Miramontes: School connections are key to improving mental health, academic performance

Times and technologies may change, but ensuring students feel a sense of connection at school is just as crucial as ever. Arguably, it’s never been more important.

I’m talking specifically about being involved with clubs, sports, music and other activities that not only enhance personal growth but have also been shown to improve students’ academic performance and their well-being.

From the desk of Ramon Miramontes, Ed.D.

Research from the National Institutes of Health tells us that when students feel connected to their school, they are less likely to feel anxious, sad or have thoughts of harming themselves. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests these benefits are long term, leading to improved health outcomes into adulthood.

Now, let me introduce you to two OCDE programs that have a history of engaging students across Orange County: the Academic Decathlon and Pentathlon.

The Academic Decathlon was established in 1968 as the brainchild of former Orange County Superintendent Dr. Robert Peterson. Students take on 10 challenges, giving speeches, doing interviews, writing essays and answering questions in such subjects as art, economics, literature, math, music and social science. Think of this as a mental Olympics, culminating with the Super Quiz Relay, an exciting live competition.

For middle school students in grades six, seven and eight, OCDE offers the Academic Pentathlon. This is a five-event competition that focuses on fine arts, literature, math, science and social science, building up to its own Super Quiz Relay.

Both events bring students from different achievement levels together to compete, but it’s not just about winning and losing. These are months-long endeavors that are equally about learning, growing and making the kinds of lasting friendships that emerge when students tackle challenges together. This year’s decathlon theme is “Technology and Humanity,” reflecting one of the most important issues of our time.

Scholarly competitions like the decathlon and pentathlon aren’t the only options available. Public school students in Orange County can also connect through campus clubs, sports teams, career exploration programs, student government, community service projects, the performing arts, cultural clubs, peer mentoring, service learning projects and much more. Ultimately, it’s about understanding the aptitudes and interests of each student and finding the activities that will most engage and inspire them.

So here’s my call to action: As parents and educators, let’s envision education beyond the classroom walls. Let’s introduce each learner to activities that will help them feel like they truly belong to their school. Let’s consistently inspire the next generation of leaders, thinkers and achievers to engage in transformative experiences that will enrich their lives and potentially impact their communities.

The connections they forge today will not only shape their current academic achievements but will also lay the foundation for more resilient, fulfilled and empowered individuals in the future.

For more information about the Orange County Academic Decathlon and Pentathlon, or if your middle or high school is interested in starting a program, contact OCDE Coordinator Kristin Rigby at 714-966-4435 or krigby@ocde.us.