England v. America: Afterschool and School Activities Then and Now

Is there anything more American than football?

My teen was talking about the prom the other night? She was talking dresses, dates, and dinner. Even after 20-plus years in the U.S., I’m still shocked by American traditions, particularly in high school.

In my high school in England there was:

  • No prom — instead we had a sad event for the 6th Form Leavers’ Dance held at the Post Office Workers’ Social Club in Manchester. And yes, it was a grim as it sounds. Even when I arrived in the U.S. for college, I was shocked that proms still existed. This was back in ’83 and I thought the prom was an event from ’50s high schools. My only knowledge of the high school prom was from the the movie, Grease.
  • No Homecoming — since there was no football game, there was no reason to hold a dance or crown a King and Queen. Plus, I was at an all girls’ school from 9 through 16, so there was absolutely no reason to crown a King! There were two male members of staff and two male groundskeepers. And because I was at an all girls’ school there were no school dances. Sister Victoire never allowed boys on to school grounds, much less host a school dance for boys and girls. Perish the thought!
  • No sports games — there were no sports’ events that were attended by the whole student body. Even though students played football otherwise known as soccer and a couple of other sports, the school (Loreto Sixth Form College, Manchester) I attended for my last two years (age 16 through 18) did not have a stadium. I don’t recall if the school gym had bleachers. If girls at my school (attended from age 9 through 16) played games against other schools — which they probably did — I have no recollection of ever seeing my classmates play against another team. I do recall that my school (The Hollies F.C.J. High School, Didsbury, Manchester) fielded teams in netball (like basketball, but without the bouncing balls), rounders (like softball, but with a really short bat), and of course field hockey, tennis, and possibly track and field.
  • No graduation ceremony — because we took our final exams in June of senior year (12th grade) or Upper Sixth Form, and because the exams were graded by an outside examining board, we didn’t receive our exam results until August. Once the exam results were received, students found out of they were accepted to college or not. In October following the end of senior year, British schools hold a Speech Day to honor all the school leavers and to award prizes to current students.
  • No guidance counselors — at my first high school, the assistant headmistress had a small index card box in her office filled with cards showing careers. On the cards were the requirements for each career. The cards ran the gamut from barrister to doctor to egg packer. How any of us made it on to college or the job market is a true mystery.

And I recall that with only a few exceptions, all of the activities I did were sponsored by my school — drama club, woodworking club, Legion of Mary. I have no recollection of friends playing on county soccer teams or auditioning for local drama groups or regional music groups. I know that as an elementary schooler I was a Girl Guide. Remind me to tell you the story of the time my English Girl Guide Mistress refused to accept my American Girl Court badge in camping. Ms. McCracken was horrified when I told her I had stayed overnight in a cabin in the woods, instead of a tent. I DID NOT tell her that the cabin was heated…she would have had a stroke!

If you wanted to be in a play, you would audition for your school’s play. If you played softball, or rounders as we called it in England, you tried out for your school’s team.

My experience with afterschool and school activities as a child was far different than my children.

Did you play a sport as a kid? Play a musical instrument? Join the Boy Scouts?

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