Monday, December 13, 2010

Intentionally Bridging Youth Communities

Milbey W. McLaughlin describes the best Community Based Organization as an effective youth organizations having intentional learning environments. The organization develops young people and provides them with high quality activities keeping them involved. The activities are deliberate actions with a strong emphasizes on learning.
On Monday, Project Coach coaches had the privilege of being coached by the Williston Varsity Girls Volleyball Team. For those of you who don’t know about Project Coach and Williston Northampton School; I will give a brief background.
Project Coach coaches are between the ages of 13-18 years old from the North End of Springfield learning to coach youth soccer and basketball coaches. Williston Northampton School is a co-ed college preparatory boarding and day high school in the heart of Pioneer Valley.
We started Monday evening watching video clips of Williston Varsity Volleyball team playing. Then we moved to the gym where the girl’s varsity team split the Project Coach coaches into groups teaching them the skills of bumping, serving, and setting. We ended the session with a couple of competitions (my group destroyed all of the other groups…obviously).
It was cool to see the role reversal of the Project Coach coaches getting coached. After 45 minutes of training, we gathered as a big group and the Project Coach coaches formally met the Williston Girl’s Volleyball team. The Project Coach coaches were able to share their experiences as youth soccer coaches with the Williston Volleyball team. The Williston Volleyball team talked to our coaches about what it was like to be away from home and living at school. They also talked about campus life and rules.
In two hours, two different communities merged and united over a simple game. The night transformed from being a awkward and standoffish to laughs and jokes being told.
I hope Project Coach will have an opportunity to return the favor of going to Williston Girl’s Volleyball teams home turf to teach them how to play soccer or basketball and maybe get a volleyball, basketball, and/or soccer game.

College Access

Carol Miller Lieber’s report, Increasing College Access Through School-Based Models of Postsecondary Preparation, Planning, and Support focuses on informing and helping educational leaders and policymakers with proven and effective ways of helping urban learners gain better access to higher education. On a large scale, we as a society create our own opportunities through specific and deliberate public action, which is based on public support. She also articulates the idea that children in urban communities face “roadblocks to college assess, especially for underrepresented students and first generation college goers, present ample evidence that current school-based models of postsecondary preparation, planning, and support provide inadequate and unequal services to their students."

Currently Project Coach is steadily identifying, recruiting and training potential leaders within the North End of Springfield. Our goal is to expose them to various learning opportunities formed by various lesson plans and lessons learned on the playing field. Project Coach is continually brainstorming ideas of how we can help our Blue Shirts attain their dreams of living fulfilling lives.

Similar to Lieber’s article, we are combining social and academic development by developing strategic relationships with teachers, deans, guidance counselors and administrators within various Springfield Public Schools. We have provided a free SAT preparation session for our coaches to help them achieve their goals of getting into college.

Project Coach is in the business of developing leaders through sports. It is our BELIEF you cannot be a true leader on the court or field if you are not taking the skill you learn as a coach and transfer those skill set to other areas of life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

PC From A Youth Perspective

This past Monday evening, Project Coach leaders invited all high school coaches to talk about the program. The evening began with a focus group during which coaches discussed ways of improving the program, and the ways in which it has already begun to transform them.

Coach Tyesha shared that she feels her connection to Project Coach motivates her to do well in school, most recently in terms of raising her English grades. She noted that just as the Smith students motivate the high school coaches, the coaches in turn motivate the elementary-aged participants.

After the focus group, coaches began writing about their experiences in the program, following a list of prompts provided by program leaders. They built a narrative that they will use over video clips and images from Project Coach. It was obvious throughout the evening how much it meant to all coaches to be asked for their opinions. Not only did they share their ideas about the program's future, but they were asked to reflect upon what the program has done so far, both for them and the kids they coach. Most importantly, they had to think more about why they joined the program, and what it means to them.

As I went around from table to table, I heard coaches sharing memories of the past season's work with the elementary kids. Coach Zach shared that "his" 3rd graders liked football. Antonio laughed and said the kids call each other "Pokemons." Their thoughts were both warm and critical, noticing how much they care for the kids with whom they work, and what they can do to make the next season even more meaningful. At the last meeting of the season, coaches discussed the same question for a short time, and many noted that they wanted more time with the kids, even time talking or tutoring. It is hard to overstate the strength of the words of the high school coaches in these last conversations. Now we look ahead to what these statements will yield in the spring term.

Below is a brief "photo essay" of the evening:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Effects of a College-Going Culture An Interview With Efrain Lopez

Carol Miller Lieber’s Increasing College Access Through School-Based Models of Postsecondary Preparation, Planning and Support presents a series of organizing principles and promising practices that can propel today’s underrepresented youth to college and beyond. Lieber argues that a strong college-going culture can change the tides for any individual. To bring such a culture to life, a dedicated community must maximize the guidance they provide every student. This means both adults and teachers must listen responsively to youth, ask thoughtful questions, and provide helpful feedback. The community and it’s schools must engage in specific college-going activities, make post-secondary plans an exit requirement for every student, and above all else, believe in a genuine way that every person has the capacity to attend and flourish in college.

Over the past semester, I have seen many of Lieber’s proposed practices played out in the life of Project Coach and our high school coaches. Efrain Lopez, a second year PC coach and Senior at the Springfield Renaissance School, took time after school this week to answer a few of my questions about his path towards college.

Matt Samolewicz: What resources are available at your high school that have helped you to work towards a college education?

Efrain Lopez: I think my school, the Springfield Renaissance School, offers a lot of college-bound help. There is strong academic support, they provide extra help with schoolwork, and even help you to fill out your FAFSA. LGR, Lets Get Ready, a program that goes to a lot of Springfield high schools, also comes to our school and helps us to reach our college goals. Really, Renaissance is like LGR twenty-four-seven. Overall, Renaissance has helped me find colleges that are right for me.

MS: How have they helped you to find colleges that are right for you?

EL: Well, the school and my guidance counselors have helped me to think about my personality and where I might fit. They’ve also helped to point me in the right direction based on what majors I’m interested in. We started by making a list of about thirty colleges and then we narrowed it down to between seven and five colleges.

MS: What colleges are you applying to?

EL: Personally, I am applying to Southern Connecticut in New Haven, University of New Haven, University of Bridgeport, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, and Holyoke Community College. My guidance counselors told me to apply to three kinds of colleges: reach schools, or schools to work forward to, comfort-zone schools, or schools you will most likely get in to, and safety schools, or schools that will definitely accept you.

MS: How has Project Coach helped you worked towards going to college?

EL: Project Coach and it's Thursday’s SAT preparation sessions have helped me to prepare for the SATs and do better in school. Overall, I have learned that I’ll do fine wherever I go to college. Based on my personality I think I will fit in wherever I go. Project Coach has helped me with that and can help a lot of kids who aren’t necessarily comfortable or have strong personalities.

MS: What resources aren’t available to you that you wish were?

EL: None, really. Ever since my Freshman year, Renaissance has been pushing college on me and my peers and it is up to us, the students, to take it seriously. Senior year comes for a lot of people and they go, ‘Oh man, if only I had listened to them!’ It is really a matter of learning to take it seriously. Not everyone in my community has access to the same resources. The resources are there, but you need to look for them. In my opinion, people help people who help themselves. You have to listen and take what is said seriously.

Efrain’s insight helped me to recognize what a college-going culture can do to assist our youth and their college goals. Efrain's experiences at the Springfield Renaissance School and as a member of Project Coach’s team are an account of the support it takes to make a post-secondary education a reality for today’s urban youth.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kan-Jam Charlie!

A year at Project Coach can pass you by in an instant. It hardly seems believable that it's more than 12 months since Don, Sam, and I took a trip over to Western New England College to meet with Professor Curt Hamakawa and his Sports Management and Business class on a sunny late fall day.

The visit proceeded much as we had expected; we presented Project Coach; people asked questions; some were interested; some weren't. What we hadn't bargained for was meeting two fascinating characters who would become ingrained in the PC mission for the next year.

Curt's story alone is worth a wealth of blog posts. A much traveled and highly regarded veteran of the US Olympic Committee, who had landed in Western Mass via a multitude of places to pursue his dream of working in higher education. A humble guy who's down-to-earth nature was immediately engaging and endearing. And someone who saw in Project Coach a program that spoke to his own outlook on life and connecting in a meaningful way to his academic pursuits. This chance meeting alone would have made the trip more than worthwhile.

And yet that wasn't all. At the end of the presentation, we passed around the contact sheet for follow up inquiries about the program. A healthy number of signatures, more questions, and some likely emails in the pipeline. And then there was Sophomore student Charles Drago. Who had questions. Lots of questions. Great questions. That guy at the front of the line who wanted to know more. Who seemed like he was REALLY interested. And so we eventually parted from an empty room, save for the three of us. And Charlie. Who still had more questions.

Fast forward all of 24 hours, and the three of us all have an email from this guy Charlie asking what he can do? When can he come down and visit the program? How can he help us? "He'll lose interest when finals hit", we thought. "He'll have had enough when he sees the 'organized chaos' we live in", we said. Not this guy. Not Charlie.

And so a year has passed. And countless PC visits, two big fundraisers organized, and $500+ later, Charlie has become an integral part of the Project Coach team. We've come to love the guy not just for the tremendous work he's done on behalf of Project Coach, but for his personal qualities too; the same humility that drew us to Curt in the first place, the ability to blend in and get to know our kids, and the initiative and motivation that's been such a wonderful asset to our program.

Nothing could have optimized Charlie's enthusiasm more than this past Friday, when along with his fellow WNEC students, he laid on an evening of high-octane fun at the 2nd Annual Kan-Jam fundraiser. In a night that pitted Smith ultimate frisbee players against WNEC's finest (with veteran disc-guru Sam Intrator also making a long awaited comeback), the real winners were Charlie and Project Coach. Or rather Project Coach and Charlie. That's the way he'd want it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Increasing College Access: Next Steps

With one semester of Project Coach under our belts as Red Shirts, it is time to begin thinking about second-semester pursuits. After reading Carol Miller Lieber’s report, Increasing College Access through School-Based Models of Postsecondary Preparation, Planning and Support, I am excitedly toying with a few ideas for how Project Coach can strengthen its college access support. At the beginning of next semester, I will write to update as to which mini-project I wish to pursue. Comments, suggestions, and initial pledges welcome!

1. Develop a scholarship fund for college-bound Blue-Shirt seniors. Lieber cites that Federal Pell grants are capped at $5,000 per student per year and colleges. Students must navigate a complicated system of scholarships and loans in order to make up the difference in tuition costs. First-generation college students need extra support in reaching their college goals, and oftentimes access to additional funds becomes a decisive factor for college enrollment. Project Coach could help alleviate financial obstacles by awarding scholarships for Blue Shirts who have met a set of criteria (participation, essay, involvement with community projects, etc.)

2. Make a postsecondary plan an exit requirement for every graduating Blue Shirt. Liber writes a postsecondary plan “is the most direct route to ensuring that all students have access to the services and support they need.” A postsecondary plan would require Blue Shirts to develop a portfolio throughout the year of college-application materials, including a set number of applications, a completed FAFSA, letters of recommendation, essay, and a back-up plan. Red-Shirts could help Blue Shirts set goals for each of these pieces and help connect the Blue Shirt with additional resources, such as appointments with admissions counselors.

3. Encourage participation in an experiential summer program. Summer programs can be especially powerful in opening the eyes of youth to experiences beyond their current point of reference. From travel-based to outdoor themed programs, youth are able to discover new passions, develop confidence and form friendships beyond their community. Additionally, Lieber writes that “research studies about first-generation college-goers indicate that the students who felt better prepared to take on the demands of college work and adjust to a different way of living were the same students who had more firsthand experiences on college campuses.” Through partnerships with specific programs/colleges, or through targeted fundraising, Project Coach could seek to place interested Blue Shirts in residential summer experiences.

4. Develop grade-specific college readiness curriculum. Project Coach currently assists juniors and seniors with college preparation through SAT tutoring, partnerships with Academic Coaches at partnering high schools, and informal Red Shirt guidance. However, Lieber suggests targeting all grades, 9-12, with specific and measurable college-prep benchmarks. For example, in Lieber’s sample curriculum, freshman students would visit their first college campus and draft an initial resume. Sophomores complete a job application, interview current college students, and begin job shadowing. This curriculum could tie directly to the postsecondary plan/portfolio.


This past Monday the youth coaches at Project Coach were asked to set SMART goals that needed to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Andy Wood, Project Coach director, opened the session by giving an example of the impact of goal setting within his own life. When he was studying at Durham he played on the university's rugby team. Two rugby enthusiasts who were unable to play due to injuries would make detailed spreadsheets of each player's performance after each game. The rugby players ignored the spreadsheets until a new coach came to the team, who asked each player to tell him what they had learned about their performance on the field from these spreadsheets. Based on this information each player made goals that aimed at improving their game. Andy realized that he needed to be making more tackles. He also became aware, by looking at the spreadsheets, that he made the majority of his tackles during the first half of each game. As a result he set SMART goals to become more fit and make more tackles during each game and the rugby team improved as each player strived to fulfill their goals.

After this introduction the youth coaches were given an exercise; each group had to set SMART goals that would hypothetically prepare them to run a marathon. Goals like "staying in shape" were deemed not specific enough, and met with the question: how will you stay in shape? Some youth coaches suggested keeping a food journal of having a coaching partner to help them stay in shape. Each youth coach was then asked to set their own SMART goals that they would be able to complete within a week so that during the next Project Coach session they would be able to reflect and discuss on whether they had achieved their individual short-term goals. One coach set the goal to finish all of his History work which he is behind in by completing a specific number of assignments a day and setting aside a specific time each night to complete the assignments.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Whitsett Brothers and Project Coach

The past few months have been an engrossing experience for our blue-shirt coaches. This has been exemplified by the Whitsett brothers. Recently I had a discussion with with Bryant and Devin Whitsett, two brothers, who have joined this program and have done an extraordinary job. They both made it clear that their personal relationships with their elementary students was not only instrumental in making themselves better coaches, but that it also made the program far more personally rewarding to them for their own individual growth. Don't take my word for it though, this is what they had to say in their own words:

One of the many things that I find great about the program is that you get to develop a relationship with the kids. The kids come to the program excited and ready to play and that’s great because it becomes more of a friendly atmosphere as opposed to a subordinate atmosphere. Yes, you are the coach instructing them how to play sports but kids do not respond well to a strict and monotonous tone so it is our job to explain to the kids the rules of the games in a fun way. And it’s hard not to develop a relationship with the kids even if you tried.

Ariana and Alondra are 5th grade girls in the program that get along so well together and they make me laugh all the time. They pick up the games quickly and I think they both are great athletes. They do little things like stick their tongue out at me and things like that while smiling and I do it back because we enjoy each other’s company. We call ourselves the Red Warriors along with two other animated boys named Gabriel and Joshua along with my enthusiastic partner Coach Christina who also works well with the kids. That is the greatest thing about Project Coach.

Go Red Warriors!!!

Coach Devin Whitsett

What I like about Project Coach is that the high school coaches are able to form relationships with the kids. In the beginning, I thought that the kids were going to come here and think about nothing but them and playing. I noticed that most of the kids were watching the blue shirts and how we were doing things and for me it turned out to be beneficial because I watch my behavior and what comes out my mouth because I don’t want to be a bad influence on them; and my interaction with the kids in games also contributes to our relationships. I remember a time where my partner, Coach Millie, and I were showing the kids how to pass and spread out when working as a team and also how to communicate. When Coach Millie and I were done, they copied exactly what we did and also did a good job in communicating and we both were very impressed.

What I also like about project coach is that the adult coaches try to think of different games and activities so that the kids wont be bored and I am glad to be apart of that and contribute my ideas because all of our efforts pay off at the end whenever we see the kids. The red shirts could be the type that doesn’t care about the kids and make them play the same games repeatedly but the red shirts keep them entertained as much as they can and for the most part, it works. That has become something I have noticed and appreciated about Project Coach.

Coach Bryant Whitsett

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Reflective Community

A few weekends ago two Project Coach coaches, Kiana Figueroa and Zachery Johnson, took time out of their Saturday to join me at Smith College’s Museum of Art. With the help of Smith Volunteers, the three of us set-up a drawing project for families visiting the Museum on Family Day. As kids and their parents or teachers began to pour into our room, Zach and Kiana met everyone with a smile and choices: the kids could trace their shadows onto the paper, draw the projected artwork, or combine the image and ever-changing shadow. Zach and Kiana observantly assisted newcomers, helped those who were struggling, and rolled finished work for families on their way to the next Museum project. I couldn’t help but notice both coaches working beautifully with the variety and amount of kids and adults streaming through the project.

The next Thursday Project Coach session, I was scrambling to break down just how we could reflect on our teaching experience in a meaningful way. I proposed a written reflection, but Kiana had a different idea. “What if we paint a reflection? We could paint one half of a sheet of paper, fold it, and have a reflection on the other side.” Kiana was proposing a visual reflection. Not only did it fit wonderfully, but it was much more interesting than paragraphs and it gave us the opportunity to spend time together in a relaxed but productive way.

I realized that to reflect on an experience didn’t require a certain formality or structure. Both coaches wanted to reflect in conversation and through the making process.They wanted to engage in a discussion of what we experience in and out of Project Coach, and I was there to listen and contribute my own story.

Between Family day and our Thursday reflection, I learned quite a bit from Zach and Kiana. We shared the qualities of our many communities: our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, our friends. We considered the differences and similarities between our communities, and the effect they have not only us, but every individual. The experience guided us into a natural reflection on what it means to be a member of and contribute to any community.

Framingham resident helps inner city youths - Framingham, MA - The MetroWest Daily News

Framingham resident helps inner city youths - Framingham, MA - The MetroWest Daily News

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

DAP, YES and Dodgeball

In September Project Coach youth coaches took the DAP; they are now taking the DAP again in November and will take it for a third time in May. The coaches answer questions, which include “Stand up for what I believe in” and “Do my homework” by choosing one of the four boxes under: “not at all, rarely”, “somewhat, sometimes”, “very, often”, and “extremely, almost always”.

The coaches’ answers in September serve as a baseline, which is then compared to the coaches’ answers to the same assessment taken in November and May as well as the answers of coaches in other programs. The importance of thinking about and giving honest answers to the questions posed was emphasized before the coaches started the assessment. The answers to the DAP serve as a snap shot of where the coaches were before starting the program and where they are after participating in the program for nearly three months, hopefully showing an enduring progress in terms of the coaches' personal development. The questions however are very open to interpretation and the changed answers can be attributed to a variety of factors within the coaches’ lives.

On the same Monday afternoon the youth coaches also took the Youth Experience Survey (YES). The YES is more of a reflection of the program as a whole and what the youth coaches experiences have been so far as part of Project Coach. The coaches are asked to not only take into account the coaching of elementary school students, which is a piece of the program, but to assess the program as a whole including the SAT preparation and the sessions on Mondays with the Project Coach directors and fellows. Both assessments are an attempt to gauge the progress and evolution both within the youth coaches themselves and within the program. The surveys attempt to quantify and measure the impact of the program.

After completing the DAP and the YES, during the second half of the session, the Red Shirts, Blue Shirts and Project Coach directors all played three intense rounds of dodgeball in the gym. Two youth coaches took on organizational leadership roles making sure the rules of the game were followed with hollers like “stay behind the free throw line!”

What are you thankful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paris - The Final Stop

Andy Wood - Project Coach Program Director
PARIS, 11/22/10

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and this is the case today as we prepare to fly from Paris Charles de Gaulle back to the equally wet and windy and windy climes of Boston.

After a weekend savoring the sights of the City of Love - the Montmartre, the Champs-Elysees, and the fabulous history of the Chateau de Versailles, our final meeting with Fabienne Molle from the US Embassy in Paris produced some great discussion about not only the Marseille exchange, but also the future potential for further sports-leadership based programs in the future. This capped a thoroughly enjoyable and extremely productive week of experiences, in which I learned as much about the French approach to developing sport among youth as my amiable hosts did about Project Coach, and the collaborative initiative with ITD. My sincere thanks go to Julie Hooks-Davis for all of her hard work in planning and preparing such an extensive agenda, and our liaisons in Marseille for their enthusiasm, hospitality, and unwavering energy.

Au revoir!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Williston High School Volleyball Team Comes to Project Coach

Amidst some initial confusion, the Project Coach youth coaches were shown a short video of a game the girl’s volleyball team from Williston High School in Easthampton. Both the Williston players and the youth coaches then headed towards the gym where the Williston players brought the youth coaches into three rotating groups and taught them how different components of the volleyball game such as bumping and setting. The captain of the volleyball team explained that “a big part of volleyball is cheering”. The excitement and energy was palpable as each group of high school students screamed out the number of passes they had made without dropping the ball, each group competing against each other. “I’ve got it”, they would tell their fellow teammates, communicating with each other in an effort to keep the ball in the air. Once everyone was back in the Chestnut Library the youth coaches and Williston students paired up. For the first three minutes the Project Coach youth coaches explained what they do at Project Coach every week.

Youth coaches answered:

“We are role models to little kids.”

“We coach the kids, which is hard but fun.”

“The kids are rambunctious.”

“One Thursdays some of us have SAT prep.”

The Williston students then spoke of their average day:

“It’s a boarding school so I live in a dorm.”

“We have six classes a day and one free period.”

“School ends at two but sports go on until five thirty.”

“From eight pm to ten pm we have study hall in our rooms. It sounds horrendous but I get my work done”

“The main difference between private and public school is the workload. When I came to Williston from a public school it hit me real hard. My grades weren’t too hot.”

“Students come from all around the US. That girl sitting over there is from Chicago”

“We go to school every other Saturday from eight thirty am to eleven thirty am."

When Sam Intrator asked the group of coaches and Williston students to raise their hand if they were fluent in two or more languages, four Williston students raised their hands while more than seven Project Coach coaches’ hands were raised.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"c'est Marseille!"-- Director Andy Wood in France Part 2

By Andy J. Wood, Project Coach Director

PC Director with the French Commission
Hoops by the sea in Marseille
MARSEILLE, FRANCE: "c'est Marseille!"

It's a phrase I've heard over and over again since my arrival. At first, it seemed little more than someone pointing out the obvious; yes -- of course we're in Marseille...I've at least figured that part out by now. But in the past couple of days, I've started to understand its real significance. In essence, it's the stock response for anything relating to the unique quirkiness that exists in Marseilles;

 "why do people park their cars on traffic islands and in front of the doors to stores so you literally can't get in?". 'C'est Marseille'

"why do people drive their motorcycles down the sidewalk in the pedestrian district at 50 miles per hour?" 'C'est Marseille'

"why do the glass shower doors only cover a quarter of the bath length, thus flooding the entire room every time you use it?" 'C'est Marseille'

It's partly what could make living here incredibly infuriating to an outsider, I'd assume, but more importantly it encapsulates what makes this city so purely unique, and unsurpassable for its flair. It also means that you're likely to meet some incredibly warm and gentile people, as has been the case so far during my stay. How does this relate to PC? In short, these new-found friends encapsulate many of the very same traits that we hold in high esteem within our program: versatility, passion, determination, vibrance, and -moreover - a clear 'joie de vivre'.

Thanks to the continued generosity and cooperation of our amiable French hosts, my time over the past two days has been evenly spent between meeting the Presidents of eight basketball clubs from which the youth for the exchange program will be selected - along with their coaches - and running PC clinics for such teens, and feasting at a variety of excellent eating establishments, courtesy of our colleagues at the American Consulate and the Marseille Sports Bureau. Indeed, we had the pleasure of meeting with all of these entities at a group-wide meeting earlier today at the soccer complex of Olympique Marseille, where I was able to share some video and slides depicting PC to a very eager and impressed audience.

Soon we will embark upon visits to the final two clubs on our tour schedule. The structure of organized sport in Marseille - and in France in general - is vastly different from that of the US, and arguably more impressive. Over 1500 sports clubs across many disciplines and ages exist in this very city alone, supported by some private sector contributions, but in large part from public source funding. As a result, an intricate network of gyms, pools, fields, and stadia criss-cross this diverse city, stretching from the beautiful coastal areas to the rugged limestone hills that encompass the region to the north. Control of this sizeable organization lies ultimately within the mayor's office, for whom our superb host Monsieur Francois Noel works. To give some sense of scope, the city boasts 46 full size gyms, 17 swimming pools, and a logistical planning staff of over 230. Put simply, they take this stuff seriously.

Project Coach Gets a Volleyball Lesson

This past Monday night the volleyball team from the Williston Northampton School visited PC's Coaching Academy. They started by showing a video of a recent game so that PC coaches could get a sense of how the game is structured.

They then moved to the gym for a clinic on how to play, focusing on two foundational moves: bumping and setting. After the clinic, both groups were able to talk with one another about PC in Springfield and boarding school in Easthampton.

As a PC Fellow stated at a recent meeting, the evening was a rare opportunity for students to meet with a group who has a very different daily experience. Williston and PC plan to continue working together in the future, and volleyball is now a likely candidate for future seasons of PC.

Springfield's "Director of Wellness"

Coleen Walsh, Director of Physical Education, Health and Family and Consumer Sciences for Springfield Public Schools, says that the job could better be described as "Director of Wellness." Walsh's job takes her to 46 different buildings and ranges from dietary sciences to child development, from physical education to health instruction, and more. She supervises teachers, writes curriculum, and works with the community. She is a member of the Mayor's committee on teen pregnancy. What is more, Walsh is always aware of the general needs of the district, as the academic progress and physical health of students are inextricable.
Her current project focuses on getting students to be more physically active throughout the school day. She is piloting a national program called Playworks, which began in 1996 in California, and currently holds a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to expand to 650 additional schools and 27 cities by 2012. It aims to use recess as a productive time to help kids become more physically healthy and to encourage positive interactions rather than the all-too-frequent conflicts that break out during this open time.
Springfield Public Schools will pilot the program for one week, targeting Level 4 schools as the first potential sites for Playworks. Walsh emphasizes the need for such a program because of the limited time students have for both recess and Physical Education (PE). They are allotted 15 minutes per day for recess, and approximately 45 minutes per week for PE. In larger schools, students must rotate in order to attend gym class. In most cases, one teacher provides both PE and Health classes for the entire school. With a program like Playworks, however, students would receive the structured physical activity of gym class every day at recess, and sometimes during class as well.
Walsh began her own career as a physical education teacher, and then moved on to become a Health Resource teacher, traveling to all Springfield schools. She then moved on to supervise Health Education and Family Consumer Sciences, also serving as a liaison with nursing services of the Public Health Department.
Over the past 36 years, Walsh has become intimately aware of the challenges facing not only students but health and PE teachers as well. She believes deeply in the need for a well-rounded curriculum that involves Health, PE, Art, and Music instruction. She also knows that teachers have a mere 200 minutes each week for these subjects, and foreign languages, combined.
Most discussions around the state of education in the US focus on reading and math scores, and, Walsh points out, test scores prevail in the discussion of reform. However, she says, "The message is starting to come around." Research supports the belief that students who eat well and exercise regularly are much more focused during instructional time for core subjects. Playworks is a leading program in this body of research, featured in 2007 by the Harvard Family Research Project. (For more information on Playworks, see
Another program integrating academic goals with athletics is Project Coach, for which Walsh has recommended a number of PE teachers (including her own son, who is the new Track Instructor for the program). Walsh hopes to help PC provide course credit to High School coaches, an effort that is in its early stages of development. "Project Coach helps to show kids a future," she says.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Project Coach Goes Global: Andy Wood in France

By Andy J. Wood, Project Coach Director

Sports do not build character. They reveal it.

Heywood Broun, US journalist (1888 - 1939)
MARSEILLES, FRANCE: The brisk sea breeze, a pleasant 55 degree temperature, and faint sounds of the familiar early morning routine - all while the Eagles and Redskins battled it out live on Monday Night Football with painful French dubbed announcing - were all stark reminders that this certainly wasn't Western Massachusetts anymore. Indeed, while the Project Coach fellows and youth coaches were about to hit the hay after another Monday night academy session, the program was just waking to a whole new audience 3500 miles west, in Marseille, France.
PC Director Andy Wood in Marseilles, France.

As a part of the Institute of Training and Development's partnership with the State Department, I'm currently attending a series of meeting and workshops in France's southernmost city to help develop an exchange program between French and American youth over the next 18 months. Our series of appointments began early this morning, with an opening breakfast hosted by the interim Counsel General at the American Consulate in Marseille - Philip Richards - who expressed his gratitude and delight that youth from his region had been selected to take part in the program. Accompanied by the wonderful Madame Josette Steinbach - a former high school teacher from Strasbourg fluent in four languages, who has spent over twenty years in the Public Affairs departments of various US Consulates - we were able to establish the criteria for selecting the ten prospective youth coaches from the city, as well as devise an appropriate application and interview procedure for evaluating the candidates.

Shortly following this meeting, I attended a planning session with Francois Noel -  the Head of Sports Facilities and Planning in Marseilles (no small feat in the second largest city in France) - Madame Steinbach, and Mrs Julie Hooks-Davis of the organizing agency, ITD. In addition to exchanging ideas (where possible in our foreign tongue, although the astute translator Ned was on hand when this wasn't possible), all members of the planning committee placed utmost importance in selecting youth of excellent moral character and leadership potential, over sporting ability or competitive prowess. Mr Noel - a former professional judo champion himself - espoused the very same values of PC in this respect, and it became quickly apparent that the goals of the Marseille Sports Bureau aligned very neatly with those of PC and ITD.

The remainder if the late afternoon and evening was devoted to meeting with prospective youth at two of the ten potential sports clubs shortlisted from the 150+ in Marseille, informing them if the program and fielding their questions. In the spirit of PC, we even managed a couple of games of 'freeze tag' and 'sharks and minnows', the latter of which was played with particular gusto and energy by a group of French u16 national players at the first club we attended!

Tomorrow promises to be equally fruitful, when we will meet with members of the mayors office, attend a luncheon hosted by the consulate, and visit 4 more sports clubs in the city for potential applicants. 

Andy Wood - 11/16/10.

Project Coach Counts--A Veteran Coach Perspective

by Anna Bartolini

“Volleyball is not really my cup of tea, so I would be glad to do an interview,” responded Coach Ty after I asked her if she would mind stepping out of Monday night’s session on volleyball for a few minutes to talk to me. Coach Ty is one of our most veteran coaches—she joined the team in eighth grade and is now a junior. Her four years with Project Coach give Coach Ty an invaluable perspective on the successes and challenges the program has faced.

Milbrey W. McLaughlin in his report, “Community Counts: How Youth Organizations Matter for Youth Development,” advocates for community based organizations (CBO’s) to do more listening to youth. McLaughlin writes, “A lack of youth perspective leads adults to make wrong assumptions.” In an effort to better understand the motives and experiences of the Project Coach youth, I turned to Coach Ty.

AB: Coach Ty, I read this article called “Community Counts.” It interviewed a bunch of youth about the CBO’s they are involved with in order to determine what makes a “good” organization for youth. What do you think is good about Project Coach?

CT: One thing that I think is good is that Project coach has expanded slowly over time. The first year we started out pretty small, but each year we get more kids. The kids like coming. It’s good for them because it teaches them how to interact with other people.

I can also see how Project Coach brings out a person. I remember being new and quiet—I was still learning. I wasn’t loud like I am now! And I can see that with the new coaches—quiet and shy—but give them a few years and we’ll see.

AB: Having a “clear focus” is considered to be another quality of a good program. What do you think, does Project Coach have a clear focus?

CT: Yeah, leadership. See the college coaches [red shirts] mentor the Blue Shirts [high school coaches]. Then the Blue Shirts mentor the little kids. And I guess its all centered around sports like soccer and basketball.

AB: Can you tell me more about being a mentor to the kids?

CT: I think we are a good influence on these kids, like they could follow in our footsteps. They see how we are as people, and they can want to be like that, too. And it’s a lot of fun working with the kids. I remember one time I twisted my ankle getting ready for the kids to come and so I had to go home. I felt so bad for missing a practice, and the kids were all yelling “No, Coach Ty, where are you going?” You start to feel responsible for the kids, so you hate when you can’t be there.

AB: I have seen how much the kids love you and how well you work with the kids. A good CBO should help its youth think towards the future. Have you thought at all about what your future looks like and if it might involve working with you?

CT: Well, all my teachers always tell me I should be a teacher. But I love sports and coaching, so that’s my version of teaching. Being in Project Coach also really makes me want to go to college and then start my own organization to work with kids. I can see me doing this—coaching basketball especially. I always loved sports but now I see more options for working with sports and kids.

AB: If you could help make Project Coach a better organization, what would you change?

CT: We should expand Project Coach to more schools in Springfield. There are a lot of other schools that could also use us as role models. I would also make each session longer. Everyday it seems like we are having so much fun and then it’s already time to go home!

As Coach Ty’s Red Shirt, I can attest to how much fun she has with her kids each session. I can also attest to how valuable I have found Coach Ty’s expertise this semester. Not only is she well versed in all the Project Coach routines and games, she is a skilled and refined leader. At one of the very first sessions, Coach Ty set the scene for the season to come as she laid down the rules, “I only have two rules. The first is to be respectful. That means to listen and to play fairly. The second rule is really important: Have fun!”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Former Youth Coach Cassandra comes to Smith College

EDITOR'S NOTE: People often ask, do you track how PC youth do after they leave the program? It's a very legitimate and important question that seeks to understand program impact. Some times impact unfolds across time-- even years. Here is a short piece about how a mentoring relationship between a college student and a PC teen plays out across multiple years.

Cassandra Gonzalez, a senior at Renaissance High School in Springfield, and her friend arrived at Smith College at ten on Friday morning where they met with Jewels Rhode, a senior at Smith College. Cassandra, who is thinking of studying either Psychology or Nursing, was visiting the college as a prospective student.

In the morning she sat in on one of Jewels’ Statistics classes. Cassandra found the class “confusing”; when asked about the lunch she had had at one of Smith’s dining rooms she commented that the “french fries were good”. Cassandra and Jewels met through Project Coach. Cassandra was a youth coach and Jewels was participating in the program because she was taking Sam Intrator’s class “Education in the City” at the time. Cassandra and Jewels would speak on Thursday afternoons, which is how Cassandra first came to consider Smith as a college option.

Cassandra heard of Project Coach through her younger sister who attended Chestnut Middle School in Springfield. Cassandra really enjoyed participating in Project Coach because she “loves little kids”. She admitted to having one player who was secretly her favorite, a girl with “Shirley Temple curls.” The boys on the team she coached could get “fresh” but were also “cute”. Out of the sports she had to coach, Cassandra enjoyed soccer most because “the Red Shirts aren’t as close to you” since soccer is played on the fields outdoors and “you have more control” as a Blue Shirt over your team. In the spring basketball became harder, but Cassandra thought that it became more difficult because she had more to do: softball practice, an internship and SAT preparation classes. She didn’t participate in Project Coach this year because she didn’t feel she could give her “110 percent commitment”.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Learning Healthy Habits While Playing Tag: Meet Coach Dave

"I feel like I haven't worked in months," says Dave Walsh, the new track instructor for Project Coach. "It's too fun - it doesn't feel like a job." This is Dave's first time working with kids, but running and coaching, run in the family. Dave runs at least 35 miles a week, which is about the same number of years his father has coached high school Cross Country.

Dave studied finance at Lasell College, where he also ran on the Cross Country team. So far, he has used his finance studies as the Annual Fund Director at his Alma Mater, Cathedral High School. Project Coach was an unexpected addition to his year, a position he found out about from his mother, who is the Director of Physical Education, Health and Family Consumer Sciences for Springfield Public Schools.

Dave writes track lessons aimed at helping kids have fun while learning about health and exercise at the same time. One of his major teaching points is on hydration, and the importance of drinking water rather than Gatorade and other sugary drinks.

As the teams rotate and join Dave for a brief session, he gives them high-fives and introduces the relays of the day, which he also designs himself. During the week of Halloween, participants did Zombie, Witch, and Werewolf relays.Dave is learning about how to plan each day, which can prove challenging. "You never know what they'll like," he says. However, a visit to one of Dave's sessions, and a talk with the High School coaches will both reveal that the kids are loving track. Coach Elyahsa says the kids like the competition, and that they look forward to the relays, which are a rare activity amidst the regular soccer schedule. Coach Lakeisha sees a simple joy the kids take in the session: "They like chasing each other."

Program Director Andy Wood says track is one of the many sports Project Coach may include in the future. Because Project Coach Fellows have experience playing a variety of sports, upcoming seasons may bring even more options for elementary-aged participants.

Dave thrives on seeing the kids have fun at Project Coach practices. He throws himself into the games as much as possible, letting the kids tag and chase him as well. Dave hopes to spread the notion that through running, one can actually gain energy and feel better.

Track is not the only contribution Dave brings to the program. With each Coaching Academy session, he is taking more leadership and learning more about the High School coaches. He says, "Project Coach is a chance for students to learn how to be responsible and be good role models. The leadership and communication skills learned at Project Coach transfer into all aspects of life, and I feel these students are improving not just as coaches but as people."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Community Counts and Project Coach

By Marquis Taylor, Project Coach Fellow, 2010

Can we develop a community within Project Coach that develops an expectation of achievements and triumphs that make a difference in a formal and informal way both socially and academically.

During our fall semester, we have encountered many challenges that have allowed our Red Shirts and High School coaches to be reflective, responsible, and reliable. We are able to do this by building social capital by employing teachers and administers who are currently working with the school setting to assist the Red Shirts to stay on top of the high school students academics. We are also focused on their coaching ability/skill sets. My main focus is how we can teach our coaches to motivate youth and be dependable role models.

Milbrey W. McLaughlin discusses how youth organizations matter for Youth Development in the article Community Counts. McLaughlin stated, “Community organization can make a powerful, positive difference in youth’s lives.” Community Based Organizations have a unique ability to engage hard to reach youth that feel isolated from the community.

Based on my reading of the article, I am challenging myself and Project Coach to develop standards that will help our high school coaches form their own expectations of achievement and triumphs.

During our fall semester, our team has encountered many challenges that have allowed our Red Shirts and High School coaches to be reflective, responsible, and reliable. We are able to do this by building social capital within the schools. Project Coach is employing teachers and administers who are currently working in the school setting to assist the Red Shirts to stay on top of the high school students academics while also focusing on their coaching ability/skill sets. My main focus is how we can teach our coaches to motivate youth and be dependable role models both by not just talking the talk but walking the walk.

As a result, I can refer back to this while talking to the high school students about finding ways to self-motivate themselves to complete school assignments and community based projects they believe to be pointless or boring. As coaches, the kids are forced to tackle challenges that develop leadership and social skills needed in their community. As high school coaches, the kids are developing a sense of personal worth, and forming ideas of what they may be interested in the future.

Many of the high school coaches have the potential to be 1st generation high school graduates and/or college bound. The impact the coaches are having on the community is magnified 10 fold because they are beginning to break a cycle of mental poverty that leads to economic poverty.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Art Project led by graduate student Matt Samolewicz

Throughout the week, Project Coach directors and graduate students meet with the youth coaches after school, mentoring them. On one such afternoon Matt lead a watercolour art project. Each youth coach selected a photograph taken during a Project Coach session. They then transferred the picture onto a sheet of watercolour paper. After reflecting on what the photograph meant to them, the coaches picked a sentence that they felt described the photograph they had chosen. Devin picked an image of his fellow youth coach, Frankie, kicking a soccer ball because, he honestly explained, it was the “easiest to trace”. He picked the sentence “practice makes perfect” to accompany the image. He isn’t altogether pleased with the way his watercolour turned out because he “didn’t use enough water” and it “looked like paint” rather than watercolour. Kiana chose a photograph of many hands, one on top of the other. She selected the sentence “working together is the key to success”. When the players she coaches work together as a team they play better games, she explained. To express more she used “different kinds of colours to make the picture bolder”. A couple of weeks after she

completed the project Kiana brought in some of her own pencil drawing, saved in a plastic folder for Matt to see. One of the drawings she brought was an image of her sneaker. She explained that she had observed her sneaker while she drew it to make the drawing more realistic; another detailed drawing depicted an erupting volcano. Matt commented that saving her drawings in a plastic folder indicated how much Kiana cared about them.

Looking Through the PC lens...

By Courtney Centeno, PC Graduate Fellow 2010

    Everyone knows what it feels like to step in his or her own shoes, but what does it feel like to wear someone else’s?  Better yet, how do you explain to another person what you see through your own eyes?  One of the many goals of Project Coach is to relay to our high school students the idea that understanding and seeing different perspectives leads to more possibilities.  Role-playing and role-reversals were recurrent themes during our training sessions in the beginning of the year, and we used these devices often to help both redshirts and blueshirts become better coaches.   Articulating your own point of view is a step towards becoming a good coach.  Recognizing various points of views is a step towards becoming an outstanding coach and team player, on and off the field.

    To me, there is no better way to grasp the idea of perspective than from behind a camera lens.  Camera angle, lighting, framing, perspective, and composition are all critical components to not only understanding how you look at things, but also why.  For the remainder of our Thursday sessions, I will be working closely with Christina Gomez and Millie Alicea-Cruz on a photography project where they will express their points of view through a sequence of photographs.  The components of photography are the preliminary concepts of understanding perspective, and this project thus far has been a great opportunity for Christina and Millie to decide which parts of their world they want to put in a frame. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Balancing Act

Autumn Impression by Vassily Kandinsky
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts

By Matthew Samolewicz, PC Graduate Fellow 2010

Dr. Beth Miller, in her Critical Hours: Afterschool Programs and Educational Success, argues that the standardized testing culture of today’s schools has resulted in less time and fewer resources devoted to critical skills our students need to successfully navigate life after school. Soft skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving, and communication, are often overlooked as our schools race to meet overarching standards. If our system is not cultivating these hard-to-measure soft skills in today’s youth, in Miller’s words, what can we do to "right the imbalance," of our preoccupied institutions?

Project Coach's dedicated team is making every attempt to equalize the playing field for the students we have come to know in the past two months. Every week, our Springfield coaches take on leadership roles that enable them to exercise the essential soft skills mentioned above. Outside of their coaching responsibilities, PC organizes afterschool programs our coaches are required to participate in, including SAT preparation, tutoring and individualized projects led by Project Coach’s Red Shirts.

This past Thursday night, I had the opportunity to share an hour and a half with two of our high school coaches. Zachery Johnson and Kiana Figueroa, both eighth grade students, will be facilitating their own drawing project for Smith College’s Museum of Art this Saturday, November sixth. The event welcomes families to enjoy the Museum's incredible collection free of charge and offers a variety of art-based projects to youth visiting the museum. In preparation for Family Day, Kiana, Zach and I, with the help of the Museum’s Julie Zappia, spent Thursday's PC session projecting paintings from the Museum’s collection onto Chestnut Middle School’s library walls. We looked closely at the work of Paul Cezanne, Vanessa Bell, Vassily Kandinsky and Fernand Leger. The coaches shared their visions with Julie and I. They imagined machines, figures and landscapes in the works. Zach and Kiana considered what it might mean to leave parts of a painting unpainted and reacted to the color, compositions, and feelings that confronted them. They observed as a team, often playing off of each others interpretations. They approached painting as a sort of puzzle that, with time and a little bit of oneself, can be unlocked. Kiana and Zach communicated the visual stories and understandings they saw without missing a beat.

There is no doubt in my mind that every youth has the capacity, vision, and imagination to be great learners and leaders. Zach, Kiana, and our other Blue Shirt Coaches have proven this time and time again. Project Coach, with it's comprehensive range of strategies and services, works to propel our coaches to a place where they can share the greatness we see each week.