18 March 2018

The Belonging Sweet Spot

Written by Linda Francis, Posted in Social & Emotional Learning

When extracurricular is no longer extra

The Belonging Sweet Spot

"A sense of belonging, research shows, is really important for children to succeed in school and in life. The whole idea that you belong here, you’re appreciated here, whether it’s by your family or in a school setting, you are expected to do well here, is crucial in order for a child to grow their skills and be motivated to achieve.”
Dr. Carol Dweck, PhD

What does it mean for a young person to “belong” here in OP and RF? One of the ways we see young people find belonging in the broader community is through their activities. It is where kids often solidify friendships and create networks. As the kids say, it is often the means through which they find their “tribe”

It is also through activities that many kids get to know caring adults outside of their families.  Our research shows that it is the norm for Oak Park and River Forest youth to engage in more than one activity. The same research indicates that most of our teens have more than one “adult they can talk to about important things in their life.”   We don’t think this is a coincidence. 

In addition to aiding social and emotional development, activities can be a launching pad for job opportunities, college acceptance, and career plans. Kids who know how to swim well are hired as lifeguards. Whether it is starting out with an instrument in 4th grade, participating in sports prior to high school or honing theater skills in CAST or Bravo – all provide entre to high school level opportunities. Even enrichment opportunities, like STEM camps, help kids develop early interests in these fields. This ability to start your “10,000 hours” at a young age has helped many of our teens determine their passions and career paths and provide the well-rounded profile and recommendations for college applications.

Experience, observation and studies clearly show that extracurricular activities are not “extra.”   And it is also our job to ensure that young people are not over-scheduled and over-stressed by the activities that should give them joy. That’s the sweet spot. We hope to keep this in mind as we work to connect more kids to caring adults through activities and have 90% or more express a feeling of belonging in their community.

That is why it is so important that all our children have access to these opportunities; that barriers associated with cost, logistics, gender and physical ability are removed.

For more information about SAY’s work, pick up a copy of SAY Connects, a monthly supplement appearing in the Wednesday Journal. You will also find timely information about community resources, scholarship opportunities and more.  

Find SAY Connects in the March 21st edition of the Wednesday Journal.

About the Author

Director, Success of All Youth

Linda Francis

Linda Francis comes to the Foundation as an accomplished industrial engineer and a program leader with extensive experience developing and implementing solutions. She has substantial analytical, technical and communication skills with a background in continuous improvement. Locally, she has worked with diverse individual and organizational cultures toward common goals. She currently serves on the Board of the Oak Park Education Foundation.

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Success of All Youth is powered by the Communityworks Fund of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation.


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