According to data released this month by Oak Park and River Forest High School officials, the percentage of students at the school who participate in extracurricular activities, which include both clubs and athletics, was around 78 percent during the 2017-18 school year, which continues a five-year trend of increasing participation rates.  

The improved participation rate for all students at OPRF, however, obscures the declining participation rates of African American and Hispanic students, some board members pointed out during a regular meeting on Aug. 23, when District 200 administration officials presented the report that contained the data.

Last school year, 2,627 of the 3,451 students enrolled at OPRF were involved in at least one extracurricular activity. According to district officials, the academic performance and school attendance rates of participating students was demonstrably higher than non-participating students. 

For instance, the average unweighted GPA of participating students was 3.2, compared to around 2.8 for non-participating students. In addition, district officials said, students involved in activities had an average of roughly 13 unexcused absences by class period last school year while uninvolved students had an average of around 32 unexcused absences by class period that school year.

According to the report, drafted by John Stelzer, OPRF’s athletic director, and Susan Johnson, OPRF’s director of activities, the district’s data is consistent with national data that shows that students who participate in extracurricular activities do better academically and have fewer unexcused absences. 

Stelzer added that the overall participation rate among ORPF students is higher than the national average, which is currently “somewhere around 65 to 66 percent,” according to data provided by the National Federation of High Schools. 

“We’re certainly well above that and we’re certainly very proud of that participation rate and the development of our students here,” he said. But not all students at OPRF are benefitting from extracurricular participation, some board members pointed out. Although the overall percentage of active students at OPRF has grown steadily from 72 percent in 2014-15 to around 78 percent in both 2015-16 and 2017-18, the steady growth has not been uniform among racial demographics. 

While the rate of participation has grown among white and multiracial students since the 2015-16 school year, the rate has decreased for African American and Hispanics, according to the data.

The participation rate among whites has increased from around 79 percent in 2015-16 to roughly 82 percent in 2017-18. Among multiracial students, the increased participation increased from 75 percent in 2015-16 to 79 percent in 2017-18. 

Among African-American students, the participation rate was down to around 74 percent in 2017-18 after increasing to roughly 79 percent in 2016-17 from around 70 percent during the prior year.

Among Hispanic students, the participation rate was down to around 71 percent in 2017-18 after increasing to roughly 74 percent in 2016-17 from around 63 percent during the prior year.

“What’s driving the trend of increase are white and multiracial students,” said board President Jackie Moore during last week’s meeting, before urging district officials to look into the causes of the declining participation rates among black and Hispanic students. 

“It’s worthy of some discussion as to where [the declining rates are] coming from,” she said. “Is it the elimination of clubs, kids dropping out of particular activities or sports, new kids coming to the school and not signing up?” 

Board member Craig Iseli reinforced Moore’s point.

“I want to commend us on the high participation rate that we have, which is fantastic,” he said, “but we need to focus on students who aren’t participating and what structural barriers [to participation] might exist.” 

Board member Matt Baron said the dip in participation rates among black and Hispanic students should be considered within the context of a period of at least five years in which participation rates among students of all races have increased. 

“There’s a lot more alarming stats in other areas of the school,” Baron said, before applauding the administration for maintaining a participation rate that’s above the national average and that “could well be a historic high.”  

District officials explained in the report that the upward trend in overall extracurricular participation rates at OPRF was mainly due to “the continued support and increase in [faculty] stipends over the past two school years, as well as the inclusion of all of our unofficial clubs in our data collection.” 

Some clubs that experienced the most increases in participation were Huskie Helpers, which grew from 24 to 44 participants; Speech Team, which grew from 33 to 56 participants; Spoken Word, which grew from 101 to 119 participants; and Video Gaming Club, which grew from 49 to 71 participants. 


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