Beyond the Three R’s – Extracurricular Activities, Electives Offer Students More

By Jennifer Roolf Laster

In San Antonio area schools, the three R’s don’t stop at reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. These days, electives and extracurricular activities give students the opportunities to explore rockets, robotics and, well, you get the picture.

It’s a brave new world out there. And San Antonio-area students are taking advantage of it.

From robotics at Southwest High School to rockets at Alamo Heights High School, students fill both classes and clubs on a variety of subjects these days.

Students at The Southwest School of Art

Students are looking to do some curriculum building, but also looking just to explore what interests them, says former director of marketing and public relations at St. Mary’s Hall, one of the city’s private schools, Jennifer Milikien.

She and others agree that collegiate plans factor into many kids’ choices when it comes to planning their electives and after-school activities.

A lot of children are finding out that most colleges and universities are interested in what students do with their time, she says. It’s not just about grades and high SAT scores. They want well-rounded kids. What colleges and universities are saying is, ‘how will you contribute to our community? How will you be citizens of our community?’

That means the old standbys, choir, pep squad and basketball continue to draw students in droves, but schools today aren’t offering just your grandma’s electives or even yours.

“We were always evaluating and looking to respond to student interest,” says Rebecca Villarreal, formerly the public information officer for the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District. That means that in addition to standbys like athletics and the very popular health sciences, kids in the SCUC ISD explore everything from soup to nuts and in the case of the culinary arts program, we mean that literally.”

At both Steele and Clemens High Schools, the culinary programs let juniors and seniors learn about many elements of the food prep trade, from making sauces and pastry, to baking and planning menus. In fact, the culinary arts are so popular in San Antonio, what with tourism being a major industry here, that two additional school districts, South San and Somerset, have instituted programs of their own.

Still, as Villarreal pointed out, it’s harder for students to fit in electives than in past generations, thanks to recent state changes in graduation requirements. ‘They have to make choices’, she says.

At Alamo Heights High School, students are choosing a class/club combo that is both elective and science all in one. The school’s aeroscience class led to a rocketry club where students are building a 5 to 7-foot model designed to go a mile into the sky. In the United States, we’re in trouble when it comes to math, science, and engineering,” teachers say. “This is a way to get kids interested, and they’re having fun.”

Kids from the rocketry club and aeroscience class have completed summer programs at NASA and 80 percent of the students that have completed the class have gone on to become engineers.

By building rockets, students are learning about aerodynamics, stability, physics and much more.

And, oh, speaking as we did earlier about one of those old elective standbys, choir, Lauren Langbaum attended Clark High School and did participate in choir. She enjoyed it so, it lead her to college at the Boston Conservatory of Music and further, to New York University. Today, having been out of school for a number of years, she is singing professionally, appearing in such places as Carnegie Hall in New York City.

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