At Apex High School, you might notice a student member of the Shuffleboard Club by his T-shirt: “Everyday I’m Shufflin’.”
Across town at Cary High School, you’ll find posters promoting club meetings for film, Harry Potter, robotics and speech and debate, among others.
But these aren’t just pre-college resume fillers. The National Center for Education Statistics reports students who participate in clubs and on sports teams have a 15 percent higher attendance rate than students who aren’t involved. Higher attendance rates typically lead to higher grades, according to the report.
“Extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing the lessons learned in the classroom, offering students the opportunity to apply academic skills in a real-world context and are thus considered part of a well-rounded education,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
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International clubs popular
A club’s very existence depends not only upon student interest but on whether or not a teacher will volunteer to sponsor it.
Lisa Gaines teaches psychology/sociology and Spanish I/Spanish II at Apex High. She stepped in five years ago to sponsor the Japan Club.
“I’m paying forward to all of the teachers who sponsored clubs in which my children participated,” Gaines said. “I have very active officers. I’m lucky. On average I spend a couple of hours a week on the club.”
Last year the Japan Club grew to 35 members, all of whom have a fascination and love for Japanese culture, Gaines said.
As she leads, she also is learning.
“I do not speak a word of Japanese, nor have I been to Asia,” she says. “I enjoy these kids because it is the most eclectic group on campus. They do love anime, but it goes much deeper. The mission is to teach themselves about and appreciate Japanese culture.”
The club explores Japanese food, language, history, the military and the differences between American and Japanese lifestyles. Many want to study abroad.
Interest in international issues is growing at the high school.
“This year the Apex High language clubs and Japan Club are coming together to form an extra club called the International Club,” Gaines said. “The goal is to create even higher participation and cultural exchange.”
Serving the community
Three years ago Shawnda Rossi, a visual arts teacher, came to Apex High from Wakefield High and noticed an opportunity.
“At Wakefield I had a successful National Art Honor Society and felt that it was an important part of the program,” Rossi said. “Apex High had never had an art honor society so this was my opportunity to provide students with more than just the classroom experience.”
Now in its third year, the National Art HonorSociety has nearly 50 members. Over the summer, students painted murals at community schools, churches and pre-schools. The group meets about twice a month, and members attend special events throughout the year, including SPARKcon, the Apex Jazz Festival, First Fridays in Raleigh and the Artwalk in Cary.
“I really enjoy seeing my students experience the art world outside of the classroom,” Rossi said. “By the end of each year, I can see how much their love for art has grown.”
Feeling safe in school
Megan Fackler Bretz teaches English at Apex High School and is a sponsor for the Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) along with three other school staff members, including another teacher, a social worker and an academic counselor.
“GSA began probably over 10 years ago when students approached two other faculty members to sponsor the club,” Fackler Bretz said. “The students then followed the channels to begin a club at our school. After these teachers left Apex High, I was asked to sponsor the club, and the other teachers have agreed to help. This is a student-led club, so some years it is more active than others. Some years are bigger and more successful than others.”
The group was deactivated five years ago, then reinstated at student request. Between 10 and 30 members attend weekly meetings, sharing information and offering support.
“All of the sponsors are supportive of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community and strongly feel that all students deserve to feel safe and supported in school,” Fackler Bretz said.