Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

Nichole Boyd, Director of Student Activities at Evanston Township High School, along with Athletic Director Chris Livatino, Community Service Coordinator Diana Balitaan, and Art Department Chair Nick Gehl, reported recently on the extent of extra-curricular activities during the fall semester. They also reported a correlation between participation in extra-curricular activities such as community service, sports, or fine arts and higher grades.

At the Feb. 8, District 202 Board meeting, Ms. Boyd said, “At every assembly or meeting – any time we’re in front of kids, we always talk about getting involved. Whether it’s student activities, Fine Arts, athletics or service, we really focus on our student experience outside of the classroom. … Extra-curricular activities provide all students with opportunities to develop aspects of leadership, self-discipline, responsibility, teamwork, self-confidence, commitment, and student wellness while pursuing an interest that may lead to a career or lifelong hobby …. Positive participation in activities helps to increase student engagement in the school.”

Ms. Boyd described some of the extra-curricular highlights of the past year:

  • Participation in athletics overall increased by about 12% in the 2019-20 school year. Participation by Latinx students increased by 27%.
  • 92% of the varsity teams had a team GPA of 3.5 or higher.
  • Boys and girls basketball ranked among the top teams in Illinois and won the CSL south and IHSA regional championships.
  • Girls bowling won the CFL and IHSA regional championship for the first time in ETH history. The CSL hate speech protocol was adapted, a measure spearheaded by Mr. Livatino.
  • The Community Service Club raised about $22,000 through various activities.
  • The Fine Arts Department hosted Omar Thomas, an arranger and composer.
  • The Jazz Ensemble Select was elected to perform at the 2021 Illinois music educator conference.
  • The Speech and Debate program is highly decorated and qualified students for national competition.
  • The ETHS Dance Company dazzled when the students performed “Illuminate.”
  • The math team placed second in the regional competition, eighth place in the north suburban math league.
  • The chess team plays fourth in State.
  • The Mock Trial Team was recognized in local competitions for best attorneys and outstanding witnesses.
  • The Health Occupations Club qualified 28 students for State, for which they are currently preparing.

Mr. Livatino said, “We had 76% of all students enrolled at ETHS participate in at least one extracurricular activity or perform some hours of recorded community service. We noticed our Asian multiracial and white students at ETHS are all participating at over 80%. But there’s some work for us to do with our Black and Latinx population.”

Students from low-income families participate at a 57% rate, while student from non-low-income families participate at an 82% rate, he said, adding, “That same discrepancy also applies to students with IEP status. So we’ve got to try to figure out how to break down some barriers to participation.”

Fine Arts

Mr. Gehl said in every subgroup, fine arts students who participated in at least one activity outperformed students who did not. “The differential shows that the students that participate soared at almost a full grade-point percentage higher than those that did. That’s such a significant number. … The data office helped us understand that this is actually a positive, moderate relationship between participating and GPA. … And for those of us that are involved, anecdotally, we do believe that being involved in activities does help students with time management organization, as well as being engaged in their academics.”

Students who participated in at least one extra-curricular activity also had higher attendance rates and fewer disciplinary referrals, Mr. Gehl said. He added the academic and attendance differential widened in the spring semester of last year, when students “were faced with an extreme challenge. … I can only wonder how being engaged in activity might have helped our students persist during that time or stay connected during that time to ETHS. … And again, there’s a positive moderate relationship between these two areas. … It’s great to see the students that are participating in activities, performing in such a high level in all each of these different areas.”

Community Service

Ms. Balitaan said community service at ETHS takes several forms within the school and off-campus: being a student ambassador, taking a service trip, tutoring at local programs, participating in community cleanups, volunteering at a soup kitchen, etc. Ms. Boyd added that attendance at social-consciousness summits, pep rallies, field trips, or athletic events is a sign of student engagement.

“Having that commitment is really huge – and understanding yourself and learning more about an issue,” Ms. Balitaan said.

As in sports, Asian and white students participate at a higher rate, she added.

Board Comments

Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “I’ll be interested to hear more about the strategies you’re using to expand that participation down the road. Because it sounds like you you’re acknowledging the need, but I’m less clear on how you’re going to change it.”

She also said she felt that participation numbers in Fine Arts is low. Mr. Gehl said the participation rate for students enrolled in Fine Arts is 17%, “and I would say that the number is pretty typical. We’re usually around 600 in terms of our extracurricular activities.” He added that certain fine arts groups such as band, orchestra and choir have an extra-curricular component to them.

Board Vice President Monique Parsons asked how athletic teams were succeeding academically, particularly in light of the high school’s decision to lower the grade requirement for participating in a sport, mandating study tables in conjunction with that.

Ms. Boyd said, “The numbers continue to be actually .2 higher GPAs for student athletes than they were previously before we changed the rule. And about 85% of the kids [who previously would have been ineligible to participate] earn above a 2.0 at the end of that semester.”

Students who join competitive clubs such as Scholastic Bowl or Mock Trial “just happen to be doing better in the classroom anyway,” she added.

Board member Elizabeth Rolewicz asked whether the same differential applied to students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Mr. Livatino said the differential was smaller but that students with an IEP who participated in an extra-curricular activity had higher GPAs.

Opening Doors to Participation

He also said overall participation numbers were high but that some groups of students – Black students, Latinx students and students from low-income families – were under-represented. Females, however, participate at a higher rate than males.

Board member Pat Maunsell asked whether the high school had worked with School District 65 or other groups that offer experiences outside the classroom.

Mr. Livatino said attributed some of the higher rate of participation by females  to ETHS’s partnership with Girls Play Sports, “where we’ve introduced all these myriad of opportunities for sports to girls, as early as third, fourth and fifth grade, and reinforce that sixth, seventh and eighth grade. And now when they get to ETHS, there’s a much greater comfort level. … And it’s nothing that I did, it’s that these girls feel more comfortable about coming out for sports. And I think that’s sort of where the light bulb went off for me is that we need to do the same thing for Latinos, to make our boys feel like this is a place for them to be as well.

“There are certain barriers that exist; we want to try to figure out what those are. We want to try to decrease them or remove them altogether so that we can have a lot more students involved in our activities.”

Students whose family could afford to have them participate in programs in grade school arrive at the high school with a level of experience and confidence that others may not have, Mr. Livatino said, adding. “We’ve got to try to figure out some ways to open up those doors sooner.”

Mr. Gehl said similarly he felt participation had less to do with constraints and facilities and more to do with out-of-school experiences prior to enrolling in ETHS. “As Chris [Livatino] continuously mentioned, our goal is not just to break down barriers within our walls, but try to get more students experiences before they get here.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...