GBS named number one: Niche placed South as top school in nation for extracurricular activities

DECORATING DUO: Attaching a yellow streamer to support posts, juniors Danielle Callas and Bailey Burke lay the finishing touches on a pyramid for GBSís Turnabout dance, ìNight on the Nileî, on March 5. Callas and Burke participate in Girls Letter Club, a club for varsity female athletes, which is one of the many extracurricular activities offered at GBS.

John Schurer

DECORATING DUO: Attaching a yellow streamer to support posts, juniors Danielle Callas and Bailey Burke lay the finishing touches on a pyramid for GBSís Turnabout dance, ìNight on the Nileî, on March 5. Callas and Burke participate in Girls Letter Club, a club for varsity female athletes, which is one of the many extracurricular activities offered at GBS.

Karina Benson, Yoon Kim, and Chaerim Park

Niche, an organization that reviews K-12 public schools, recently ranked GBS number one of all public high schools in the nation when it comes to extracurricular activities, which includes clubs, organizations and athletic teams. publishes results for a variety of rankings of schools periodically throughout the year. Information is gathered to determine rankings by compiling data, which is collected and monitored by the U.S. Department of Education. According to Jessica Hair, Niche’s marketing outreach coordinator, the data for ranking the best extracurricular activities come from reviews from students and parents in addition to school reports about items such as expenses per student, the number of sports and the percentage of female and male athletes.

“Right now [GBS has] the best extracurriculars in the nation; however, [GBS] also stands out across the board,” Hair said. “[GBS is] the number six [all-around] public school in Illinois, [and GBS is] the number 32 public school in America.”

According to Hair, the number of students involved plays a big role in determining the ranking. Dr. Jim Shellard, assistant principal of student activities, says that South has 91 clubs and activities, and Athletic Director Steve Rockrohr says there are 30 sports, which helped South earn its number-one spot. However, Shellard and Rockrohr, along with former Principal Dr. Brian Wegley (who was principal from 2005 to 2015), all agree that, for them, the quality matters just as much, if not more, than the quantity.

“It’s one thing to just have activities, it’s another to have them at the level we have them,” Wegley said.

According to Shellard, the ranking was only an affirmation of the effort put into South’s extracurricular activities, rather than a goal that was to be achieved.

“With all those kind of ranking systems, that’s not what I rest my laurels on or what I go to for validation,” Shellard said. “I look at student participation in the school.”

However, according to Clayton Nimz, treasurer of the student body and a leader of Titan Nation, the Niche ranking was a reward that had been specifically worked for in the past year.

“This means the world to us…” Nimz said. “Last year we were eyeing [it], because we came in second… but we’ve been trying really hard to get this, because this is like the equivalent of Model UN winning nationals as it is for Titan Nation to win nationals, in terms of the extracurricular spirit that we have.”

Explaining one of the benefits of extracurricular activities, Shellard points to a study by the National Federation of State High School Associations showing that students involved in extracurricular activities in high school tend to perform better academically. The results also showed that extracurricular activities affect students’ goals after high school, as students aim higher in regard to their future plans.

According to Shellard and Rockrohr, they have seen an increase in grades with students who actively participate in after school activities and sports.

“If you’re involved in something after school, your grades will actually go up,” Rockrohr said. “It teaches you how to divide up your time, prioritize, [and] keeps you focused.”

According to Kevin Gordon, student body president, his involvement in extracurricular activities helped him improve his time management skills.

“My personal experience is that [extracurricular activities] have helped me,” Gordon said. “There is this old joke that if you have something you need to get done, give it to the busiest person because they are the ones who know how to get things accomplished quickly and efficiently… When you have an hour to do two hours of homework and you learn how to do that, you really learn efficiency, which I think is valuable in life and in college and life after that.”

According to Nimz, who has been involved in six extracurricular activities during his time at GBS, his involvement impeded the academic aspect of his high school career but compensated in other necessary skills that are more important to him than simply a GPA.

“It’s a struggle to keep your grades up when you’re involved in a lot of things, but there are other benefits to those things,” Nimz said. “It’s lifetime leadership skills; it’s commitment to a team or the team’s success; it’s getting to know people and developing social skills.”

Wegley says part of what makes South’s extracurricular activities stand out is its variety.

“We truly celebrate everything,” Wegley said. “There is not one way to belong; there is not one way to develop your own passion. You should [be] able to get involved in multiple things.”

According to Shellard, despite the variety of extracurricular options, a survey recently done by the school shows that 10 percent of the students at South are not involved in any extracurricular activities at all. In response to this statistic, Wegley says that there is a combination of factors that can determine student involvement.

“I honestly think it’s about two things,” Wegley said. “One is a student’s ability to invest [time] after school. The second is nobody asked; nobody tapped them on the shoulder.”

Wegley says that students at South can make a difference by encouraging their peers to get involved in clubs and activities that they enjoy themselves.

“[Students should] find the students who aren’t engaged and invite them in because it will make a difference in their life if they have the time and chance to do it,” Wegley said.

According to Shellard, the advertising of different clubs, activities and sports at events such as incoming freshmen nights and all-school extracurricular assemblies have played a tremendous part in boosting extracurricular growth.

“Because of our increased enrollment, to me, I think it is more important to make sure that everyone has a place, because the place can feel really big, and you can get disconnected really fast,” Shellard said.

Agreeing with Shellard, Principal Lauren Fagel believes that the level of extracurricular publicity is enough to  achieve GBS’s extracurricular goals.

“Honestly, it’s hard for me to think of [additional ideas for promotion],” Fagel said. “We advertise; we have our website; we announce it; we have video announcements; we have shirts like crazy here; we have food like crazy everywhere.”

However, senior Ann Isaacs has been working on an app, which is now becoming a website, that would also help promote extracurricular activities. According to Isaacs, the website would ask students a series of questions, which would lead them through a ‘decision tree’ and result in a list of possible extracurricular activities that they might be interested in.

“I’d like people to find the right club to join; I’d like people to find a place they feel they belong; I’d like people to find a niche,” Isaacs said. “I think that there’s a lot of pressure to be involved in a lot of things, but if you’re involved in the right things, it can be a lot of fun.”

Fagel looks forward to the possibility of getting every single student involved.

“For me, the ranking is great, but we’re still not done,” Fagel said. “We want to get to 100 percent.”
*The Journalistic Writing class contributed to this report