For most students, middle school is a confusing time. Students in middle grades are in a critical period for developing their identities, but it can be difficult for students to find themselves when they move up to middle school. A study from New York University’s (NYU) Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds that participating in community and athletic activities during middle school is beneficial for low-income, urban youth. Extracurricular activities provide a setting for personal development outside of school that appears to support low-income youth.
The researchers analyzed a dataset, which included 625 low-income students from 14 New York City schools, from the Adolescent Pathways Project. The students completed surveys during the last year of elementary school and the first two years of middle school. The survey asked about students’ participation in extracurricular activities. It included questions about the setting of the activities (school, community, athletic, or religious) and the frequency with which students participated.
A large percentage of the students did not regularly participate in extracurricular activities, and those who did participate varied widely in their participation from year to year. Despite these factors, several patterns emerged. Participating in activities in the community, like volunteering, was the most highly associated with better academic performance. Athletic activities were also linked to higher academic performance. Activities at school did not affect academic performance. Finally, religious activities were linked to lower academic outcomes.
A high level of extracurricular participation in two settings was connected to better academic performance. High levels of participation in three or more settings did not appear to benefit students; however, only seven percent of the cohort reported participating in three or more settings.
“Students in the middle grades should have extracurricular opportunities—ways for them to get involved in activities that give them agency, a sense of being part of a team, and a sense of accomplishing something. I think we all know someone who lit up scholastically, socially, and at home when they found an activity that worked for them,” stated lead study author Kate Schwartz, doctoral student in NYU’s Psychology and Social Intervention program.
This research is published in the American Journal of Community Psychology.
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