There are no national data that track trends in pay-to-play programs. However, according to a recent survey by the University of Michigan C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital (2012), 61 percent of middle and high school students nationwide were charged a pay-to-play fee. While the average fee was $93, 21 percent of parents were charged a participation fee of $150 or more – and these numbers do not include the cost of equipment, uniforms, and additional fees like travel, which raise the average cost to $381. These fees disproportionately disadvantage children from families who earn less than $60,000 per year, as 19 percent of these parents reported that their children’s participation dropped because of the cost. On the other end of the spectrum, among families earning more than $60,000 per year, only 5 percent reported lower participation due to increased costs.

Almost two in five secondary school pupils don’t take part in any extracurricular activities, revealing a “big mismatch” between the skills that schools say they are offering and the reality for pupils, according to a new report.

Standing on the sidelines, Jizari's father says his son would like to play baseball in college, but says he worries that his son is at a disadvantage.

Fifty-seven percent of children between 6 and 17 years old participate in at least one after-school extracurricular activity, according to a new report released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. The report found that children were more likely to participate in sports (35 percent) than clubs or lessons like music, dance and language (both around 29 percent).

“It is vital that state schools embed the development of these skills” in all aspects of learning, he said – so they were as “natural a part of school life as English and maths.”

Studies of mentoring programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Philadelphia Futures Sponsor-A-Scholar have shown that these programs have broad positive social and academic impacts on adolescents like Carlos. The Big Brothers/Big Sisters program pairs unrelated adult volunteers with youth from single-parent households for the purpose of providing youth with an adult friend. Economists Jean Baldwin Grossman and Joseph Tierney (1998) studied the effects of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program through a comparative study of 959 ten- to sixteen-year-olds who applied to the program in 1992 and 1993. Half of the children were randomly assigned to a treatment group, who all were matched with an adult mentor. The other half were assigned to a waiting list. After eighteen months, both groups were interviewed. The results were nothing but encouraging: the students who had been assigned a mentor were less likely to have initiated drug or alcohol use, to hit someone, to skip class or a day of school, or to lie to their parents; they also had higher average grades and were more likely to feel competent in their school work and to report a better relationship with their parents.

According to a Census Bureau report out today, children are just as involved in extracurricular activities today as they were about 15 years ago. When it comes to sports, they are actually even more engaged than they were in the last decade.

While public schools theoretically provide equal access to afterschool activities to all enrolled students, the reality is that access has become increasingly limited to children from middle- and upper-class families. In our recent study, we examined trends in extracurricular participation from the 1970s to today (Snellman et al., forthcoming). Our findings are alarming: while upper-middle-class students have become more active in school clubs and sports teams since the 1970s, working-class students have became increasingly disengaged and disconnected, their participation rates plummeting in the 1990s and remaining low ever since.

To help more low-income student athletes gain access to college, the Cannonball Foundation, a local nonprofit, is working with high school players and their coaches to get them the mentoring they need to get into college and play sports there.

Ethan started out in Cub Scouts in kindergarten with five other boys in his neighborhood and achieved the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout by his senior year in high school. His final service project, designed to instill leadership and citizenship, was to build a horse bridge for a farm that offered physical therapy to disabled kids; his uncle, a contractor, helped him with the complex design and arduous construction. When we ask him why he decided to stick with Boy Scouts, Ethan points to his father: “Probably him.” While his dad Blake acknowledges that scouting is “tough” because “kids have a lot more distractions” like television and video games, he tried to make it fun through two-week hiking trips to New Mexico where they tracked bears and practiced navigation. Ethan also played soccer, ran track, and participated in orchestra, his father taking on the responsibility of driving the orchestra bus. Ethan’s mother, who was making chicken and dumplings when we interviewed him for our study, registered him to vote when he turned eighteen; he speaks passionately about a wide range of political issues like gay marriage and environmental protection, drawing on the knowledge he has picked up through a lifetime of family dinners.

Many Christian leaders, speakers and music artists pray for and sponsor a child through Compassion’s Christian child sponsorship program. They include Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, UNITED, Matthew West, for KING & COUNTRY, Louie Giglio, Candace Cameron Bure, Ann Voskamp and many others.

The report, “A Child’s Day,” found that 42 percent of children who took lessons were highly engaged compared to 33 percent of children who did not. The report also examined school engagement and other measures of child well-being.

Research shows that extracurricular activities help cultivate the skills, connections, and knowledge that prepare children for lifelong success, but low-income students are increasingly excluded from participating.

Furthermore, while Carlos found mentors in his neighbor and his martial arts coach and a possible pathway to serious competitive sports, he faced obstacles that the more-affluent Ethan did not. In the Scouts and in the private housing development, Ethan was in a safe environment surrounded by a range of caring adults who likely mentored him about both college and career. Financial advantage, physical safety, and the social capital that comes from mentors and adult role models gave Ethan critical supports that were far less available to Carlos.

Every sponsored child is linked with a Christ centered church in his or her community. Compassion partners with over 7,000 evangelical church partners in 25 developing countries around the world.

And Putnam says when it comes to college access, participating in extracurricular activities — including high school sports — can make a huge difference. “We know that taking part in extracurricular activities of all sorts builds soft skills. Kids learn the skills of teamwork and grit — what my mom would have called gumption or ‘stick-to-itiveness,’” says Putnam, who has urged school districts to end pay-to-play athletic programs. 

But of most concern is the shift toward “pay to play,” which puts more and more of the burden of participation on families whose budgets may already be strained. Many schools are implementing athletic participation fees to cover the cost of school sports. For example, the Arlington school district in Massachusetts charges $500 to join the football team and $480 to wrestle. To play on the tennis team in the Riverside Local school district in Ohio costs students $874. Other school districts have introduced fixed fees for all athletics: the Westerville school district in Ohio charges $240 for every sport and $50 for choir, marching band, and the theater club.

Kaisa Snellman is assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France. Jennifer M. Silva is assistant professor of sociology at Bucknell University. Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University.

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Ethan, a college freshman at an elite public university, lives in a private housing development on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. His parents chose this neighborhood primarily for the excellent public school system, though the safe streets and leafy backyards with ample room for a swingset and basketball hoop were an added draw. But for Ethan’s parents, learning did not begin and end in the classroom: they also invested significant time, energy, and money in extracurricular sports, clubs, and activities.1

Almost two in five secondary school pupils don’t take part in any extracurricular activities, revealing a “big mismatch” between the skills that schools say they are offering and the reality for pupils, according to a new report.

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Ethan, a college freshman at an elite public university, lives in a private housing development on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. His parents chose this neighborhood primarily for the excellent public school system, though the safe streets and leafy backyards with ample room for a swingset and basketball hoop were an added draw. But for Ethan’s parents, learning did not begin and end in the classroom: they also invested significant time, energy, and money in extracurricular sports, clubs, and activities.1

"When the camps come up, it's kind of stopping you 'cause it's almost like 600 or 1,000 dollars to get in," says Jizari.

Mondale, S., and S. B. Patton. 2002. School: The Story of American Public Education. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harvard professor Robert Putnam says the number of working class kids who are taking part in school-related extracurricular activities is declining.

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Poverty And Extra Curricular Activities

Levey Friedman, H. 2013. Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

pay-to-play

Jeremiah Burke High School baseball coach Paul Duhaime delivers a passionate pep talk before practice at Boston's Ronan Park.

Silva, J. M. 2013. Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: Oxford University Press.

“It is vital that state schools embed the development of these skills” in all aspects of learning, he said – so they were as “natural a part of school life as English and maths.”

A growing body of research demonstrates that participating in organized activities outside the classroom helps cultivate the skills, habits, connections, and knowledge that prepare children for lifelong success: academic success in school, graduating from high school, going to college, getting a job, and participating in civic life. This is the very logic that fueled the High School Movement, a period of educational reform in the early 1900s that aimed to cultivate skills such as leadership, hard work, civic mindedness, and self-discipline across the class spectrum (Mondale & Patton 2002). Even after controlling for family background and cognitive ability, involvement in extracurricular activities predicts higher grades; higher college aspirations, enrollment, and completion; greater self-discipline, self-esteem, and resilience; lower risky behavior such as drug use, delinquency, and sexual activity; and lower truancy rates (Zaff et al. 2003).

Nicole soon met a boy in the neighborhood, and when her parents would leave for work early in the morning, she would sneak over to his mother’s apartment to see him. Soon, she was pregnant. She moved in with her boyfriend and his mother, going to high school during the day, then running, even eight months pregnant, to catch the bus to get to work at Pizza Hut for minimum wage until midnight. Nicole, who left her boyfriend when he became abusive, wants to give her daughter a better life and recently borrowed nine thousand dollars for a year-long medical billing course at a for-profit college. But for now, simply buying her daughter food, diapers, and clothes at Goodwill leaves her with nothing left over at the end of the month.

The not-so-good news is these benefits only occur when students are engaged and ready to learn. But, the more homework they get, the less they want to engage.

How Homework Affects Students Infographic

Zaff, J. F., K. A. Moore, A. Romano Pappillo, and S. Williams. 2003. “Implications of Extracurricular Activity Participation during Adolescence on Positive Outcomes,” Journal of Adolescent Research 18: 599–630.

Stearns, E., and E. J. Glennie. 2010. “Opportunities to Participate: Extracurricular Activities’ Distribution across and Academic Correlates in High Schools,” Social Science Research 39, no. 2:296–309.

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