August 14, 2011


I was incredibly excited to watch the iamfirst program on ABC on August 14th - it's about darn time that academic programs got this kind of recognition. Academic teams like FIRST robotics do incredible work. The students spend countless hours doing things that would shock and impress anyone, the teachers work to promote ingenuity, and the benefits are countless. I'm beyond ecstatic to be part of my school's Robotics team this year (after two years of being pestered non-stop by our teacher coach), and knowing the work that this program is doing has only made me more proud of my choice to participate (finally).

That being said, if we can get the Black Eyed Peas, Bono, Steven Tyler, Justin Bieber, and countless other celebrities to back FIRST Robotics, imagine what Hollywood could do for other academic programs out there.

This is how I see it working out:

National History Day
Science Olympiad
Science Fair
Mock Trial
Debate and Forensics
Destination Imagination
Model UN
Academic Decathalon

Each of these programs needs the same kind of promotion that FIRST got with the iamfirst campaign. The celebrities involved with the TV special kept emphasizing how incredible the work that the students were doing was, building robots and managing complex budgets. It's truly incredible what these teams do. But, for a second, just think about all of those other events. Science Fair students are finding alternative treatments for diabetes. DI students are creating and innovating new solutions to problems. History Day students do research only rivaled by graduate theses. Debate students tackle issues far beyond those most teenagers would think to ponder. AcaDec and SciOly students are learning obscene amounts of information in short amounts of time. MUN and Mock Trial students recreate some of the most complex governmental forums out there.

The point is, the benefits of all these programs are countless. They teach students things that can't be taught in the classroom - from engineering, public speaking, and herpetology to study skills, how to do intensive research, and how to treat yourself professionally. The confidence and life skills these programs offer their students and the sense of community that they can provide can't be found anywhere else.

The best part is, those aren't the only academic programs out there. Students are doing amazing things every day, but because they don't score touchdowns they aren't given the same kind of recognition. I've ranted before to anyone who will listen about how underrepresented academic programs are, but that doesn't change the fact that a high school football team that wins a weekly game can make the front page of the sports section, while an academic team that wins an international competition can be completely glossed over.

Is that fair? No. Is that reality? You know it.

What I'm saying is this: we need to promote academic programs like these. Imagine if major celebrities and bands decided to back each of these programs. Imagine if their national and international competitions had televised specials and promo videos. Imagine if there wasn't a label attached to participating in these events such that the students in the Connect a Million Minds advertisements felt compelled to describe themselves as "geeks" and "nerds."

Imagine if there was FUNDING to keep these programs going.

We need academic extra-curriculars in our schools. It's a simple fact. They teach our students, and our students are our future.

So come on, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, and Sara Bareilles. Come on, the Fray, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Relient K. Come on, Nicki Minaj,  Katy Perry, and Maroon 5. Share the love, and keep these programs in our schools.

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