Note: The following is an op-ed article by Hattiesburg football coach Tony Vance, and written in support of Raise Mississippi, an effort by the Mississippi Association of Educators in support of stronger public schools in the state.
By Coach Tony Vance, Hattiesburg High School
Let’s make sure that as we talk about what it means to create strong schools, we keep extracurricular and enrichment activities in the mix of these conversations. Bright Friday night lights can also light the way to Raise Mississippi.
Each year, teachers and coaches like me receive new students into the classroom. Over the course of the first few weeks, we get to know them – their interests, their strengths, and some of the challenges they carry with them. Some come from single parent families and have the added responsibility of caring for younger siblings. Some come from working families and are expected to contribute income with a part-time job. Some are being raised by grandparents or have a parent working across the world on active military duty. And some, sadly, just live in messed-up situations.
No matter what each child brings with them when they walk through the door of their school, dedicated teachers and school staff do what they can to support these kids. Sometimes we succeed; other times, it’s harder to connect.
As a coach, I have the added benefit of having an array of tools and incentives to find ways to connect and engage with my students, particularly those involved in team sports. Despite the “extra” in extracurricular, these activities are anything but. They are an essential part of a well-rounded education, providing children with creative outlets, access to enrichment opportunities, and support from adult mentors to help them expand their view of the world and, most importantly, themselves.
There’s been a lot of conversations – including those led by the folks behind Raise Mississippi – about the best way to ensure all of our public schools are equipped with the resources and tools they need to help every student learn and thrive (which in turn will pave the way for future prosperity and economic growth). As we often say, stronger schools today make a stronger Mississippi tomorrow. Let’s make sure that as we talk about what it means to create strong schools, we keep extracurricular and enrichment activities in the mix of these conversations. Bright Friday night lights can also light the way to Raise Mississippi. Too many students are depending on it.
Often, the only thing keeping students on the margins from completely disengaging from school is participating in extracurricular activities. Many students are disenchanted with academics and would not even come to school without the incentive of participating in activities they enjoy. But when a student finds a spark or a sense of belonging from being part of a team – whether it’s football or debate or show choir – many of these same students who might otherwise drop out remain in school, increasing their chances of future success.
Students who participate in after school activities generally have better behavior, grades, attendance and test scores. They are more likely to graduate on time and less likely to drop out. They are better at working in teams, solving problems, and developing persistence and grit, which ultimately helps them become better prepared citizens in our communities.
I am heartened to see so many folks joining the Raise Mississippi movement–even those with no direct connections to our public schools. Mississippians are awakening to the reality educators have known all along, the impact public schools have on our future. Folks are beginning to understand the connection between strong public schools and an improved economy and quality of life. Even more exciting, they believe we can make each school great (which includes extracurriculars!) At a time where there is so much division, I am proud that we are coming together to prioritize our children, the future leaders, innovators, and coaches of Mississippi.
Go to www.raisemississippi.org for more information on Raise Mississippi.
Coach Tony Vance has served as head football coach for Hattiesburg High School for 11 years. He is a native of Charleston, Mississippi. He is a graduate off Coahoma Community College, and Mississippi Valley State University where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He also holds an administrative certification.