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hitting home

A special ingredient in student success can be found after the school bell rings


Last Saturday, my son had a soccer game at Platt Middle School in Boulder. And, though I spent four years in Boulder, I’d never been to Platt, so this was a new experience for me. Platt, it turns out, is in the older, eastern section of Boulder, out by the smoke stacks. Conveniently, also close to the pumpkin patch my family has been visiting every Halloween season for the last decade.

At any rate, Platt is an older building, with that utilitarian, institutional look that most public works had in the 1950s and 60s, when it was built. We drove around the building, through a couple small, poorly marked parking lots, to the back where the fields were.

And arrived at a multi-use, next-generation, absolutely beautiful soccer field, on the inside of a high-tech surface running track. Honestly, this field was nicer, and in better condition than the main Jeffco fields at Sixth Avenue and Kipling, much less any of the fields at any individual high school.

Think about that: an older middle school in Boulder has a better athletic facility than any high school in Jefferson County.

You know what else Platt Middle School has? Interscholastic athletics. Like Douglas County, Cherry Creek, and Aurora Schools, Boulder middle school students have a chance to play and compete against their peers from other schools. Jeffco kids don’t.

Why does it matter? Isn’t school all about reading, writing, and arithmetic? Don’t we measure our credibility as professionals and our responsibility as public trustees by the test scores our students achieve?

Yes. But we shouldn’t.

I just got done reading a fascinating book by Dr. Angela Duckworth called “Grit.” Dr. Duckworth defines “grit” as the ability of a person to find something of enduring interest to them, and then to have a ferocious determination to work through the difficult moments and see their interest through to its logical conclusion. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that she considers grit to be a critical component of success, and well she should — across multiple platforms, over a span of decades, she has compiled an impressive body of data correlating Grit with success. In one experiment, 69 percent of the students who enrolled in college out of high school and who scored 6 out of 6 on Duckworth’s “Grit Grid” (more on that another time) remained on track for a degree after two years, while a mere 16 percent of students who scored a 0 were still in school.

And how, in Duckworth’s formulation, does a student gain grit? Well, of course, some of it is innate, and a lot of it comes from home. But the very definition of the point scale of the “Grit Grid” is based on one thing: extracurricular activities.

That’s right, a student doesn’t develop this critically important personal characteristic by going to class, doing their homework, and performing well on tests. They do it by playing football for two or more years; they do it by being in student government for two or more years; they do it by playing their trombone for two or more years.

And you know what’s even more important? Success. A student who plays volleyball for three years, and is selected team captain, proves even more that they have what it takes to succeed.

So, you see, it seems to me that a student who goes to Platt Middle School gets a leg up on their counterparts from Arvada Middle School, for the simple reason that they have the opportunity to compete in sports. And, while that’s not the only arena for a student to try to “get grittier,” it is an important one, and it speaks volumes about the priorities of the school.

Next week I will expound on the idea of “Grit” even more, and on the implications that has for public policy … including some very important local issues we’ll be dealing with over the next 12 months.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com


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