athletics as a less important part of high school allows early colleges far more flexibility in organization and staffing. Athletics shapes the structure of American education in a myriad of ways, not always productive. The need for late afternoon practice times means that high schools often begin before dawn in the winter. Without a football or basketball program, early college programs can start at 9 am instead. Schools that do not need to hire teachers in dual teacher/coach roles have much more flexibility in staffing. Without athletics and athletic events on their agendas, administrators have more time to focus on students and instruction.
While sports can build leadership and teamwork skills, schools with a less developed sports program channel that energy into other areas -one high performing International Baccalaureate high school has a debate program that rivals the size of a football team. Students learn leadership, teamwork, and service in many ways, and early colleges can tap into these, though this is countercultural.
The biggest point of resistance for students and families can be the pursuit of a college athletic career. While colleges and coaches have ably marketed the college athletic scholarship as a way to pay for college, the free-ride athletic scholarship is an elusive item in American higher education. Given the number of students participating in high school sports, the chances of playing sports at a college level, or of competing for a team offering scholarships, is low. The NCAA's own data on this issue is revealing: of 27 sports tracked, in only five sports are students more than 10% likely to go on to play in college sports (NCAA, 2018). In the most lucrative sports, men's basketball and football, the percentages of high school athletes moving on to any college team are 4% and 7%, respectively. So great is the student and family investment in the idea of a college sports career, that colleges can offer students a lower scholarship labeled as an athletic scholarship than they would have had to offer as merit aid or a tuition discount.
What sports do provide, and that can also be provided in other ways, is some much-needed physical activity for young people. Some schools have looked to other methods of doing this, such as offering activities such as yoga during the school day as an elective. Early college graduate Paul Akande got all his exercise through a school ultimate frisbee team, which filled the hole left by the lack of a big sports program quite nicely. Sports also provide a sense of community and school pride, and early colleges have implemented activities to mirror the sense of excitement that sports can bring to a school.
How Out-of-School Activities
Can Help Students
Extracurricular activities are a tricky issue for early college and dual enrollment students. As minors on a college campus, sometimes a residential college campus, early college students fall in between the worlds of high school and college activities. Many college activities resist the idea of having high school students involved, as the legal and other issues involved in working with minors are beyond what most college instructors and staff want to address. The presence on college campuses of dorms also makes early college students a group that needs to be watched over, given the ease with which conversation in class, a dining hall, or dorm can lead to students heading over to a residential space (Mayhew, M. J., Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. 2016).
However, early college students also derive a great deal of meaning from being part of a campus, and the flurry of activities that can take place. When racist graffiti was found on the campus of Eastern Michigan University, early college students attended protest marches, and even organized their own events to show their support of diversity and inclusion on campus.
Early college programs can also organize their own clubs and activities. Some of these can be very simple - ECA@EMU's first clubs included a book club that met every week after school to talk about what they were reading.
Sarah Cowdell, director of the Merrimack College Pioneer Scholars program found that her early college alumni were not always interested in connecting to activities on campus. While they had participated in a wide variety of sports and afterschool activities in high school, once on a college campus full time, many did not seek out clubs or activities. Instead, they prioritized classwork, then off-campus jobs, and put off the idea of joining activities or clubs, even those that were job related, until future semesters. Getting students to see the connections in campus engagement, especially those that will help build a career network, is a key task for anyone working with early college students.
The Question of Work
For most educators, students holding down a part-time job during high school or an early college program is not considered ideal. The conventional thinking in schools and colleges is that if students just devoted all of their time to school, they would have more time on task, and be more academically successful. While this is certainly true after a number of hours of work (20 plus per week), research has shown that many high school and college students make gains from having a job, and are able to balance their responsibilities quite well. They also report that they learn important skills on the job, make social connections, and gain self-esteem from earning a wage and contributing to their family.
When early college students are working part-time, program staff can encourage them to make connections between the learning they are making in the classroom, their current job, and what they might want to do next in college or in their career. If students can feel engaged about both work and school, they can build time-management and other skills that will carry them into college, where they will have the same issues to balance.
Some researchers, such as Jobs for the Future's (JFF) Dr. Nancy Hoffman, have gone further, suggesting that more work-based experiences be built into educational programs, and that coursework deals explicitly with issues of the workplace. While high-income students are easily connected through their social networks to internships and opportunities, low-income students are often shut out of these, left to scrounge in their neighborhoods for entry level opportunities. Through programs that explicitly connect students to workplaces, and provide training in building and using social capital through networking, early college students could get a better chance of getting the types of positions that could help them advance their career aspirations (Hoffman, 2015).
Models to Provide Well-Rounded
Early College Experiences
Research has shown that co-curricular activities in college can greatly strengthen the experiences that students have in and outside the classroom. The leadership, teamwork and service skills that are developed in these activities can have a long-term positive impact on students. The level of engagement students can feel, and the amount of good they can do for the community, can be impressive. The same arguments apply to early college students. Developed slowly and intentionally, activities outside the classroom can support and enhance the experience a great deal. As colleges struggle with getting their traditional undergraduates off their phones and out of their dorm rooms, we have an opportunity to give early college students an early start on becoming a positive and engaged part of campus.
Many of the early college students continue to get a great deal out of participating in the activities of their large high school as well. The early college students took on major roles in the school's production of Aida, in spite of their busy academic schedules. However, for the early college students, extracurriculars are not an overwhelming focus on their lives, which remains fixed on academics.
Dr. Ellen Fischer has worked for years to build student engagement as the principal of Early College Alliance in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Her lessons about student engagement include:
According to Ellen Fischer, early college students do participate in Eastern Michigan University clubs and activities - musical theater, orchestra, band, marching band, language clubs (we've had several officers in these), biology, physics, economics clubs, and even intramural sports (dodge ball and football). They also take part in extracurriculars in their districts, and many of them do that-sports, musicals, and some clubs like Robotics.
ECA also built an active student leaders group, of 50+ students, who do everything from serving as Ambassadors (they present at Information Nights, Shadow Days, and any time we have visitors) to producing events (Prom, Talent Show, Harvest Hangout). The students have a service component for their events, like a small fundraiser or "drive" of some sort. One of the subcommittees of student leaders is the Diversiteam - which also includes younger students who attend the Diversity Forum in our county and then become diversity educators with the other students.
Students also have a Memorial Carden outside of King Hall, planted in honor of two students who died during the school year. At the end of the first term ECA students have a CLICK Celebration & Luncheon, which celebrates surviving the first semester at ECA, as well as a Salute to Spring event (run by student leaders) at the end of the Winter term. The students have orientation events for incoming students in the summer, and a Back to School
Kickoff for Returning Students. ECA is considering adding a Graduation for completing students, but so far have had a dinner and celebration for our Completers.
(15) The Early College/Dual Enrollment Edge: Early College and Dual Enrollment Students Outside the Classroom
Early college and dual enrollment students report:
What Early College Students Gain Outside the Classroom
Researchers Denise McDonald and Tina Farrell (2012) conducted focus groups with early college students to ask them about their own experiences, and how this fit into their future trajectory (high school to college to career). What they learned is that early college students, while stressed about their course workload and their future career, gained a lot from the early college experience that was not just inside the classroom:
National College Athletics Association (2018). Estimated Probability of Competing in College Athletics, http://www.ncaa.org/about/reso urces/research/estimated-probability-competing-college-athletics. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
Hoffman, N. (2015). Let's Cet Real Deeper Learning and the Power of the Workplace. Cambridge, MA: Jobs for the Future. https://www .luminafoundation.org/files/resources/lets-get-real.pdf Retrieved November 15, 2020.
McDonald, D. and Farrell, T. (2012). Out of the Mouths of Babes: Early College High School Students' Transformational Learning Experiences, /ournal of Advanced Academics, 23(3), 217-248. doi: 10.1177/1932202X12451440
Mayhew, M. J., Rockenbach, A. N., Bowman, N. A., Seifert, T. A., Wolniak, G. C. with Pascarella, E. T. and Terenzini, P. T. (2016). How College Affects Students (Vol. 3): 21st Century Evidence That Higher Education Works.