Co-curriculars Are Not Extra

March 24, 2021 Catalina Gardescu

Co-curriculars Are Not Extra

From after school activities to student led passion sessions that enhance curriculum

The year was 2001, and I had just gotten hired at the American International School of Bucharest as a Secondary School Secretary.  The school was located in three different rented villas and the Secondary was on Calea Dorobanti, in a very elegant villa which was quite inadequate for the type of school life that we were dreaming of for our students.  I remember that Mr. Elliott, the Director of Athletics at the time, was one of the most dedicated and committed members of the faculty and still, sporting activities and “after school” activities left a lot to be desired, by virtue of lack of facilities (the building had no gym, there was a bubble that was inflated behind the building).

In 2002 the entire student and faculty body moved into the current Pipera campus and the roots of a program that was going to offer our students the proper motivation and involvement after their academic classes were over.  Teams of AISB Vampires were involved in a few CEESA events, AISB is actually the place where Speech & Debate started in CEESA.  We had coaches that were either current teachers or outside contractors and the program had a lot of potential but still a lot of work had to be done.

Fast-forward two decades later, I can look back and see the huge amount of work done and the beautiful program that has now moved from the concept of “after school activities” (sounding separate from what our students do in class or somehow not connected to the core purpose of education that we do here), to the “co-curricular activities program” that we have today, a program that embodies a clear mission of building authentic student leadership opportunities and empowering them to help make a shift in our community.

In the recent CEESA Conference, David Hughes, Athletics & Activities Director, Fiona Moss, Secondary Vice-Principal and Andrew Pontius, Middle Years Program Coordinator led an inspiring presentation describing this beautiful journey from some activities after school to purposeful, student led programs that inspire and empower.  

The road through this transition was not easy.  It started with a lot of trust in our student coaches, in their ideas and individual journeys. It represented an effort on the part of our Athletics & Activities department to promote these young leaders, initiate and sustain a community mind shift towards embracing student involvement and recognizing that expertise and commitment exits in those of us who are not necessarily carrying the explicit title of “teacher”.  Like any of the important journeys taken, this change was not seamless and there were ups and downs. The most important thing was to keep our eyes on the mission.  

The data is impressive:

2017/18: 1% of our entire PYP CCA program was student-led.  Four 11th grader student-leaders coached football and lead painting.

2018/19: 16% of our entire PYP CCA program was student-lead.  Twenty-nine 9th-12th graders leading activities, and four 5th graders

2019/20 (school year was cut short to only 2 seasons due to Covid-19): 14% of our entire Elementary CCA program was student-led. Twenty-eight 8th-12th graders leading activities and four 5th graders. 

2020/21: 20% of our ES CCA program is student-lead.  Twenty-five 6th-12th graders leading CCAs virtually.

In March 2020 when the pandemic changed our lives … we were close to sending our basketball team out to play in another one of the very engaging CEESA tournaments. Since then, it has been too quiet on the tournament front, but we carry the hope that soon we will be able to resume that experience which brought so much more for our students and community than just the sport itself.   

It is important to note however that, as soon as it became clear that we were not going to be closed for just two or three weeks, the co-curricular activities department pivoted and recreated the entire program. A few times over. 

Examples of student led activities that the AISB community benefits from are diverse and cover a huge variety of passions and interests: sports (basketball, fitness & conditioning, football, volleyball); academics (speech & debate, math games), movement/ performance arts (modern dance,gymnastics, drama club, student-directed productions), visual/digital arts (film-making, painting, drawing, photography, zentangle), personal passion activities (American sign-language, climbing club, culinary club, creative writing, Chinese folk tales, dance club, ukulele club).  

The snapshot above is of a program created for students who unfortunately have been mainly online since the beginning of the pandemic – this isn’t even the complete list.  And even though there is truly no comparison between our learning when we are physically together, we are so happy to have been able to maintain some passions going.  

In the following weeks, The Bat Signal will feature posts on impressive co-curricular initiatives at AISB, ranging from Student Councils, to the amazing student created and led newspaper The Bite, to stories around the many student-led passion projects above. Stay tuned for some awesome stories coming up!

Source: CEESA Presentation by David Hughes, Fiona Moss & Andy Pontius