Research shows that when students involve themselves in extracurricular activities, their academic performance soars (Hollan, 1987). Fowler Middle School in Plano, Texas, exemplifies this. The school is known locally for its high STAAR scores and high-performing population. So much so that families move into its zoned neighborhoods just so their children can attend this remarkable school. Yet despite its success, when the school’s Special Populations committee convened and looked at the data, they discovered that not all subgroups of the student population were well represented in extracurricular activities—emergent bilinguals in particular—and that most of the clubs offered catered to already high-performing students. With these findings in mind, Fowler Middle School launched the Language Exchange Club.
The idea behind the Language Exchange Club is that newcomers and other emergent bilingual students could teach their home languages to other students and take pride in their multicultural, multilingual heritage. The first club meeting took off like a rocket. About 40 students attended after school, a mix of newcomers, emergent bilingual students, and other multilingual students well on their way to becoming polyglots (people who speak several languages). When word got around that there was delicious, ethnic food being offered after school, students in the athletic programs joined as well. The club sponsor was beside herself with joy when too many students showed up for the room capacity.
This year, the Language Exchange Club has continued with two club sponsors: one teacher who speaks Korean and English, the other English and Spanish. The two sponsors often model how to do a language exchange with each other. The club is becoming more organized and focused, and the possibilities are endless. Now, students exchange emails and communicate with each other throughout the week in Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, Korean, Telugu, and many other languages. Even better, friendships are being formed across cultures. It is beautiful to see the connections made and the sense of pride in a multicultural community. Even if the Language Exchange Club produces no other achievements, we will all be better for it.
Holland, A., & Andre, T. (1987). Participation in extracurricular activities in secondary school: What is known, what needs to be known? Review of Educational Research, 57(4), 437–466. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543057004437