The District 202 School Board voted unanimously at its Oct. 9 meeting to drop the GPA eligibility requirement for students who want to participate in activities with the hope of getting more students engaged in school and increasing student success.
During a five-year review, Policy Section 6:190 was revised to remove the requirement that students have a 2.0 GPA the semester prior to participating in activities that include “athletics, public competitions or performances.” The new policy states that students shall meet Ilinois High School Association (IHSA) requirements of passing at least five classes the semester prior to and during the activity, and continue to adhere to the ETHS Extracurricular Activity Code which outlines expectations for behavior, conduct, and good decision-making.
The new policy explicitly states that “every student-participant…will have access to academic supports,” that “students in jeopardy of not meeting IHSA eligibility will be directly connected to targeted academic supports,” and “any student-participant failing to meet the Academic Criteria for Participation shall be suspended from the activity until the specific academic criteria are met.”
“This revision supports the reframing of extracurricular participation through the arts, sports, and activities as an intervention strategy that can help reduce school avoidance and increase students’ (re)engagement in academics and in school life,” states the report provided to the Board.
Currently, student-participants’ grades are monitored on a weekly basis. Anyone receiving two Cs is required to attend three sessions of support per week (a.m. support, WildKit Academy, 40 minutes in a homework center, etc.) and any student receiving Ds or Fs must attend four sessions of support per week. Such procedures for linking student-participants to supports in the new policy are currently being developed by the administration and are expected to be in place for implementation on Oct. 23.
“This is an academics first recommendation,” said Dr. Marcus Campbell, Principal and Assistant Superintendent. “It will require a lot of work on our end but we are committed to making sure students succeed so it’s well worth it.”
Annual Athletic Report Provides Promise
During the same School Board meeting, Athletic Director Chris Livatino gave the annual report on athletics. After highlighting many of the successes ETHS teams had on the field of play last year (see sidebar), he provided details on athletes’ participation numbers and GPAs.
In 2016-17, the average cumulative GPA for all student athletes was 3.55; for non-athletes, the average GPA was 3.03. Last year, 32 of 35 EHTS varsity teams earned the IHSA Team Academic Achievement Award for having above an average team 3.0 GPA and 24 ETHS varsity teams earned above an average team 3.5 GPA. The average semester GPAs for Hispanic/Latino and Black/AA student-athletes were 0.70 and 0.56 higher than Latino and Black students not involved in athletics, said Mr. Livatino.
Participation in athletics was also up. Last year saw the most students in sports ever at 1,923, an increase of 7.3%.
Female participation was up 9.3% to 962 students (the addition of a field hockey team provided more opportunity).The Black/African American student participation level increased for girls by 15.1% and for boys by 6.7%.
“We still have to do better reaching the Latino community,” said Mr. Livatino, with Latino athletes dropping by 4.7% for boys and 8.4% for girls.
Mr. Livatino also spoke of how the athletic department is actively working to make more connections in the community and encouraging students to play sports. He talked about the middle school multi-sport challenge and the “Girls Play Sports” program. The ETHS athletic department has provided over $34,000 in aid to summer sports camps last year to encourage play.
More students are continuing to play sports in high school thanks to Joyce Anderson, College-bound Athlete Student Advisor, said Mr. Livatino. She has worked with those interested in pursuing sports in college and has doubled the number of ETHS student-athletes who go on to compete in college to 99 in the last two years; previously 25-30 students would go on the play in college each year.
“I always knew participating in sports was more than just an activity to compete, but also a great way to connect with school,” said Mr. Livatino. “Looking at the data, students do better in sports. I used to look at participating as the prize for doing well, but academic achievement is the prize you get from participating in sports.”
Board Member Pat Munsell asked if coaches were getting professional development “to help them do a better job of making connections” with students. Mr. Livatino said he currently meets with coaches weekly or semi-weekly to talk about successes and struggles. Coaches attend a seminar on sending a “no use message” to students about drugs and alcohol. He said there is also an emphasis on attending clinics within their sports for guidance.
“We are not lowering but ramping up expectations, telling students that failure is not an option. Easier interventions and supports are the backbone (of the updated policy),” said Board member Mark Metz. “I am enthusiastic about this, but the devil is in the details. This is making the school more accountable.”
“Is there buy-in from the teachers” for the new policy?” asked Board Member Jude Laude. Dr. Campbell said he had met with coaches, sponsors, the Black Caucus and there was a lot of discussion about the need for students to be connected. “If those conversations had gone differently,” he said, the policy recommendation would not have gone forward. “We are not hurting, but trying to support black males,” Dr. Campbell added.