Key high school lesson: Learn to balance activities 

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Finding a balance between academic and extracurricular endeavors takes planning, but students generally benefit in the long run.

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When he attended Oak Park River Forest High School, Michael Jacobs planned his time around college applications, studying for one of his AP level courses, serving his school community through the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Program and playing a couple hours of competitive tennis. When he was a senior, he should have been well acquainted with the meaning of stress. However, similar to many of his peers, he had to learn to become a master of time management, balancing a full yet increasingly typical high school schedule.

Former Oak Park River Forest High School student Gabby Cole considered her position on the basketball team a necessary part of her life. She was similarly devoted to student council, as well as the Freedom Readers club, the school’s BOSS program and similar to Jacobs, the J. Kyle Braid Leadership program. Stretched too thin for success? Not according to Cole:

“Honestly, I feel extremely normal when it comes to time management,” she admitted when she was in high school. “In fact, I’ve never really felt like I was juggling too much; just living and enjoying it.”

Both teens attributed their success to a solid support system at home, as well as knowing the meaning of sacrifice. Interestingly, both Gabby and Michael considered sports above all else not only another to-do on their daily list, but also an outlet that allowed them to clear their minds and stay grounded. Above all else, schoolwork remained the central priority for these seniors.

Cindy Milojevic, Oak Park River Forest High School’s assistant principal of Student Activities, said her philosophy helped students such as Gabby and Michael cultivate their talents through club participation while maintaining a solid academic record.

“When students feel a connection on a personal level to a learning institution, it helps enhance their academic focus and leads to success in their future,” explained Milojevic, who believed extracurriculars are an essential part of the school environment.

Oak Park River Forest High School boasted approximately 70 clubs and active groups beyond their athletics program. Each group included a minimum of about 15 students is led by a faculty member sponsor, who often valued his or her non-academic leadership roles as a way to connect with students on a more meaningful, personal level outside the classroom.

For high school freshman, choosing the right activity that might add to a well-rounded resume or reflect a unique talent may seem like a difficult decision. Before committing to any one club, the school offered club hopping, during which younger students are encouraged to drop in on various clubs to see if they match their interests before committing to an activity more fully.

The school worked to develop a co-curricular transcript that enabled each student to have a track record of both their academics as well as their extracurricular activities. Faculty sponsors played a crucial role in communicating between their students and the counselors. Just as academics are tracked, attendance in clubs was taken to ensure both teachers and club sponsors can assist students struggling with time management.

At Hinsdale Central High School, the 13 counselors on staff worked to ensure their students find the right combination of activities to compliment their academic workload. Director of Guidance, Patricia Huebner, reinforced the notion of balance and recommended students focus on quality, not quantity when selecting activities. She cautioned against students overloading themselves to the point where they cannot make a strong commitment to their programs.

Huebner referenced the overriding goal of high school counselors in overseeing the resume building. Colleges are most interested in students who have demonstrated a consistent and committed relationship, as well as growth, leadership and talent, in an extracurricular activity.

Balance is the mantra echoed by all high school counselors, as they steer students through a schedule that extends well beyond classroom hours and homework. While it seems easy to feel overloaded, generally Milojevic felt this pull is beneficial.

“The more a student learns to juggle, the greater their focus becomes and the more successful they are with time management,” she said.

It then becomes clear that a well-rounded mix of activities and academics is not optional; it’s optimal. A full schedule means learning the importance of responsibility and sacrifice, of selecting activities that relieve stress rather than contribute to it, and above all learning how to balance and manage time. For today’s students, this is the lesson they will carry throughout their adult life.