How Kids Learn to Reach their Full Potential

By | May 17, 2014

It’s a common practice for school boards to adopt proposals that tie academic performance to after school activities. In most cases, if students fail to maintain a certain academic average they become ineligible to participate in after school activities like cheerleading, tennis and chorus.

The prevailing philosophy is that students are more apt to improve classroom performance when carrots are dangled and pressure to perform is applied. Unfortunately for some students, the ones who fall into the category of academically challenged and yes, even, academically lazy, this thought process doesn’t always live up to its billing or achieve the desired results.

There has to be a more balanced approach.

School Boards seem to have the misconception that anything taking place after 3pm is non-academic in nature. Although a strong case can be made that Reading, Riting and Rithmetic are essential to success, so too are qualities like perseverance, time management and communication skills, integrity, responsibility, sportsmanship, hard work, discipline; you get the idea.

How many knew that Einstein did poorly in school? Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and Abraham Lincoln only had five years of formal education. Sir Isaac Newton did so badly that his teachers thought he couldn’t learn. Thomas Edison was considered to be a “dull student” and one teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything. Steven Spielberg took special education classes. Woody Allen flunked motion picture production at New York University. Neither Dave Thomas from Wendy’s or Walt Disney finished high school and I was told by my high school guidance counselor to forget college and I’d be lucky if the military would take me.

The question becomes; we know where the three “R’s” are taught and understand their role in education but where do you learn about life’s other trump cards; the qualities of achievement, the development of self?

Can you find them in the classroom or could they be more representative of after school activities? Personally, I can’t ever recall learning much about persistence in English or discipline in Social Studies. If we’re talking about making a real impact in a person’s life, after school activities is where a vast majority of life’s qualities are learned.


Why then is it acceptable for school boards to take away educational opportunities for students who struggle with standard forms of testing? Most people seem to understand not everyone has an IQ of 130 or can swim 100 meters in under a minute. Nor can everyone tear an engine apart and put it back together.

Individual skills and talents are as diverse as the number of people you test so why isn’t this current approach to education discriminatory? Can you imagine the school valedictorian not being eligible to go to class the next marking period because he or she only won 60% of their track events? Or become ineligible to take Physics because you didn’t have a passing grade in Social Studies? I think we’d all agree these examples would be ludicrous!

Why then is the reverse acceptable?

Any student who doesn’t do well in class gets yanked from participating in after school activities. Why can’t they co-exist; why shouldn’t they co-exist? Everything the school offers is educational in nature, each one playing significant roles in our children’s development. The current approach is all about standards. But who is standard anyway? Who wants to be standard? Don’t we want our children to find their gifts and then excel?

It’s hard to fathom that administrators would take one educational opportunity away for the perceived benefit of another. To me the most important role a school plays is helping each child to discover their gifts and build character. That means creating an environment that encourages students to grow in all three triangular aspects of life – academics, applied learning, and social development. Why then would anyone pull a child from sports and after school activities when the country has such an inclination toward sedentary life styles and obesity? How can any administrator justify taking away opportunities to develop a healthy lifestyle and mature socially because he or she is faltering in the classroom?

Of course grades are important but when after school opportunities are denied to those who are dyslexic, have ADD or simply aren’t motivated; other educational opportunities are lost as well.

None of this is to say students shouldn’t do the best they can in the classroom or feel pressure toward class room achievement. But isn’t holding other forms of education hostage at the expense of another comparable to throwing the baby out with the bath water? America’s strength is its diversity of thought and talents. One’s freedom to pursue personal interests makes that possible.

I think we need to understand there are four different intellectual levels of students; academically skilled, academically lazy, academically challenged and those who are classified learning disabled in any number of ways.
Granted, academically skilled individuals don’t have problems with being able to participate in after school activities. They typically learn either by visual or auditory stimulus whereas the last two rely primarily on tactile senses to excel. The lazy one; well Darwin did have a point, but why are we burying them before they’re dead?

If every student is truly entitled to equal educational opportunities under the law and after school activities are part of the total educational package, then something is being lost here. What happens after school isn’t desert and we need to stop thinking that way? It’s actually meat and potatoes just like academic classes are.

Some thoughts to ponder:

  1. Is putting academic requirements on after school activities actually effective in pulling grades up or is it a way of downsizing after school activities to ease budgetary pressure?
  2. Does the fear of becoming academically ineligible actually inspire students to work harder or does it encourage them to drop AP and college preparatory courses to remain eligible?
  3. Where do ineligible students go and what do they do after school when they aren’t being supervised in an organized activity? Does having free-time actually mean increased study time or something else?
  4. Where do students who are learning disabled fall into this equation? Are they exempt from the rules others have to play by or just denied opportunities to gain self-esteem by demonstrating some talent that’s not taught in a classroom?
  5. What about the many students who live in a one parent household with the second parental figure being the after school advisor or coach? Does taking away that role model help or worsen the situation?
  6. Is there anything to be said about the various academic differences between schools and teachers? Do those inconsistencies provide an even playing field for everyone?
  7. Whether we like it or not, what about the struggling student whose only means of personal growth is though his or her career in music, the arts, athletics or theatrical talents. How does that fit into the school’s goals of preparing everyone for success?

School Boards need to take a closer look at how they 1) view and then 2) handle after school programs.

There is no such thing as desert when it comes to school offerings and no two students are the same. All honor students aren’t Rembrandts. Not every State Wrestling Champion can split molecules. Not all schoolchildren in college preparatory classes can tear a lawn mower engine apart and put it back together again. Musical talent has nothing to do with diagramming a sentence but Beyoncé makes a pretty good living at the former. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s skill as a dancer has nothing to do with his proficiency in English.

Shouldn’t we be embracing the total student?

5 thoughts on “How Kids Learn to Reach their Full Potential

  1. jhladis

    This looks like a good read, this would of been useful for my thesis about wrestling and education.

  2. Cynthia Fox

    Hello Mr. Wade Schalles,
    Just wanted to let you know that my brother Randy is the one that sculpted your Wade Schalles Award and we were talking about that tonight…just was nosy and wanted to check out what has been happening..seems you are doing remarkably well !!! Excellent article !!! … and to let you know that Randy was just inducted into the Gymnastic Coaching Hall of Fame!!! Our dad… is in the International Fishing Hall of Fame ! Surrounded by HALL OF FAMERS and couldn’t be more proud !!! I have been encouraging Randy to do more sculptures and he knows he should but doesn’t really know how to market himself. If you ever have the need or know anyone that might he would love to start sculpting again. Thank you for your time and keep on keeping on !

  3. Allen Hackmann

    I agree and disagree. Minimum standards are essential. If the student is properly placed maintaining a “C” average is not too much to ask. I agree that talents and skills differ from student to student. Most school divisions have different areas of focus students can choose from; Advanced, Standard, Vocational, Fine Arts, etc… Students with disabilities should also have the supports they need to be successful.

    If a student has below a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) they should not be barred from participation, but rather held from competition until they bring their grades up.

    In an effort to keep this short and sweet I have seen first hand the downside to having standards that are too low. Like it or not athletes are seen as leaders of the school. If your “leaders” are allowed to be celebrated athletically and underachieve in the classroom it causes problems for the entire school.

    Here are a few facts to support what I am saying.

    1. I had a student pass 3 of 7 classes. He then passed 2 classes in summer school with a D. That is 9 tries to get 5 d’s. Well below a 1.0 GPA. He was a starter on the football team and celebrated as an athlete.

    2. The football team made it to the State Championship game. Not one player recieved a scholarship. Thats’s crazy!

    3. In a previous job in a different division there was a 2.0 GPA rule in place for participation. On an average team there were 3-5 kids getting D1 Scholarships regularly.

    There has to be flexibility when dealing with students. However, getting rid of or reducing standards is not the answer. I suggest letting them participate but let the act of competition be the carrot they chase affter to ensure they are at least attempting to reach their potential academically.

    1. Wade Schalles

      Thank you Allen for responding.

      I never mentioned reducing standards. I said the standards we have are misplaced.

      I was trying to say that everything a young man or woman does after school is as important as what they do in class. Yes, the total child receives something special for life from each class they take, but also in every activity they are part of.

      Why don’t we make students ineligible for English because they had a losing football season or failed to make the state finals in debate? That would be so counterproductive, I’m sure we both agree there.

      But I want every child to be able to feel honesty and integrity, understand hard work, persistence, sportsmanship and most importantly develop a healthy self respect. Sometimes those qualities are taught in classrooms but far more often you’ll find them in after school activities.

      To take one away from a student as a penalty for poor performance in another is wrong.

      I know this goes against the established norm but it only holds water if after school activities are in fact desert and not what I believe them to be; opportunities for personal growth every bit as important as academic classes.

      Of course that’s if we put a premium on a well rounded education.

      Thanks for writing,


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