Building connections at OPRF High School

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

There aren't many things clearer than that a student who is connected at school in multiple ways is going to have more success in all the ways we seek as a community. The high school student who is active in extracurriculars — be it sports, debate, drama, social service — will also do better academically and socially.

That makes stepping up participation in the extras an imperative at OPRF where the range of options is pretty phenomenal. And that is certainly why last summer the school board set as one of its goals increasing extracurricular participation by 7 percent.

What isn't entirely clear to me is the baseline of current participation. A few years ago, then superintendent Attila Weninger said the school had just started tracking this information because, like others, he saw the correlation between active kids and successful kids. He wanted the data and then he wanted a plan for how — one-by-one — kids could be teased, cajoled, invited, and maneuvered into signing up, and then encouraged to stick with something that tickled a passion.

Getting a kid involved will help close both the academic and the social achievement gaps that still exist at OPRF. Doesn't matter if that disconnected kid is black or white. The disconnect is real.

Last week we ran a page-one story about the racial gap that exists in the sports program at OPRF. It was an interesting take on a reality most of us have observed over the years at the school. Some sports are pretty well integrated. Some tip racially toward high majority white or very heavily African-American.

The root cause of the problem, though, is not what happens when a non-soccer-playing black kid arrives at OPRF as a freshman. The root cause isn't overt racism — no one wants the swim teams to be predominantly white. The problem(s) is in first grade when our kids start playing soccer or softball, in fourth grade when they take up competitive swimming. We're not very integrated on those ballfields, in those pools. We know. We can all see it.

So we can all gear up and crank out some outrage. "How dare you call the field hockey team racists!" Though no one did. "The problem is with the [black] parents who didn't sign their kid up for youth baseball [hockey, swimming, soccer]." Bigger issues here.

Or we can all settle down and consider the opportunity ahead of us to do better. Better, that is, at age 8 and at age 14. Better as youth sports parents and better as high school coaches.

Sharon Patchak-Layman, a longtime OPRF school board member, raised the racial imbalance issue and urged her colleagues to tackle the disparity and set goals that would bring teams gradually into a balance that nearly reflects the school's 57-43 percent white/non-white makeup. Despite the good intentions of this board, that idea landed with a splat as her fellows fell into the "we can't have quotas" trap. Patchak-Layman didn't mention quotas. She talked about making a fair assessment of a problem and looking for a measurable solution.

We got into some trouble with a reader last week who wondered why we editorialized that we admired Patchak-Layman's point but didn't see this as a key issue. Yes, we can do better in integrating high school sports. But the underlying challenge we face is in building the connections, deepening the ties for every kid in the school.

And that goes well beyond sports.

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