Grandville — The officers of the Women’s Advancement in Leadership Club weren’t sure what to expect when they signed up to participate in Grandville High School’s very first extracurricular fair, but in retrospect, they’re glad they did.
Their table was buzzing all throughout the event as they answered questions about the club, which works to give high school girls leadership experience, volunteer opportunities and professional development and exploration.
“We’ve got five people already saying they’ll come (to a club meeting), and most of our pamphlets have already been taken,” said senior Elara Choudhuri. “So I’m going to count that as a win.”
Assistant Principal Mike Kennedy came up with the idea of hosting an extracurricular fair for school clubs during the school year to give students an easy way to “find their people.” The school had previously invited clubs to participate during orientation, before the school year started, but scheduling was proving to be too difficult.
Instead, he invited all 30+ of the high school’s student-led clubs to set up a table during a Wednesday Seminar time and gave the student body an open invitation to come peruse the tables, meet new people and discover new opportunities to get involved.
“The idea is, we want school to be a place where kids feel a sense of belonging,” Kennedy said. “We hope that happens in a classroom, but if not, or also, this is a great way for kids to find and feel a connection through a club.
“The research goes back decades showing that kids who are involved in extracurriculars tend to do better academically. … If this (fair) can be a bridge to help a kid feel like they have somebody in their corner, well, amen to that.”
A Variety of Options
While not every club participated in the fair, visitors had a lot to choose from with student representatives on hand from groups including the Unified Links Club, the theater club, Ultimate Frisbee, the Bird Club, a writing club and members of class executive boards.
Junior McCaylee Mulchay was on hand to represent Calling All Colors, “a group of diverse students who want to make a difference in school,” as she explained the club’s purpose.
“We basically focus on racism and how we can make an impact, because one person might feel like their opinion doesn’t make a difference, but when you bring a whole group of people who feel that way into one group, it can make a difference,” McCaylee said.
Her club wanted to participate in the extracurricular fair because “I feel like our group is not very well known and seen at our school, so I feel like the fair might be very beneficial,” she said. “And it would just be fun.”
Over at the Women’s Advancement in Leadership Club table, senior Alexandria Smith said she thought the fair was a great idea.
“Especially for the new students, it gives them a chance to find out everything that’s around them,” Alexandria said. “Seeing our (club) name on paper is different from being able to actually interact with people in the club. We love what we do, and it really empowers people who are like me, and when we get to have conversations about that with new people, that face-to-face interaction, I think it really changes the game.”
Kennedy noted that while extracurricular activities are often a good way for freshmen and transfer students to form connections, it’s “never too late to find your niche.”
‘We want school to be a place where kids feel a sense of belonging.’— Assistant Principal Mike Kennedy
“I definitely wanted (the extracurricular fair) to be this open, relaxed thing for any student, that if you’re interested, come on down and we’ll make space for you. What I have found is that the invitation is more powerful than telling them they have to, because a lot of school already feels like that. It’s simply an invitation: come see what we’ve got.”
Students at GHS can also take the initiative to create new extracurricular clubs if they don’t see something that fills a specific interest, Kennedy said. To start a new club, a student needs to secure 10 committed students and one committed advisor, and then submit a proposal to school administration for review.
“If a student has the imagination, the passion, the interest, we can make it happen,” he said. “We want kids to be unified in some way, shape or form.”