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Student Activities


Roger E. Jones

Ron Bennett
John Gray


Student activities are an integral part of the school program. Qualified students must be able to participate in any activity without regard to race, religion, national origin, disability, or sex. Generally approved by the principal and under the direct supervision of the staff, activities should contribute to the educational objectives of the school and should avoid interrupting the instructional program.


One purpose of student activities is to provide opportunities for students to be involved in the life of the school. Students experience leadership opportunities that help them grow into well-rounded adults. Activities expand interactions among students, who are likely to interact with others who are different from them. Thus, opportunities to experience diversity are enhanced.

Schools organize student activities in different ways. Some principals believe that student activities should be an integral part of the school day and that all students should participate in one or more activities. As a result, meetings occur during the school day at a prescribed time. For example, club day may be the first and third Tuesday of every month from 9 A.M. to 10 All students are expected to participate in at least one activity. Other principals believe that activities should be extracurricular and should meet outside of the instructional day.

Types of Student Activities

Common activities include student government, honor societies, service clubs, arts organizations (band, choral, theater), academic (forensics, debate, academic competition), and literary publications (newspaper, yearbook, literary magazine). Most schools will have a variety of clubs. Some clubs will be similar among schools, for example, foreign language clubs, science clubs, and art clubs, and others will be affiliated with national organizations such as Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Some clubs will be unique to an individual school.

Student government is an integral part of most secondary schools. It may have different names (student council association or student government association), but the purpose is to involve all students in the life of the school. Each student is considered a member of the organization with a right to vote for its officers and representatives. Developing leadership and citizenship are fundamental goals of most student government organizations.

Most schools have honor societies, although such societies may differ from school to school. The purpose of most honor societies is to promote and encourage scholarship, service, leadership, and character. The two largest honor societies with a national reputation are the National Honor Society (NHS) and the National Beta Club. In both organizations, membership is by selection and invitation. Thus, honor societies are set apart from other activities. These national groups are governed by a national constitution so they are similar nationwide. Some schools will develop their own local honor societies to promote excellence in specific areas. For example, one school may have a mathematics honors club while another may have a vocational honors club. In all honor societies, there will be established criteria for selection and invitation.

Service clubs are found in most secondary schools. These clubs have open membership. Some are affiliated with national organizations. For example, the Key Club is supported by the Kiwanis Club, and the Rotary Interact Club is supported by Rotary International. Some service clubs are school specific. Service clubs are generally involved in community service projects, such as canned food drives, working with Special Olympics, peer counseling, or tutoring.

Activities associated with the arts are found in most secondary schools. Concert or symphonic band is generally offered as a class for academic credit, but marching band is generally an extracurricular activity. Marching bands play at football games and generally participate in competition during the year. Other band opportunities may include a jazz band or a pep band. Most secondary schools have choral groups. These groups often perform in the community as well as compete in state and/or national competitions. Many schools have an orchestra. Theater activities are important in most high schools. While theater or drama may be a high school course, most theater productions require open auditions. The number of theater performances offered annually differs from school to school.

Academic activities include a range of experiences; for example, many schools participate in academic competitions. These may include quiz bowls and academic decathlons. Forensics, or public speaking, offers students a variety of experiences, including extemporaneous speaking, original oratory, spelling, and prose and poetry reading. Students are often involved in local and state competitions. Debate activities can take many forms, including Four-Person, Switch-Side, and Lincoln-Douglas. Students participate in local and state debate tournaments.

Most schools have one or more literary activities. The most popular are the yearbook, newspaper, and literary magazine. In some cases, students may be enrolled in an academic class and get academic credit to work on these activities. In other cases, the work is done outside regular school hours.

Clubs are an important part of student activities. As noted earlier, some clubs are tied to national organizations, such as FFA, VICA, and FBLA. These clubs must follow national constitutions and bylaws. Some school clubs are connected to the curriculum, such as Spanish club, French club, and science club. Other clubs may have no direct relationship to the curriculum and are driven by student interest. These clubs will vary from school to school. For example, various high schools around the country support the following clubs: the martial arts club (Killingly, Connecticut), Asian-American club (Carlmont, California), and the Native American student union (Ken Valley, California). In Hall, Arkansas, there is a Political Animals club, garden club, and Teachers of Tomorrow club.

Some student activities are governed by the state high school league. In most cases, the high school league is an organization of high schools that join together with the approval of their local school boards. The leagues encourage student participation in school activities by supporting interscholastic programs. They establish eligibility criteria for activities. Students participating in league activities should be familiar with the league handbook. Extracurricular activities involving athletics and some literary, dramatic, and forensic activities must follow eligibility requirements established by the appropriate high school league.

Some student-initiated clubs may fall under the Equal Access Act. This act, passed by Congress in 1984, prohibits secondary schools that receive federal funds from preventing voluntary student groups, including religious ones, from using school facilities for meetings if the school allows any noncurriculum-related activities to meet on school grounds. Secondary public schools must treat all student-initiated clubs equally, regardless of the religious, political, or philosophical orientation of the club. The act includes the following guidelines.

  • The club must be voluntary and student-initiated.
  • There is no sponsorship by the school or its employees.
  • School employees are present only in a nonparticipatory manner. (The principal can require the club to find a faculty member to be present during the meetings even though the faculty member should not participate.)
  • The club does not interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school.
  • Meetings cannot be directly conducted, controlled, or regularly attended by nonschool persons.

Student activities serve an important role in helping secondary schools develop well-rounded students.




FUTURE FARMERS OF AMERICA. 2002. <www.ffa.org>.

KEY CLUB INTERNATIONAL. 2002. <www.keyclub.org/index.htm>.

NATIONAL BETA CLUB. 2002. <www.betaclub.org>.

NATIONAL HONOR SOCIETY and NATIONAL JUNIOR HONOR SOCIETY. 2002. <http://dsa.principals.org/nhs>.

ROTARY INTERNATIONAL: INTERACT. 2002. <www.rotary.org/programs/interact/>.


Student body funds do not represent a significant portion of the school district budget, and they are not available for discretionary spending by the administration or board of education. Student body funds do represent one of the most visible and likely areas for breaches of internal control.

Depending on the size and location of the school, student body funds can range in size from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Laws and rules govern how student body funds can be used and accounted for; these vary from state to state, but most contain detailed rules and procedures that are to be followed for collecting, accounting, and distributing student body funds. Although student body funds are for the purpose of conducting activities on behalf of students, they are still considered school district funds under the supervision of the local board of education. Student body organizations acquire their purpose, power, and privileges from the rights conferred upon them by the local governing board and the applicable state law.

To avert potential problems regarding the handling of funds, certain principles–a type of "student Bill of Rights"–are suggested here. Students have a right to expect that these principles will be respected in the handling of their funds.

Student Bill of Rights

Student funds shall be segregated from district and other appropriated funds, and shall be accounted for separately. This is an important element of internal control that is easily lost if funds are comingled. Many schools take advantage of the laws that govern student body funds by incorporating their implementation into a learning experience for their students. For instance, a formal constitution that states the name and purpose of the organization is usually required. The constitution presents the framework within which the organization will operate. Students and advisors are heavily involved in creating and maintaining their constitution. The constitution outlines the titles and duties of officers, election of officers, terms of office, and the requirements for eligibility to hold office. At a minimum, the elected officers include a president and treasurer. The constitution also includes rules governing financial activities including budgets, reporting requirements, and authorization of disbursements.

For most secondary schools detailed minutes of meetings are also kept. The minutes contain details of proceedings, including financial matters pertaining to the budget, approval of fund-raising venture, and expenditure authorizations. These study body functions of fund governance often are incorporated into the schools' leadership classes as a learning tool for public governance.


There are occurrences of "disappearing" student money that can adversely effect a school's reputation or the reputation of its employees. Most disappearances involve cash where proper internal controls were not in place. Stories of missing game gate receipts or student store money are not uncommon.

To maintain the public's trust and safeguard the student funds, it is important that the funds be accounted for in a responsible manner. Uniform systems to insure adequate accounting procedures, supervision, segregation of duties, and auditing are necessary. As part of the annual audit of a school district, auditors routinely audit a sample of student body funds within the district. The auditors review for proper accounting procedures, compliance with the law, and for solvency. In addition, unlike many other types of audits, they check to see that reserves are not excessive–the reason being that typically, funds raised in a school year should be spent on those students doing the fundraising and not for future students.

Student body funds also have to comply with state and federal regulations that affect all types of businesses. As an example, student body payments often are made to independent contractors to perform services such as catering, concessions, performances, and so forth. Like everyone else, they have to comply with the Internal Revenue Service's guidelines. Amounts exceeding $600 in one calendar year must be reported on form 1099MISC. This task can be overwhelming and complex. As a result, many school districts require that contractor payments be made through the centralized business office.

Sometimes employees are funded through student body funds to provide help for extracurricular activities. Because student bodies typically do not have the expertise or technology to be employers, most districts run student-body-funded salary payments through their district payroll office. There are several other issues such as use tax and sales tax that also apply to student body funds. Using existing payroll and human resource systems for positions funded by student body funds is a good idea because it allows all of the applicable taxes, employee deductions, and fringe benefits processing to be automated and compliant with the law.


Fund-raisers involving students and parents are the biggest source of income for student body funds. Car washes, candy sales, and carnivals bring in millions of dollars to student body funds each year. This money pays for computers, playground equipment, field trips, and many other athletic and enrichment programs.

To best ascertain which fund-raisers are the most profitable or worthwhile, revenue and cost projections need to be done prior to conducting fund-raising activity. For example if the cost of the item being sold is $1 and the selling price is $3, and the plan is to sell 1,000 of the items, the projected costs should be $1,000 and projected revenues should be $3,000 for a profit of $2,000. At the conclusion of the fund-raiser, a reconciliation should be completed to account for actual monies raised as compared to the projection. Any differences should be reviewed and accounted for with remaining items not sold. Since many students and parents often have an emotional investment in the fund-raiser, being able to account for the profitability is critical.

The tenets above represent a minimum level of care in the handling of student body funds and are meant to serve as a guide. The fiduciary duty school personnel have with regard to student funds is clear. The standards and practices observed by schools and school districts set the tone for trust levels held by the community.



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