Participation and attendance increase in high school performing arts programs

As a national leader and advocate for high school athletics and fine and performing arts programs, the goal of the NFHS is to help students have the opportunity to enjoy a healthy participation, achievement and good sportsmanship in educational activities.

And, inasmuch as the focus is on educational “activities,” the work of the NFHS goes beyond athletics to encourage student participation in speech, debate, music, drama and other after-school activity programs.


These activities are just as important and meaningful as their athletics counterparts and help promote a ‘something for everyone’ ethos. And they grow too. “The number of students involved in fine arts, performing arts and other non-athletic programs can approach the nearly eight million high school sports participants.


The benefits students receive from participating in speech, debate, music, and drama are the same as those of a sports team – hard work, determination, time management, teamwork, leadership, and skill development. skills, among others. And after losing those benefits for a time during the pandemic, fine and performing arts programs, like their athletic counterparts, are on the path to normalcy.

After leading a national aerosol study involving more than 125 organizations in 2020-21 to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on performing arts activities, Dr. James Weaver, Director of Performing Arts and Sports from the NFHS, reports that theater attendance and attendance are beginning to approach pre-pandemic levels and music is also on its way back.

“Iowa engaged 35,000 students in theater programs this year,” Weaver said. “People are craving in-person theatrical experiences right now. Iowa had its third-highest spectator attendance in history. The only thing that kept it from being the highest was that in the fall, Iowa had a socially distant audience. I don’t think we’re at pre-pandemic levels, but we’re getting closer to those levels in theater.

“In music, we saw a 40% drop in music participation at the end of the 2020-21 school year, which was very concerning. Thanks to a survey of state administrators last month, we are now down 15% nationwide. The recovery is not smooth and there is still a lot of work to do, but compared to where we could be, it’s a huge recovery. If we can continue these gains, we should be able to get back to pre-pandemic levels much faster than the seven years we projected. »

Like these programs on the athletics side, thousands of spectators attend high school performing arts events each year. After attendance was halted towards the end of the 2019-20 school year and only reopened – in many cases – in the 2021-22 school year, fans return to cheer on students in their performance has been tremendous.

“I’ve heard from many states that attendance has been near record highs,” Weaver said. “As a rule, parents and grandparents were present; but now, with live performances for the first time in two years, friends and community members are also coming. It’s the highest quality entertainment ticket at the lowest price in town. And I think that’s true no matter what high school program you attend, whether it’s a football game, a track meet, a band concert, or a a theatrical performance. It’s the best entertainment for the money in the community.

The NFHS has touted the benefits of athletics and performing arts programs for most of its 100 years of existence, but the value of sports, speech, debate, music and theater has become very real to everyone when they suddenly disappeared in the spring. of 2020. So reports of crowded football stadiums and overflowing auditoriums are great news.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done, and as schools continue to encourage students to get involved in certain extracurricular activities, it is important to know that there are something for everyone. Whether students participate in sports or speeches, debates, drama or music, the takeaways and life lessons are the same.

“By playing a sport like basketball in the winter, you learn to really coordinate with those people on the court,” Weaver said. “By being on a theater stage, you learn how to communicate what happened in that medium to an audience and get their reactions to the storytelling while working with those on stage, backstage and technicians. ”

Like athletics, performing arts programs make a difference in the lives of high school students. We encourage athletic directors, principals, and superintendents to continue to find ways to engage students in select after-school activity programs.

We must continue to provide opportunities for every young person to be part of and engaged in their school through high school school activity programs.