Sept. 25, 2017 Update: Thank you for your feedback. Please take a moment to read my update about athletics, activities and arts.
As part of our work to expand opportunities for students, The Bellingham Promise guides us to look at the whole child, including our athletic and activity programs. For decades, research has shown that students who are able to pursue their passions through extra-curricular athletics, activities and the performing arts have better school attendance, academic success and are more likely to pursue higher education.
I wanted to share with you some exciting work we’ve accomplished in this area and our next steps:
- In the past two years, we phased out pay-to-play athletics and removed participation fees at middle and high schools. We’ve since seen an increase in student participation. As we continue to analyze our participation data, we know there are still financial barriers that remain for students to participate in athletics, activities and performing arts. We’re working closely with our principals, athletic/activity coordinators, coaches, advisors, staff and parent leaders this year to examine our program needs, budgets and sources of funding, including fundraising to provide outstanding opportunities for students and reduce barriers to participation.
- We’ve also been examining our offerings in athletics and activities, recently working with community partners to support sailing, rowing, debate, and possibly lacrosse.
- We have many students signing up for some of our freshman teams with limited spots, resulting in some “cut sports” for ninth graders who try out but don’t make the team. Because freshman year is still an entry point for students to try out new opportunities, we’re exploring how we get more students engaged in the future.
- We’re also looking at how we’re celebrating and recognizing students in these programs, most recently related to our student athletes and game rosters. For many years, game rosters with students’ names have been published and those with a GPA of 3.5 or 4.0 have been marked with an asterisk. In examining this practice and talking with student athletes, we’ve learned that this is a source of pride for some parents of students and at the same time, creates awkwardness and embarrassment among the student athletes and out in the community. Because we value grades as one measure of a student’s success, as well as the other whole child outcomes in The Bellingham Promise, we’re planning to discontinue the practice of publishing GPAs on game rosters while continuing to value and celebrate student athletes accomplishments at banquets, events and in other positive ways that doesn’t unintentionally shame some students. Our policies regarding our academic and behavior expectations for students participating in extra-curriculars isn’t changing, only the practice of noting GPA on game rosters.
- We’ve made improvements to high school fields through our 2013 bond, which can decrease travel and time out of class for our athletes, and improved safety by adding lights. Our next bond on the ballot this February will include the second phase of high school improvements, a full size gym at Shuksan Middle School and some elementary school field drainage improvements. We will also add an additional tennis court, and more full size gyms to the new schools we’re building to increase access for our students and community.
- Regarding our music program, we’ve reinstated fifth grade strings through a new approach that includes all kids; we’ve also committed that every student has access to a district-owned (or leased) instrument. We expanded our guitar program to all high schools this year, and added more sections of guitar. We’ve also taken the repair burdens off of our band and orchestra booster programs, and have committed to supporting repair, maintenance, replenishment, as well as uniform cleaning, contest fees and travel for music groups to the SJMEA solo/ensemble and All State/All Northwest events. Community partners in this include our Bellingham Public Schools Foundation and the Bellingham Festival of Music, etc. Annual fundraising efforts by local musicians have also supported the Ray Downey Fund through our Foundation to provide coaching to sixth grade band students who are just starting out on their instruments.
It’s exciting to hear from students and families who move into our community from elsewhere in the state and nation, and are surprised by our work toward Project Free Education and the value we place on athletics, activities and the performing arts. I’m proud to be part of a community that supports the whole child and is committed to working toward better opportunities for all.
Please comment below if you have thoughts on this topic. I appreciate hearing from our students, families, staff and community.