Educators and parents alike know what connects a student to a school isn’t necessarily the promise of a diploma — or even what’s served in the cafeteria. It’s the rich, memory-building out-of-classroom experiences that keep students engaged year after year.
“We always say it’s not the great math class that attracts or retains students to a district. It is that something extra that a student feels connected to,” says Scott Tocco, Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services at Wayne-Westland Community Schools (WWCS). “We also know that if we give students something outside academics, that keeps them motivated within the academic space.”
Athletics, fine arts, music, even robotics, help kids broaden their experiences and learn real-world lessons while giving them a sense of ownership in their school. And, what keeps the student engaged, keeps the whole family engaged, too.
“Coaches are with kids three, four hours a day after school and they build relationships, building a sense of pride and ownership from the whole family,” Tocco says.
To provide that “something extra” for students and families, WWCS is embarking on a comprehensive addition of student activities at the elementary and middle school levels, beginning this spring with a new flag football program.
“We partnered with NFL Flag Football and are the first school district in Michigan to do so,” Tocco says. Two teams for boys and girls at each of three middle schools will allow for in-district competition as well as play with teams at other schools in metro Detroit. “We will be hosting teams from across southeast Michigan at our facilities on Friday nights this spring,” he adds.
Even the 10 elementary schools at WWCS will get involved. “When we pivot into fall, we will have a team represented at each of our elementary schools,” Tocco says.
In all, WWCS middle schools have a rich offering of activities for students. In addition to flag football, boys and girls can participate in track and field, cross country, basketball, swimming and soccer. There is also volleyball for girls and wrestling for boys.
Non-athletic activities look different at each middle school but can include a STEM program, EMU Bright Futures and Wolverine Tutoring programs and garden, anime, math, spirit, anti-bullying, Spanish, bowling and golf clubs.
“I really love all these choices,” says Tocco. “This gives kids another opportunity to build relationships with peers outside of the classroom, and this is so important for their growth.”
All of these programs build a strong pipeline for laudable extracurricular programs at the high school level, Tocco says. “The success of our high school programs gives us the opportunity to retain our students and keep our families invested in their own community’s schools. This is critically important to the strength of our community.”
More of everything
Even at the elementary level, WWCS is expanding opportunities in the coming years to build on the already available student council, school newspaper and music programs that exist in many of the elementary schools. In short, there will be more of everything for kids to dig into to stimulate minds, encourage teamwork and build relationships — between each other and with their district as a whole.
“The focus might be athletic heavy right now, but we realize how vital it is to build fine arts, music and robotics at all levels. We’re also looking at esports, which is huge at the K-12 level,” Tocco says.
Unlike many districts, WWCS has no pay-to-play policy, which means that kids can freely join sports and extracurriculars without financial burden. “This is all funded by the district. And it’s huge because a lot of districts charge hundreds per year,” Tocco says.
With an overarching goal to attract and retain families for a preschool-through-graduation educational experience, WWCS works hard to provide all the extras that students and families want in their community schools, for the benefit of students.
“I look at it from the full experience,” Tocco says. “Something a student can engage in outside the academic day can have a huge impact on their future and their whole growth process from childhood to young adulthood. That connection can be huge and define who they are.”
Learn more about Wayne-Westland Community Schools — where any student who is a Wayne County resident can attend — at www.wwcsd.net.