Students who engage in extra-curricular activities may benefit more than they realize

College surveys show students who engage in extra-curricular activities do better in class, have more friends, and generally enjoy their experience more than those who stick to the sidelines.

The Signal, the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s student newspaper, recently highlighted some of the benefits students can expect if they opt to take part in the school’s more than 90 different clubs and organizations.

“For example, a 2010 Purdue University study on the relationship between undergraduate student activity and academic performance reported that ‘participation in student organizations can lead to the development of social and leadership skills, higher retention rates, heighted self-confidence, and improved satisfaction with college, the ability to see course curriculum as more relevant, and further success after college,’” according to site.

“The Purdue study also indicated that students involved on campus showed a grade point average that was significantly higher than the general student population.”

The Signal pointed to other benefits, as well, including practice building time management, project management, communication and team building skills.

“There are many other ways, in addition to joining a student organization, for students to get involved on campus,” the site reports. “Students can join an intramural sports league, attend campus events or participate in student government. Students can also get a job on campus, such as becoming a tutor, teaching assistant or research assistant, and joining the school newspaper.”

Internships and volunteer work are other avenues students can pursue to engage in the school community.

“All of these options are great resume builders,” according to The Signal. “Becoming involved on campus can allow students to learn soft skills, network and feel more connected.”

Students’ extra-curricular involvement also shapes their character, because “individuals are social creatures inextricably embedded in their communities,” according to James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

In his book “The Death of Character,” Davison wrote:

Experience was always a precursor to the possession of character and practical wisdom, for it schools the individual in the range of circumstances within which the virtues would find expression.

The Jesuit Schools Network also recognizes the benefits of extra-curricular activities, and its “Profile of the Graduate” provides a more in-depth look at the character virtues the school system aims to instill in graduating students.

And while experiences outside of the classroom undoubtedly strengthens many of the virtues expected of Jesuit graduates, it’s particularly important to ensuring they’re “open to growth.”

“The Jesuit high school student at the time of graduation has matured as a person – emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially and religiously – to a level that reflects some intentional responsibility for one’s own growth,” according to the profile.

“The graduate is beginning to reach out in his or her development, seeking opportunities to stretch one’s mind, imagination, feelings, and religious consciousness.”


Students leaders blend lessons from military, sports to serve a greater purpose

Two student athletes at George Washington University are sharing how the lessons they’ve learned through years of military training and team sports have prepared them to excel as leaders.

Senior Riley Tejcek, an infielder on the George Washington University softball team, participated in the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course over the last two summers, and sophomore swimmer and diver Nick Tomczyk is simultaneously training for the Naval Reserves.

And while the physical aspects of the military programs have undoubtedly helped to keep the students in top form, both contend it’s the military’s leadership mentality of serving a higher purpose that has benefitted them the most, the GW Hatchet reports.

“It’s all about the team unit, it’s not about you, it’s about the people next to you,” Tejcek said. “That’s the important thing, is it’s not about you.”

The students discussed their grueling schedules, from early morning workouts before a day full of classes to rigorous military training sessions and Division I championships.

“Once I’m done with one thing, I focus on the next thing and that’s how I get through it,” said Tomcyzk, a squad leader in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Crops. “I take it one step at a time each day.”

Tomcyzk said he’s using lessons learned in the water to guide his seven-person platoon.

“Being a part of a team definitely helps because I’m learning from the captains of the swim and dive team how they’re being leaders,” he said. “I can take stuff off of them and transfer it to the unit to be a leader.”

Tejcek said the selfless approach to team work in the Marine Corps mirrored her approach as captain of the softball team, both providing the “rewarding experience” of serving something bigger then herself.

“Those are the people that are going to impact me the rest of my life,” she said. “Above all else is the relationships with people I’ve met along the way that keeps me going and keeps me motivated, absolutely.”

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture discussed the “thick” and “dense” moral culture common in the military and team sports in “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education programs in a variety of U.S. high schools.

Through numerous interviews and observations, researchers noted “the source and setting for moral and civic education matter – that the ‘thickness’ of cultural endowments and the ‘density’ of moral community within which those endowments find expression are significant in the formation of personal and public virtue in children.”

The career site The Balance Careers offers an outline of the United States Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course for students and school counselors exploring career options. The program involves a very dense moral community through weeks-long summer training sessions, while offering tax-free monthly stipends, tuition assistance and training pay.

Upon graduating from college, students are commissioned as officers in the U.S. Marines and go on to attend six months of basic training.

Wrestling camp offers lessons about character, life

Students at a private Philadelphia school are taking part in an annual wrestling camp that’s designed to help them perfect their character as much as their wrestling techniques.

According to Chestnut Hill Local:

In the basement of Smith Gym, an historic building with character that may remind some of underground gyms in the Rocky movies, campers learn new wrestling moves from their coach and guest athletes from all over the world. In its ninth year, this coed camp not only allows kids to master wrestling techniques and new moves, but also encourages values of integrity, respect, and hard work through fitness and friendship.

Wrestling camp director Paul Hammond told the news site the sport taught him dedication and focus, and he hopes to impart those virtues to students. He explained how wrestling can teach kids about patience and time-management, working as a team, treating opponents with fairness and kindness, and respecting their peers as well as themselves.

“I love that kids can let their summer energy out in a safe space, test and push themselves, and have a lot of fun,” he said.

Campers also learned life lessons and wrestling tips from top wrestlers, including Olympic wrestler Kazem Gholami, a Division 1 American University grappler turned Mixed Martial Artist Nick Kilstein, and others from local universities.

Gholami, who has used his platform to speak out against Iran’s social injustices, discussed single-leg takedowns, how to create angles, and timing, while also stressing how hard work and dedication in wrestling can transfer to other aspects of students’ lives, the news site reports.

“Our wrestling camp is a unique, active experience for kids to sharpen their competitive edge, practice focus and drive, and make friends,” German Friends School athletic director Katie Bergstrom Mark said.

“It was the first of its kind in the city and the program has grown immensely over the past nine years, offering campers access to former world and national caliber coaches and athletes, in addition to wrestlers from local universities,” she said.  “I am thrilled to see Coach Hammond put his own unique twist on the program and make this physically and mentally challenging sport a ton of fun.”

The wrestling camp is an example of the type of specific culture officials are cultivating in the German Friends School – a culture that ultimately shapes how students live their lives.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, explains the following on character formation in “The Death of Character.”

“Spartan and Athenian cultures prescribed different content for character, not least because they had different ideas of the common good,” Hunter wrote. “In other words, moral cultures and the communities in which they are established provide the reasons, restraints, and incentives for conducting life in one way rather than another.”

The Positive Coaching Alliance offers resources for educators, parents, coaches and school officials to help create “better athletes, better people” through sports.

“In addition to 1,500+ free audio-video and printable tips and tools at, PCA has partnered with roughly 3,500 schools and youth sports organizations nationwide to deliver live group workshops, online courses and books by PCA Founder Jim Thompson that help those involved in youth and high school sports create a positive, character-building youth sports culture,” according to the PCA website.


AL students recognized for character, leadership in high school sports

Seven student athletes from Alabama’s Opelika High School won recognition from the Alabama High School Athletic Association in July, a testament to the school’s sharp focus on developing character.

Alabama state Senator Tom Whatley presented the students with the AHSAA’s Award of Excellence to recognize their athletic integrity during the 2017-18 school year. Opelika tied with another school for the most students to receive the award, which the AHSAA created this year, the Opelika-Auburn News reports.

“Character education is a big deal in Opelika City School,” principal Farrell Seymore said. “It’s permeated throughout the elementary schools, middle school and high school.”

The awards went to James Dawson, 16, who played football and wrestled; Timothy Scott, a 17-year-old senior wrestler; Bulldog quarterback Cade Blackmon, 17; 15-year-old wide receiver and basketball player Will Beams; Londarius Baldwin, a senior offensive guard; 17-year-old wrestler Cole Lazzari; and Caylin Cumins, a 16-year-old senior wide receiver and basketball player.

“All of these kids are great character kids,” football coach Erik Speakman said. “Everything that they do embodies the awards they’re being presented today. They are great representatives of our entire football program.”

OHS Athletic Director Mike Pugh said the recognition highlights students who excel with “both with their leadership and their academic qualities, as well as athletics.”

The students were grateful and humble.

“I just feel really blessed,” Dawson said. “I thank all my coaches and family for getting me here.”

“I think it’s an honor to get an award for sportsmanship. It really just shows how athletes are brought up and shows how we don’t take things too hard whether we win or lose,” Scott said.

Blackmon said “it’s really a privilege to know someone’s watching and cared enough to nominate me for this award.”

“Our coaches put us in this place to receive this award, and we’re thankful for everyone here,” Baldwin said.

Whatley reflected on his U.S. Army basic training in 1988, when athletes who communicated and motivated others who became the natural leaders, and encouraged students to embrace what they learned at OHS.

“So wherever you go in life, high school athletics has taught you leadership abilities you probably don’t even realize right now,” he said. “And I want to congratulate each one of you for that.”

Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture suggest sports can be a powerful venue for character formation, particularly when it’s grounded in a shared community.

“Spartan and Athenian cultures prescribed different content for character, not least because they had different ideas of the common good,” University of Virginia sociologist and Institute founder James Davison Hunter wrote in “The Death of Character.”

“In other words, moral cultures and the communities in which they are established provide the reasons, restraints, and incentives for conducting life in one way rather than another.”

The Skills Center, a Florida-based nonprofit, offers an example of how schools and others can meld the focus on building character through sports with developing life skills and academics.

The group offers training, camps, leagues, mentorship, tutoring and other special events like an upcoming “Tampa Bay Youth Sports Expo” to help students succeed in school and life.


Positive Coaching Alliance works with schools to help students become ‘Better Athletes, Better People’

Coaches at Verona High School in Verona, New Jersey are preparing for workshops in June aimed at helping students become “Better Athletes, Better People” – training provided through a national non-profit called the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Verona High has partnered with the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) for the last three years to help coaches, parents, student athletes and administrators get the most out of athletics by ensuring school sports are first and foremost an experience in character building, reports.

PCA’s work with the New Jersey school is one of about 3,500 partnerships with schools, conferences, youth sports groups, and parks and recreation departments aimed at creating a sports culture that develops “Better Athletes, Better People” – the PCA motto.

“Our job is to provide an amazing educational and athletic experience to our student-athletes who work so hard year round to perfect their craft,” Verona High School Director of Athletics Bob Merkler said. “By providing the life lessons that are so valuable in athletics, we believe we can help them acquire the tools and traits that will help them to be successful adults.”

That’s what the PCA is all about, and the focus of more than 1,800 free multimedia tips and tools at the group’s website, Other resources include online courses and books by PCA Founder Jim Thompson, as well as specific lessons tailored to coaches, parents and players.

The materials are developed with the support of PCA’s National Advisory Board, which includes 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson, NBA legend Joe Dumars, Cy Young Award winning pitcher Barry Zito, and numerous other current and former professional athletes, Olympians, coaches, managers and business leaders.

“We look forward to working with Verona High School to create the best possible experience for the student-athletes,” PCA Founder Jim Thompson said. “Our researched-based materials combine the latest in sports psychology, education and practical advice from top pro and college coaches and athletes that help improve athletic performance while also ensuring kids take life lessons from sports that will help them throughout the rest of their lives.”

After school activities and sports are a powerful venue to character formation. Researchers from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture suggest that such instruction needs to bear the marks of the particularity of each community. Professor James Hunter of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia writes, “Spartan and Athenian cultures prescribed different content for character, not least because they had different ideas of the common good…. In other words, moral cultures and the communities in which they are established provide the reasons, restraints, and incentives for conducting life in one way rather than another” (The Death of Character, p. 21, 22). Effective character formation works best when it is grounded in a shared community.


HS lacrosse team puts on impromptu patriotic performance during emotional ‘Seniors Night’

Technical difficulties at the final home game of the season for the Chopitcon High School boy’s lacrosse team provided a perfect opportunity for departing seniors to leave a lasting impression.

“We had 14 seniors and it was quite emotional for them all to be playing their last home game,” Tera Gregory told Fox 5.

The team lined up for the National Anthem before the “Seniors Night” game on May 4, but the speakers failed.

“Instead of playing the game without hearing the National Anthem first, the boys stepped up and sang it themselves,” according to the news site. “The Braves received some backup vocal help from the crowd as many joined in to help them sing the National Anthem.”


Several folks who commented about the incident online did not seem surprised.

“I’d have no other expectation out of a school with so much pride to be who they are,” Joey Gannon posted. “Great job Chopticon!”

“Chopticon … the true Home of the Brave,” Bobby Bagley wrote. “Job well done by players from an outstanding student body!”

Others joked about the students’ off-key singing, but applauded them nonetheless.

“Thank goodness they play lacrosse because I don’t think they have a career in music, lol but God Bless their love of country,” Teena Mountz wrote.

“This is amazing, who cares if they can’t sing, they were so good to do this for everyone else,” Lorrie Fenwick added. “Way to go, looks like CHS!”

Singing the National Anthem at sporting events has become a point of culture war contention since 49er’s QB Colin Kaepernick took a knee during NFL games in support of Black Lives Matter. Here students are acting against the example of celebrity role models. This pattern is in keeping with what researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found in their study, The Content of their Character. Rural public high schools place a high value on military service. Chopticon High School serves the northern portion of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, rural communities with a recent rise in suburban development.

Several folks wrote about similar incidents of St. Mary’s County students stepping up to sing the National Anthem at sporting events over the years.

And in Nashville this March, about 2,000 students attending an ‘Equine Education Day’ put on their own “amazing display of youthful pride” in the USA after a snafu during the opening ceremonies, Fox 17 reports.

The students – from kindergarten through eighth grade – voluntarily sang the National Anthem loud and proud when the microphone cut out on the singer mid performance, event organizer Jerry Harris said, and it was a moving experience.

“Especially when you see some kids disrespecting the flag,” he said, “it was just something special to witness, those kids.”

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find teacher lesson plans at The UK’s The Jubilee Centre.

Canadian bus crash survivor may never walk again, but wants to do his part to improve the world

In mid-April, Humboldt Broncos hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki woke up to a devastating sight – dozens of teammates and others lying dead and injured in the wreckage of the team bus along a Canadian highway.

“It was pretty devastating seeing my teammates lying there, bloodied and whatnot,” he told CBC News. “My first instinct was to get up and help them, but I couldn’t move my legs.”

Over the next few days Straschnitzki learned that 10 of his junior college teammates, and six others on board the bus died in the collision with a semi-truck north of Tisdale, Saskatchewan. The tragic crash, which reverberated throughout the world, left Straschnitzki with a broken neck, back and left clavicle, and he’s now paralyzed from the neck down.

Doctor’s don’t believe he’ll ever walk again, but the 18-year-old defenseman said there was also another, perhaps more profound, change.

CBC News reports:

Straschnitzki views his survival as a second chance from God, an opportunity to do his part to improve the world in whatever way he can.

Hockey is the obvious answer, he said, adding that he has expressed an interest in continuing his sports career in sledge hockey. Becoming a public speaker is another potential avenue.

Straschnitzki told Global News he’s unsure when he’ll be able to head home to Alberta, but the support from his family and others since the crash is lifting his spirits and keeping him hopeful for the future.

James Davison Hunter in his seminal book, The Death of Character, found that a “child’s underlying attachment to a moral culture were the most important and consistent factor in explaining the variation in their moral judgments.” Even when subjected to rigorous statistical analysis, the conclusion is the same: the moral culture children were living within was the most important determinant of their behavioral predispositions.

“I’m pretty tired and pretty sore, but with the positive thoughts and with the support I’m getting I can pretty much deal with anything at this point,” he said.

During recovery, Straschnitzki said he’s simply focused on getting well and returning to hockey, while offering lessons from his experience to others going through struggles.

“I’m just going to not dwell on the past and do what my body is capable of doing,” he said. “Hopefully get on the ice again and play the sport I love, no matter what.”

And while Straschnitzki told the Calgary Sun he’s “just happy to be alive,” he’s already working toward a goal of one day making the Olympic sledge hockey team – a focus on the future he hopes will send a message to others struggling through life: “It gets better … Don’t give up …”

Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK’s The Jubilee Centre. In The Jubilee Centre’s own words, the following illustrates how the centre views it work.  “The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing.  The Centre is a leading informant on policy and practice through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of character virtues in both individuals and society.”

College athletes visit MT schools to inspire students with messages about character, core values

Young students in Billings, Montana are soaking up lessons about character and leadership from college athletes they look up to – an initiative aimed at helping students visualize their goals becoming a reality.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce’s Champions of Character program capitalized on Montana’s first opportunity to host a national basketball championship – the 37th National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics women’s tournament – to connect Billings-area elementary students with the athletes they admire, the Billings Gazette reports.

In mid-March, players from each tournament qualifier attended school assemblies, read with area students and played a little basketball with youngsters while sharing the important elements of their success.

“We (asked players) to talk about hard work, character and the importance of education,” Billings Chamber of Commerce Communications Manager Kelly McCandless told the news site.

At Beartooth Elementary, members of the Cumberland University’s women’s basketball team were greeted with enthusiasm as they spoke with students about the values that guides their success.

Few things bolster a school’s moral ecology more than the example of positive peer role models. What makes this initiative so important is that it not only highlighted “cool kids.” But it did so in the context of discussions about specific core values. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found that “The schools seemed generally successful in creating a compelling moral environment and a binding moral order for their students… when students bought into the moral logic of the school.” Student buy-in is critical and this program only serves to enhance this dynamic.

“One by one, the team introduced themselves and explained five core values: respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, integrity and servant leadership,” KULR reports.

“Students in elementary school look up to pros and things like that and take their glorified position and not understand what it takes to get there,” Cumberland player Cydney Goodrum told the news site.

Athletes with the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, meanwhile, met with students at Ben Steele Middle School to offer inspiration.

“It’s really cool to see many younger kids wanting to get involved and play,” Oklahoma athlete Becca Worthy said. “We were there once and it’s really cool to see high school and college kids come and show that it’s possible to be where you wanna be and follow your dream, if that’s what you want to do, you can make it happen.”

A total of 3,000 college athletes participated in the NAIA tournament, many stopping in at other Billings schools including Big Sky, Poly Drive, and Highland elementary schools.

For teachers and principals interested in student moral and character formation, information can be found at the UK’s Jubilee Centre website.

Snowboarder wins gold in super-G ski competition

Ester Ledecka won gold in the Olympic women’s super-G, despite the fact that she primarily considers herself a snowboarder. The Olympics were abuzz as Ledecka demonstrated astonishing proficiency in two sports that can appear alike but in practice are dramatically different.

The Washington Post covered Ledecka’s win, ultimately declaring it, “one of the greatest upsets in the history of Olympic skiing.” Ledecka beat Austrian star Anna Veith by one one-hundredth of a second to snatch the gold. Upon completing her run, she was so shocked at her own victory that she could only stare at the score board.

The awe surrounding Ledecka’s victory shouldn’t belie her undeniable athletic talent and commitment to focused training. She works with two separate coaches—one for each sport—and splits her time between the two so as to immerse herself in each particular world. Lyndsey Vonn, the vaunted American skier, admitted “I wish I had as much athleticism as she does to be able to win at two sports in the same Olympics.”

Justin Reiter, Ledecka’s snowboarding coach, says of her earned prowess, “It takes a lot of effort to become a professional skier . . . It takes a lot of effort to become a professional snowboarder. And she does both with ease.”

Reiter credits her disciplined mastery as one of the keys to her success: “She can replicate moves over and over again far better than [anyone] I’ve ever seen.” In this sense, Ledecka provides an outstanding model of practices for mastery, where repeated actions become automated and one knows how to act well in any given situation.

He adds that Ledecka starts out by processing new skills slowly, but steadily and consistently moves herself to a point where any turn or jump is simply a reaction, as though it is second nature.

University of Lisbon professor and former Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture Fellow Bill Hasselberger suggests that skills like Ledeka’s can teach us how a person becomes virtuous. “‘Skill models of ethical virtues offer a promising way of explaining the distinctive kind of ethical knowledge or understanding had by a virtuous person: virtues are akin to practical skills (in carpentry, sailing, musicianship, [skiing and snowboarding,] etc.) in that both are experience-based capacities of agency that yield non-codifiable knowledge of how-to-act-well in particular circumstances.”

Ledecka has, by deliberate practice, mastered how-to-act-well while racing down a snow-covered hill. Despite their vast differences, she’s mastered doing it on skis and on a snowboard, and this could solidify her place in the Olympics’ history book.

For kids watching at home, the path to mastery—and virtue—is one of slow, deliberate practice that builds up to race speed.

In a fascinating Getting Smart podcast, Gene Kerns, author of Unlocking Student Talent: The New Science of Developing Expertise, discusses how deliberate practice is at the core of student formation.

24-year-old Olympic skater inspires all

Mirai Nagasu landed a triple axel in the Olympic figure skating team event, helping the U.S. team to win bronze. To get to the Olympics again, and to land one of her sport’s most difficult jumps, took Olympic effort and persistence.

In advance of the singles events this week, The New York Times profiled Nagasu and her difficult journey back to the Olympic ice arena.

Nagasu was seriously questioning her future as a figure skater following a disappointing campaign to qualify for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Skaters are chosen for the Olympic team based on their performance at the national event and over the course of the preceding season. Judges determined that Nagasu had not performed well enough throughout the season to qualify, though she placed 3rd at the nationals.

“Nagasu cried almost nonstop in the weeks and months after being passed over. . . At 14, she was the second-youngest skater ever to win a United States championship, and then things grew complicated when her body started changing,” said the Times.

Yet, Nagasu wasn’t done yet. She found the will to continue and displayed the persistence that has come to mark her career. She moved to Colorado, began working with a new coach, started tackling the challenges of early adult life, and soon found that the she was still drawn to ice work. She credits her new coach, Agnes Zakrajsek, with helping her to look forward, rather than backward.

One of the biggest challenges she continues to face is her age. At 24, she is older than almost all of her competitors at the Olympics. Figure skaters and their coaches have long assumed that older women are incapable of learning new jumps—the best they can do is build upon what they learned as teenagers.

“Figure skaters are usually young and then just fade away,” Nagasu explained to the Times. “But I’m not a fade-away kind of person.”

Nagasu didn’t let age play into her thinking about what was possible. She couldn’t be stopped, her teammates said of her. “She’s the hardest worker I know,” says Olympic skater Vincent Zhou. “She’ll do triple axels after triple axels until [her coach] has to drag her off the ice.”

Nagasu landed a spot back on the Olympic team through gritty determination, and she hasn’t disappointed. Her triple axel in the team event was one of only three to have ever been landed successfully at the Olympics.

The support that Nagasu had around her, from coaches to parents and teammates, is what James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson call a “moral ecology.” When social institutions “cluster together, they form a larger ecosystem of powerful cultural influences.” This happens in schools, among elite athletes, and in religious and social organizations. These moral ecologies encourage and sustain the kind of persistence required to overcome the adversity of being overlooked, of learning a new skill when others say you can’t, and of practicing until they have to drag you off the ice.

Coaches like Agnes Zakrajsek play a profound role in forming athletes. The Positive Coaching Alliance helps leaders to become dual-goal coaches, who make teaching life lessons just as important as winning.