Extracurriculars for Teens: Katy ISD Sets Meaningful Example

Extracurriculars for Teens: Katy ISD Sets Meaningful Example

October 04 2022

Varsity football, art class, choir, debate club, lacrosse, theatre, and many other programs come to mind when discussing the topic of “extracurriculars” for teens and even tweens. Most high school graduates recall being a part of at least one of these numerous programs, many of whom built lifelong friendships through extracurriculars. Some have even pursued careers that directly stemmed from their involvement in an extracurricular program, whether they participated with a career mindset or not.

So what is it that makes extracurriculars so meaningful, memorable and important for teens and tweens? Does participation really make that much of a difference in development? Is it all worthwhile if the participants do not pursue a career in that field?
Why Extracurriculars Are Meaningful

People have an innate need to belong. Having a sense of belonging gives us a feeling of security, understanding, acceptance and identity. This need is amplified in our youth as they are discovering who they are and who they want to become. Having a sense of community gives teens and tweens a platform on which to learn and grow with less fear of rejection, finding commonality with their peers.

“Being plugged in and being part of a community of students who have similar interests is something that I think is so powerful for the development of the young person, especially when you’re doing something like theatre where everybody is working together toward a common goal,” said Joey Watkins, theatre director at Morton Ranch High School in Katy ISD.

There are many soft skills that are developed while participating in extracurricular activities as well, such as working together as a team, meeting deadlines, overcoming difficulties, learning how to communicate and being organized. Not only are these skills valuable in the post-high school experience academically or professionally, but they equip young adults personally as well.

“As an educator – this is year 17 for me – seeing kids that leave high school and never do theater again but leave with such powerful soft skills is the biggest value to what we do,” said Watkins.

A research study found in the Journal of Social Issues found that teenagers who participate in extracurricular activities had better academic outcomes than teenagers who had not. They also found that teenagers who participated in sports, school-based activities, and academic clubs were more likely to be enrolled in college full time at age 21. Participation in extracurricular activities also resulted in lower alcohol and drug use among teenagers. 

Jason Drake, lead clinician and owner of Katy Teen & Family Counseling (KTFC), has witnessed a sharp uptick in rates of depression and anxiety-related disorders in their teenage clients like social anxiety, panic attacks, and school avoidance, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the teens that KTFC works with are struggling with anxiety.

“Participation in extracurricular activities can help improve academic performance, social skills, and act as a protective factor for depression, anxiety, and other emotional challenges. But just like many things, moderation is key”, explained Drake.
A Living Example
Schools like Morton Ranch High School are currently setting an example of the importance of extracurricular activities with their  Maverick Theatre Company’s production of “The Bully Show”, an interactive play in a gameshow setting written by Brian Guehring for young people that aims to raise awareness of bullying and encourage further discussions about the issue. 

A scene from Maverick Theatre Company's production of "The Bully Show".

“Bullying is such a hot topic and it’s something that we need to be talking about and teaching at a young age so kids know what the warning signs are, know how to deal with it in an appropriate way and know how to get help if they need it,” said Joey Watkins, theatre director at Morton Ranch High school.

Through the theatre department at Morton Ranch High School, students are given a creative outlet that also provides a means of connecting with peers in meaningful ways. From forging friendships to helping each other with daily challenges like homework, these students, like many who participate in extracurricular activities, are directly benefitting from programs such as Maverick Theatre Company.

“I learned how to be myself without people judging me. Fine arts give you a sense of identity and it taught me how to grow and have interactions with other people that have the same similarities and beliefs as me. It made me extremely passionate and competitive, and I [decided to] push myself. I think that’s really important for college,” said Summer Lopez, a Morton Ranch High School student who plays the gameshow host in “The Bully Show”.

Many of the students who are involved in this production have had personal experiences with bullying, making this show even more meaningful to them in their effort to take a stand against bullying and help other students.

A scene from Maverick Theatre Company's production of "The Bully Show".

“This production means a lot to me. It’s very thoughtful and relatable. I want the kids to know that they can stand up and how to stand up through the language I use. I want the viewers to walk away knowing this is what bullying looks like and this is what I can do about it,” said Zoë Fruland, whose character is teased because of their name, much like Fruland has experienced offstage.

Going well beyond conventional entertainment value, Watkins and his student cast and crew are using this production as an opportunity for potentially life-changing community outreach. Long term, Watkins' greatest hope for the show is that attendees walk away from the show with the decision to start treating others differently and harness new tools to better deal with the issues that stem from bullying.

On how he hopes the show will make a difference for the student attendees after leaving their high school campus, “the immediate success would be creating an environment in a culture, in a classroom with a teacher where they can have a new conversation,” said Watkins.

Second to fifth graders are the target audience for the show. Thousands of students from elementary schools that feed into Morton Ranch High School will ride by school bus to Morton Ranch on October 6 and 7 to watch the show with their peers. Morton Ranch High School students and staff involved in the production of the show share in their excitement to be a part of a meaningful opportunity to educate and inspire these young students. The public is invited to attend the Friday night showing. See the link below to purchase tickets.

purchase tickets online

“If I can make an impact on the community that I live in, that’s why we’re here. It’s to help better the families, friends and relatives that we have around us in our communities and our neighborhoods, on our street,” said Watkins, who lives near Morton Ranch High School.
How Katy ISD Fosters Creativity and Development Through Extracurriculars

From fine arts to FFA, Katy ISD is committed to providing district-approved, school-sponsored extracurricular programs to its students with a primary focus on the development of well-rounded citizens. These activities support learning through guided practice or leadership development by providing opportunities to use skills, attitudes, and knowledge that will help prepare students for their post-secondary experience.

Being involved in extracurricular activities also helps students become more accountable and responsible. Most extracurricular programs are subject to a “no pass, no play” policy enforced by the school district where students must meet certain attendance and performance criteria to participate in their chosen extracurricular activities. In addition, students are often held to a higher standard of accountability outside of the classroom, bringing the importance of bullying prevention full circle.

To learn more about the many programs offered by Katy ISD, visit their website. To watch a promo video for Maverick Theatre Company's production of "The Bully Show", click this link.

By Tiffany Krenek, My Neighborhood News 
Tiffany Krenek has been on the My Neighborhood News team since August 2021. She is passionate about curating and sharing content that enriches the lives of our readers in a personal, meaningful way. A loving mother and wife, Tiffany and her family live in the West Houston/Cypress region.

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