Posted on

Medford school district should rethink co-curricular standards

It is tough to be a high school student right now.

While reopening schools for in-person instruction this fall was, and continues to be, the right call for local school districts and families, things are far from being business as usual in school buildings.

Students and teachers are facing rolling quarantines, the challenges of virtual learning and the stress of having limited options for letting off steam. Because students and staff do not live in a bubble, even the best efforts to keep them socially distant, safe and in school will occasionally fall short. Not a week has gone by this school year that students and/or staff have had to be sent home due to contact tracing. This has disrupted educational efforts as students are in a constant state of playing catch-up for missed work. Things are also tough for those taking the virtual option, either through choice or being home on quarantine. While virtual learning can and does work for some students, for others, particularly those that lack access to high speed internet or the discipline for self-guided study, it is a nightmare and just widens the cracks for students to fall through.

Traditionally high school co-curricular activities, including sports, clubs and organizations, have served as positive outlets for students to get involved and stay engaged and active. Hitting the gym or playing field may be the thing that keeps a student focused during a long lecture or as they plow their way through a math class.

Unfortunately, policies in the Medford school district limit the ability of many students from accessing those positive impacts. The Medford school board, rightly, considers participation in clubs, sports and activities a privilege that must be earned. Especially in regard to student athletes, the district sets a high bar for students to be eligible to participate, not only looking at traditional end of quarter and end of semester grades, but ongoing grades with progress reports issued every three weeks. With a rolling quarantine sending students home, under the district’s policies there has been an explosion in the number of students who are academically ineligible to participate in co-curricular activities. The number of students who are academically ineligible is about double this fall compared to a normal year. In place of physical activity, the students are seeing an increase in screen time.

A recent study from the University of British Columbia and published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that adolescents — especially girls — who spend more time in extracurricular activities and less than two hours of screen time after school have better mental health. It seems there is truth after all to the adage of “healthy body, healthy mind.”

Schools should temporarily loosen academic restrictions for participation in athletics and other extracurricular activities as a way to benefit the mental health of students.

Given the extraordinary burdens of education during COVID-19 it is time for school boards to back off, at least for now, the idea that students need to be paragons in order to participate.