At Morgan Park Academy, we have more than 60 different co-curricular groups representing a broad spectrum of interests for students of all ages. Each leader of these groups sees his/her relation to a co-curricular activity differently. Given the many purposes, activities, and objectives of our various student co-curricular groups, the role of the leader will vary in some degree between divisions and activities. But there are best practices that each leader can incorporate into his/her group to maximize the students’ experience.
Though there are several duties of a co-curricular leader, I will highlight the most important aspects of taking on this rewarding role. First, our faculty co-curricular leaders empower students to take action and to take satisfaction in seeing their co-curricular succeed. For success in the world beyond the Academy, students need to think clearly and act with confidence. Our faculty leaders organize and facilitate co-curricular activities to allow students the space to think and act, to fail safely, and to enjoy success with grace. Our competitive teams have enjoyed the thrill of winning along with the times they needed more effort, practice, and/or teamwork to succeed. These activities let students make appropriate decisions, while providing guidance, direction, and advice.
Co-curricular leaders enjoy the impact the groups have on students, part of which is strengthening leadership skills. Seeing our students grow and mature in knowledge is among the greatest satisfactions enjoyed by co-curricular leaders, and indeed, the activities often reveal growth quickly. For example, students in our Mindstorms Robotics co-curricular begin their trimester working with a partner learning to build and program their NXT Robot. By the third meeting, students have become “resident experts,” helping other students and groups complete their assigned tasks. By the eighth session, our Robot Olympics Cooperation Challenge pits Bot against Bot, Team against Team, demonstrating the knowledge and talents gained during our brief time together. In this short time, the progress the students make is evident.
Because faculty co-curricular leaders are also classroom instructors, they help students find a balance between activities and their academic work. They understand the core mission of the Academy is vested in academics, and are able to apportion student efforts in both spheres so as to be mutually supportive. It is important that co-curricular activities function as exactly that: CO-curricular. That is, they augment classroom learning and extend academic learning into practical application. They do not stand apart from the essential educational mission of the Academy.
Our leaders keep a sense of humor and enthusiasm; they share creative suggestions and provide feedback for activities planned by students. Faculty leaders choose which co-curricular activities to involve themselves in, and their choices often reflect personal enthusiasm. Leaders are not merely bystanders but involved participants. As such, they are able and eager to offer ways for students’ efforts to achieve higher outcomes. In the origami/calligraphy/sign language co-curricular, our faculty leader shares her talents in our MPA community as well as the community at large, which indicates the span of her enthusiasm. Because of their personal interests, our leaders are able to provide constructive critique as well as enthusiastic encouragement.
Our leaders also celebrate student’s growth and achievements in their co-curricular opportunities. They do so by sending notes home, recognizing peers during assemblies and advisory, and attending banquets with parents to celebrate the link between faculty and students. These relationships and experiences are truly remembered for a lifetime.
By Thomas Malcolm
Mr. Malcolm is the Dean of Student Life. He also teaches Middle School science.