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Many kids fall through the cracks when it comes to extracurricular activities

Mar 30, 2016

Credit Gabriel Saldana / Flickr Creative Commons / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

This morning in the Detroit Free Press, I read a story about Misty Copeland.

She's the African-American ballerina who overcame adversity and made history last year when she became the American Ballet Theatre's first black principal dancer.

Copeland was raised poor, and was discovered at 13-years-old by a ballet teacher that thought she had promise. So much so, she provided her with a scholarship to pursue formal dance training her family couldn't afford.

Copeland told ABC News:

We were pretty much homeless, and we were living in a motel trying to scrape up enough money just to go to the corner store and get a cup of noodle soup to eat. It was probably just the worst time in my childhood when ballet found me.

And that investment from that teacher helped put Copeland on the path to where she is today.

Extracurricular activities like dance classes, team sports, or Boy and Girl Scouts can help shape a kid's future.

But many don't have access to these valuable resources.

Credit Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center found that parents' income and education level has a lot to do with kids' participation in these activities.

Pew's analysis found that parents with higher incomes were more likely to say their children participated in an extracurricular activity in the 12 months leading up to the survey.

The gap in access to extracurricular activities has been widening for decades.

According to The Atlantic:

While upper- and middle-class students have become more active in school clubs and sports teams over the past four decades, their working-class peers have become increasingly disengaged and disconnected, particularly since their participation rates started plummeting in the '90s.

Low-income parents may be poorly informed about the value of these activities.

But for many children, the rising costs of sports teams and campus clubs have made after-school activities a luxury their parents can't afford.

Pew also found that college-educated parents were more likely to say their young children participated in extracurricular activities.

According to Pew:

About eight-in-ten (83%) parents with a bachelor’s degree say their children participated in sports or athletic activities in the year prior to the survey, and 66% say that their children took music, dance or art lessons. Among parents with a high school education or less, the shares are 63% and 42%, respectively.

Credit Pew Research Center

The connection is not surprising. Education level and income typically go hand-in-hand.

So what opportunities are the kids who don't have access to these activities missing out on?

Research shows the skills, habits, connections, and knowledge that kids gain from these activities help them gain self-esteem and resilience, and reduce the likelihood that they’ll engage in risky behavior such as drug use, delinquency, and sexual activity.

They can also help boost academic performance, lead to higher wages, and increase the likelihood of voting and engaging in politics.

Here at State of Opportunity, we've used the "gap" metaphor a lot. The achievement gap. The gender gap. The race gap. The adventure gap.

Well, we can add the "activity gap" to a list of disparities that are putting many of our kids at a disadvantage. Hopefully these are gaps we can one day close.

You can check out a video about Misty Copeland's rise to pop culture stardom below: