In recent years, extra curricular activities have been on a vertiginous upward trajectory not only in terms of popularity but also in terms of the importance they are given by universities and employers. In more normal circumstances, children as young as four complete the day with a variety of pursuits that bring them experiences beyond the boundaries of the classroom as well as a wider social circle.
Older students have less time and tend to use it more strategically, often getting involved in area that will give them a competitive edge when they apply for a place at the college or university of their choice. Narrowing the field in this way is definitely an advisable course of action for pre-university students, according to Jennifer Delahunty, the Dean of Admissions at the prestigious Kenyon College in Ohio, who was quoted saying recently in The New York Times, “We’d rather see a marathon than a bunch of sprints. Distinction in one area is good, and better than doing a lot of little things.”
Obviously, extra curricular is currently taking a back seat due to the coronavirus and the practical challenges thrown up by social distancing, which means the activity of choice could be off the agenda altogether. But that doesn’t mean the show can’t go on – at least in some form or another and finding ways to overcome the obstacles may prove even more valuable than the activity itself.
With regard to universities, it may now be the ability to demonstrate how an activity was maintained that will impress; for example, the budding actor who films a short performance; the athlete who makes an instructional video; a piece of research on an event of particular interest; or perhaps a news blog. The point is simply to convey an authentic sense of passion and commitment.
At King’s College Alicante, where extra-curricular activities in their traditional form have been temporarily shelved, Acting Head of Primary, Sharmila Gandhi, explains how the younger students are being called upon to help come up with solutions.
“This year’s student councillors are so excited that they will have a chance to influence decision-making,” she says. “One of the items that councillors will discuss is how we can overcome some of the obstacles posed by Covid-19. We know from past experience that the ideas children come up with are often very creative and imaginative and help us to solve problems.”
Meanwhile, at King’s College Madrid, bringing the secondary students on board is also par for the course. “We have started the House competition and are working with the House Prefects to elect House Captains to then adapt the competition and activities to the current situation,” says Paul Crouch, the school’s Deputy Head who is also acutely aware of the need to keep the extra-curricular aspect of education on track.
“I think finding ways to do extra-curricular activities safely at the moment is very important as it retains a sense of normality in school and allows students to interact with each other in more informal ways, developing their social skills and maintaining the sense of community,” he explains.
The Music School at King’s College Madrid barely missed a beat when it came to finding a solution during the Spring lockdown. “We continued throughout the confinement, unfazed by the barriers presented to us by Covid-19,” points out Mark Blake, the school’s Director of Music. “All of our specialist teachers adapted their teaching methods to online learning very quickly and were able to teach our talented instrumentalists for the duration of the academic year using Google Meets.”
Now, with the start of a new academic year, an equal degree of versatility is on the cards. “We look forward to starting our instrumental lessons again in October, back in the specialist music rooms, although we are completely ready and prepared to continue online with students who have not yet returned to the school campus,” adds Mark. “For us, it is crucial that instrumental, vocal and theory lessons continue this year, so we are working hard to meet all of the safety requirements.”
Clearly, now that students are back in the classroom, working extra-curricular activities into the school day with a digital complement is the most obvious route forward.
While Rachel Davies, Head of King’s Infant School Chamartin, explains that their exploratory learning method covers a swathe of what might be considered extra-curricular, the Primary department at King’s College Alicante are ensuring that any opportunity for activities outside the curriculum is exploited. “We hope to continue fundraising for local charities with our first charity event on October 8 when we will be raising funds for mental health charities,” says Sharmila Gandhi. “Children will come to school wearing something yellow and will make a minimum donation of a euro. These kinds of days and events provide children with something beyond the classroom and the curriculum as well as making a difference to others in society.”
With regard to co-curriculum options, the fact that times of crisis are a golden opportunity to work on leadership skills has not been lost on King’s educators either.
At King’s College Madrid, Student Council elections have been launched, with live speeches streamed into form classes, enabling every student to vote for their Year representatives. “This is really important as the students’ voice and constructive feedback is vital for keeping everyone informed and ensuring that changes have been considered from every perspective,” says Paul Crouch.
Meanwhile, at King’s College Murcia, Lewis Ryland, Head of Physical Education, is about to launch a sports leadership programme.“We are going to be training students from Year 5 up to Year 10 to lead small sports sessions within their year group or bubble,” he says, adding that the programme has already been open to Year 11 and Year 12. “Depending on their age, they will get a qualification from Sports Leaders UK, ranging from Playmaker at Primary to Level 3 at Sixth form, which carries 16 UCCA points. It often proves to be very popular, and the main reason we have introduced it is to develop leadership skills which go down well with universities and obviously aid a students’ education.”
Music is also easily woven into the school day as Mark Blake explains: “The Music School, which is responsible for optional tuition, and the respective Music Departments, which provide the music curriculum, are working closely together to offer co-curricular opportunities for our students, such as choirs, orchestras, ensembles and concerts.”
Mark adds that The Music School is also supporting learners taking music at GCSE, A level and International Baccalaureate. “We are proud to have sent many graduates from The Music School to leading universities recently, including Durham, Sheffield, and Royal Holloway in the UK,” he says.
Of course, extra-curricular is not just about impressing universities and colleges. While that is inarguably a positive spin-off, pursuing an extra-curricular activity is essentially about exploring one’s identity with the impetus generally coming from the students themselves. As Lewis Ryland says, there is an extra-curricular itch that needs scratching. With this in mind, King’s College Murcia is once again planning to launch a virtual race. “We are doing a race from Murcia to London,” says Lewis. “Every student can walk, run or cycle it and log the kilometres they’ve covered for their respective House. We are going to see which House can cover the 2,000 km the fastest. It’s a bit of an experiment so we will see! Some of it will be done during lesson time but we are also encouraging the students to do it out of school in a family bubble.”
Meanwhile, on the virtual agenda, Lewis is organising an Everest climbing challenge, which will keep students engaged outside the classroom. Obstacles there may be, but as Diana Ross sang back in 1970, “Ain’t no mountain high enough…”