I teach in a low-income, urban high school, where close to 80 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch, meaning they live at or below the poverty level. In addition, the city where I live and teach is a "gateway" community, and many of my students come from different countries and speak many languages.
Since I began teaching, I wanted to start a Culture Club at my school, the goal for which was to allow students to form strong bonds with one another through extracurricular activities that foster a connection to their school in the process. Here's how I made it happen.
Putting Ideas Into Action
About eleven years ago, a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor came to my school to interview me about the teaching of writing. A few days after the resulting article came out, I got a letter in the mail from a woman named Jeanne in California. She said she liked the work I was doing at my school, and asked me if I needed funding for an extracurricular activity or club. She left her phone number.
I have always seen the value of extracurricular activities, so I decided to give Jeanne a call.
I told Jeanne about my interest in a Culture Club—a forum for students to share and experience culture, perform community service, and become activists for change. It turned out Jeanne was serious. She was a philanthropist who especially enjoyed helping schools. Less than three days later, I received a check in the mail for $5,000 to start the club.
With the money Jeanne provided, I was able to reach checkpoints I never dreamed possible. She later connected me with a grant that has since funded the club for the past eleven years. To say I'm grateful, particularly for the doors this has opened for my students, would be an understatement.
My Culture Club members have since attended plays, ballets, operas, dance performances, and museums. They write essays that are published all over the US, and their art is featured in projects both local and national. We hold multicultural celebrations and bring in bands to play school-wide concerts. We engage in community service, including hosting block parties, taking part in local beautification projects, and raising funds for great causes. We've held Citizenship Days for families, registered people to vote, and even held a bone marrow drive.
I wanted to create experiences that would help increase students' cultural capital and provide them with opportunities for artistic expression. These opportunities allow me to deliver just that, giving them an outlet for their intelligence that my time with them in the classroom may not always be able to provide.
The Benefits for Students
When students are engaged in projects, they learn how to set goals, work together, and feel proud of their accomplishments. They reject stereotypes and, at the same time, contribute to our community as a whole. The Culture Club has given a voice to a population that, in certain areas, once felt marginalized and unaccepted. It's helped today's youth to grow and develop. It has improved self-esteem and instilled civic commitment in teenagers.
The Culture Club focuses on raising student achievement in exciting and innovative ways, and over the years, we have truly accomplished that goal. Culture Club is cross-curricular, having helped students discover the excitement of science, math, music, art, technology, and more. We frequently attend One Day University, where students have the opportunity to listen to a variety of world-class college professors speak on a multitude of topics, from political science to art history.
Over the years, students at my school have cited Culture Club in their college essays, and many have used their experiences in their interviews with admissions counselors. Former Culture Club members who've graduated from college—and are now pursuing careers all over the world—often email me about the enormous impact the club has had on their lives. It is truly heartwarming and reminds me how important it still is to kids today.
My role as advisor is not only to obtain the money needed to run and oversee the club, but also to find free events students can attend. Every single event Culture Club students participate in is free to them. I've successfully managed to obtain most tickets for free or at a discount. To do that? Most of the time, all you need to do is ask. Many museums and performance venues have money set aside for schools, and they readily welcome students. Grant money is usually used to cover transportation costs to and from events.
Culture Club's membership ranges from forty to fifty students. It also has an open enrollment, accepting students for membership at any point during the school year. The school has fostered friendships among students of various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. These students may not have come in contact with one another over the course of a normal school day, but Culture Club provides them with an opportunity to do just that.
I have seen first-hand the impact extracurricular activities have on students. Creating a Culture Club at your school is a great place to start. Even if you don't land a benefactor like Jeanne the way I did, you can still find plenty of events and activities that are free or low cost. It is definitely worth it.