Student Interest, Advocacy, and Academics Come Together during Upper Grades Club Time
By Tom Sellevaag, Upper Grades Head
After 30 months when so much of our professional brainpower was occupied by Covid—first adapting to it, then digging out from the mess it left behind—it’s been refreshing to be able to start a significant new programmatic initiative in the Upper Grades this year. Club Time debuted last month, and already it’s been an eventful few weeks:
The inaugural Student Government is brainstorming activities designed to build connectedness and promote community service. Class representatives have engaged their peers to sharpen their focus and are moving forward with plans to realize their vision.
The Newspaper Club is hard at work on the first edition of the Trimester Times, with the goal of publishing by Thanksgiving.
The Drama Club is beginning preparations for their participation in a middle school drama festival in December, which will feature several works, including an original student-created piece.
The Black Student Union and the Queer Club have both restarted their monthly meetings, while the newly-formed Young Men’s Affinity Group is challenging male-identifying students to investigate their identities, foster positive masculinity, and promote gender equity.
Students in other clubs have been doing Peruvian embroidery, designing catapults, cleaning up trash in Garfield Park, honing their soccer skills, and planning to create projects about Frontiers in History for National History Day.
Club Time in some ways has its roots in the Students Engage project that has been a staple of 6th Grade Humanities for the past few years. In this project, groups of students collaborate to identify something to improve the Upper Grades experience, then propose a way to address the need. Through this process, they learn about how to translate ideas into action, the practical and systemic considerations that impact the feasibility of a proposed solution, and how to make compromises that increase the appeal of a plan without fundamentally altering it. Teams present their proposals to their peers, their teachers, and me, and together we work to develop and refine high-priority and high-interest proposals that can be implemented.
Over the years, a number of the projects have focused on aspects of the program: the desire for a student government, a newspaper, and more emphasis on sports. Others have highlighted the need for affinity groups for various subsets of the Upper Grades student body. Often, when discussing various student proposals, we found ourselves saying, “Great idea! If only we had time to do something like that!” Eventually, we became convinced that we had enough promising options to justify creating the time we needed. From there, Club Time was born.
But if the content of Club Time has been guided by recent student and staff thinking, the ideas that inspired it stretch back at least a decade, when we offered elective courses that met periodically and were well-received by students. Then, in 2017, a faculty task force convened to reimagine the Upper Grades program articulated a series of Guideposts to help guide our future programmatic decisions. The relevance of electives--and its current incarnation as Club Time--is apparent in all of the Guideposts:
Children have agency and are co-creators and stewards of their learning. Students are essential contributing members of the community.
Learning experiences are designed for real world impact. Learning is a collaborative process that has specific intention and value.
Social-emotional, academic, and student skill development are interdependent. Teaching and learning demonstrate that all knowledge is interconnected.
At Capitol Hill Day School, we seek to understand multiple perspectives and act in partnership with others to strengthen communities.
Teacher as Learner:
Teachers model a commitment to lifelong learning. As facilitators, they learn from and with students.
Of course, there are plenty of ways we can live out our values. And time is precious in schools. So why carve out an hour each week for interest-based clubs—or, as they are sometimes described in other settings, extracurriculars? In a 2021 article about the “Enduring Value of Extracurriculars” in post-pandemic education, Iowa school official Chad Lang reflects that extracurriculars remain critical in spite of--and even because of--the disruptions of the Covid years. Lang urges administrators not to “neglect the important roles extracurriculars can play. Such activities often make powerful contributions to students’ well-being, their sense of connection to the community, and their engagement in academics.” In short, extracurriculars can help students be more available--available for learning, and available to be positive community members. But it’s more than that. Extracurriculars aren’t merely the carrot that we dangle to entice students to do “real schoolwork.” Rather, they themselves provide a forum for learning important concepts and skills:
- the Student Government representatives who are learning how to identify needs, advocate for causes, and communicate with varied stakeholders.
- The Science and Engineering Club members, who used physics concepts and design principles in the design of their catapults and egg parachutes.
- The Embroidery Club students, who are honing their ability to create works of art through discipline and careful attention to detail.
- The newspaper club, in which students are working on communicating skillfully through diverse media
One concept that didn’t make it onto our list of Guideposts five years ago, but one that we talk about a lot these days, is the concept of iteration. We’re a forward-looking group of educators, always searching for ways to improve and adjust to meet the evolving needs and interests of our students. And this is one of the most exciting things about Club Time: we don’t know how it will look in the future!