Despite a wide range of offerings, student participation in extracurricular activities at Evanston Township High School is not universal, nor does it reflect the diversity of the student body in many cases, according to reports presented to the District 202 School Board on Oct. 13. There are about 3,000 students at ETHS and, although data shows participation in nearly 3,000 extracurricular activities, there is not a one-on-one match of student to activity. 

Associate Principal Richard Bowers said that the District has a goal for all of the nearly 3,000 students to be involved in at least one extracurricular activity.  The current count shows that more than 1,500 students are involved in a non-athletic extracurricular activity, with numerous activities yet to provide their data.

Athletic Director Chris Livatino presented a report showing data for all 31 sports programs, representing more than 1,500 student-athlete seasons. The report reviewed the different sports programs and analyzed participation by race and gender. Similar data is being collected about participation rates for all non-athletic competitive and non-competitive activities, although only some data was available at the meeting, said Dr. Bowers. Some students are involved in more than one activity.

“Over the past two years we’ve had an activity and athletics fair for incoming ninth- graders.  We do it at the end of their eighth-grade year.  We’ve had very positive feedback,” said Dr. Bowers.  At the fair, incoming students and their parents can meet students who represent the activity or sport and talk about what being involved in an extracurricular activity involves.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon added that Dean Cynthia Bumbry had arranged for representatives of extracurricular activities to be in the lunchrooms to encourage students to be involved.

“It’s kids talking to kids who make the difference,” said Dr. Bowers.

In addition, administrators stressed the responsibility of adults to reach out and encourage students to become involved in activities.

“Studies show that involvement in extracurricular activities has a significant impact on students’ success in high school and beyond,” said Board member Deborah Graham, commenting on the importance of the information.  She added that students who participate in extracurricular activities have someone in addition to a teacher “who can care for you, who can watch out for you.”

Participation in Athletics

The District’s student population is evenly divided between males and females, but, Mr. Livatino said, “Male participation in athletics was slightly higher than female participation.” He reported that 53 percent of participants in athletics are boys and 47 percent are girls.

 “The incredibly large number of football participants skews that percentage, and when football is not included in the participation calculations, females actually enjoy a 53 percent edge in overall participation numbers,” he said.  Almost 200 students play football, which represents about 12 percent of total students participating in athletics.

Mr. Livatino also reported that only 29 percent of athletes are black and 5 percent Hispanic. These figures do not reflect the school’s population, which is 34 percent black and 12 percent Hispanic.

 “Black and Hispanic females were most underrepresented, at 26 percent and 4 percent respectively,” Mr. Livatino said.

Despite the imbalances in overall participation, some sports do more accurately reflect the school’s population, according to the report: football, boys soccer, Pomkits, boys and girls basketball, wrestling, boys gymnastics, softball, boys and girls track and field and boys volleyball.

Other sports have more homogeneity: Cheerleading attracts mostly minority students, and tennis, golf, swimming, cross-country, lacrosse and water polo are played by mostly white students, according to the report.

“Is balance something we value here?” asked Board vice president Jane Colleton.

 “Absolutely,” responded Mr. Livatino.  “I think if you ask most alumni what they love about Evanston High School, it’s the diversity and the opportunity to be exposed to people from different backgrounds, whether it’s racially or socio-economically.  If we can get all of our sports to be as diverse as our school, then every kid’s going to have an opportunity to be exposed to different backgrounds.”

 Mr. Livatino made some recommendations to expand sports participation by girls and minorities: 

  • ETHS should add boys/girls bowling as a fully funded varsity sport for the 2010-2011 school year.  This will provide more opportunities for students to participate during the “slow” winter season.
  • ETHS should examine adding girls field hockey as a fall sport.  This may provide opportunities for females in the fall and balance the overall percentage of male/female participation in ETHS athletics.
  • Identify opportunities to expose black and Latino students, especially females, to “alternative” sports in fourth and fifth grade and encourage and cultivate their participation throughout middle school into ETHS.  This may also help to increase the diversity in sports in which participation has traditionally been white.

 “I’m glad to see that we have such an amazing array of girls’ sports at the high school … and that we’re focusing on the gaps for our black and Latino girls,” said Board member Gretchen Livingston.  She said, “One of the biggest stumbling blocks for these sports programs is the cost, and … speaking from personal experience, I know these sports can get very expensive.”

Ms. Colleton agreed about financial barriers to extracurricular participation. “Some kids have had music lessons forever or swimming lessons forever,” she remarked, “and kids that don’t, it’s almost as if they can’t get in the door because you don’t start at a first experience level.”

Ms. Colleton also said that sometimes students “walk into something, if they have the nerve, and look around and don’t see anybody who looks like them. It’s the same thing that happens in AP classes, and they immediately get discouraged. We have to find a way to break down the suppositions that kids have about who belongs in which group.”

“A lot of it has to do with connection to one individual who can make a big difference,” said Mr. Livatino.  A student who gets encouragement from the coach … has a better chance of getting involved.  We need to remind our coaches to open up their doors, yes, but [also] to shove people through those doors a little bit.”

“They have to say it out loud, they have to say it exactly that they have an expectation that this team should reflect the school,” said Ms. Colleton.

Participation in Clubs and Other Extracurriculars

Dr. Bowers said 25 competitive and 66 non-competitive non-athletic extracurricular activities take place at ETHS.  Competitive activities require weekly grade checks and other eligibility requirements.

“Data collection of clubs was a technological challenge prior to the 2009-2010 school year,” said Dr. Bowers. He suggested that an effective evaluation system for all activities be established.

 “We are now able, with E-School, to monitor the participation of all students in clubs and activities, just as with IHSA athletic activities.” So far, data shows that girls participate more than boys (55 percent, compared with 45 percent) and whites participate in the reported activities at a much greater rate than their representation in the population.

One of the challenges of expanding the extracurricular offerings at ETHS is recruiting sufficient faculty members to sponsor additional clubs.  District policy requires that a faculty or staff member must act as an advisor to any extracurricular activity, whereas athletic coaches do not need to be employed otherwise by the District.

Dr. Bowers said there is not always a District employee available with the expertise or desire to be an advisor for a given club. In addition, in the first year an activity is established, no stipend is paid, and for some activities no stipend is paid at all. 

The administration apparently plans to pursue it goal of having each student involved in at least one outside activity. Ms. Graham suggested the requirement that a club advisor be faculty or staff is “hindering our ability to provide activities that will attract the greatest level of student participation.”

Dr. Bowers responded that there is already discussion underway to reconsider this approach.