One clear advantage of extracurricular activities is that they tend to get students’ undivided attention. Most young people have a real connection to their sports team, choir, theater group or other organization. The coach, director or advisor enjoy unique opportunities to see students really concentrate on a consistent basis. This creates a powerful opportunity for us as educators when it comes to issues of diversity. We can model fairness, equity and inclusion, as well as provide experiences for our students to be exposed to positive diversity messages.
Sports teams have a long tradition of the pre-game meal. As a young high school teacher and assistant boys’ basketball coach, I opened my classroom to the team before home games. I did that so the team members could share a meal together and develop a stronger connection. At the request of the head coach, the parents formed groups to bring meals to my classroom on a rotating basis. Players were required to attend, be on time and be positive, just as with any practice or game. It was my role to greet the parents and players, organize the activity and make sure the players were respectful and well-behaved.
Once we had established this routine, I was able to sit down and really enjoy the meals, observing and interacting with the parents and players. What I noticed was that everyone talked about non-basketball topics (something that didn’t happen in practices or games). Also, social barriers came down. Players who were not in the same social clique or on the same academic track or receiving the same playing time on the team were in the serving line together or eating next to each other or taking out the trash together. I witnessed a greater sense of community and camaraderie. The diversity and range of interactions among the team members was much greater than in practices or games.
After that season, the coaching staff went in different directions to pursue other opportunities. I couldn’t help but wonder what else might have been integrated into the pre-game meals in the future. There could have been meals in homes. We could have shared food based on cultural heritage. Maybe we could have offered brief speeches to introduce a cultural concept. I saw that meals before games—or concerts, plays and other extracurricular activities—could be used to promote diversity amongst students. As I brainstormed the possibilities, I noticed that the opportunity to impart positive diversity messages through this environment had my undivided attention.