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Editorial: Take a closer look at eligibility requirements for extracurricular activities in Harford schools

Richard Slutzky, a former teacher, coach and county council president, and current Harford County Councilman Curtis Beulah presented research to board members earlier this month that suggests participation in extracurricular activities keeps students focused and helps them improve their SAT scores and overall academic performance.

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Since 2007, Harford schools eligibility policy has stated students who receive one failing grade on a quarterly report card (expect the fourth quarter) or one failing grade in any subject as a final grade, are no eligible to participate in extracurricular activities, which include athletics, drama, student government or other clubs.

We understand the rationale behind the existing policy: A student goes to school to learn, first and foremost. Playing soccer, being a part of the student council or starring in the school play, for example, are privileges that come with being successful academically.

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For many students though, those extracurricular activities are an important part of the school experience, helping them learn life skills necessary to succeed and others that help expand upon what they are already learning in their classes. These clubs and activities can also help youths grow personally, building bonds and relationships with fellow students they may not otherwise encounter in the classroom.

Beyond that, for some students, afterschool activities can keep kids out of trouble. Citing the “America After 3 PM” study by the AfterSchool Alliance, Beulah told the school board about 83% of parents with children enrolled in some sort of afterschool program said it would reduce the likelihood their kids would commit a crime, use drugs or become a teen parent.

The study also showed that every dollar invested in afterschool programs saves $3 by reducing crime and welfare costs, as well as improving student performance in class and increasing their earning potential down the line.

Those are just some of the reasons it makes sense to encourage extracurricular participation, as Slutzky and Beulah suggested.

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Should a student be punished and unable to participate in extracurriculars their senior year, for example, because they bit off more than they could chew by signing up and struggling with multiple AP courses? Should an otherwise successful student miss out because they are struggling with trigonometry, European history or Spanish?

We think it would make more sense to look at the student’s overall academic success. Perhaps the policy could allow for one failing grade — but not in consecutive marking period — so long as the student’s grade point average is above a certain level.

Maybe it could be combined with a sort of study hall or mentoring program where students participating in afterschool activities help each other with homework before practice, or some mechanism to show a student's good-faith effort to bring up their grade.

We agree that students who are chronically struggling in class or are in danger of failing out of school should be forced to focus on academics and lose extracurricular privileges. However, we think Harford’s school board should take a closer look at the one failing grade eligibility requirement to allow students who might slip up one quarter to not miss out on an important part of their high school career, so long as they are making efforts to improve their grades.

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