Thursday, March 4, 2010

Project Coach @ The Smith Sophian

A great article by Yuna Kim of the Smith Sophian was published today in print and online, detailing the development of the program and some of its latest accomplishments. Check it out below, and via the title link. Thanks to Yuna for a detailed and thoughtful account of our program.

Issue date: 3/4/10

Since its founding in 2004 by two Smith professors, the Project Coach program has trained hundreds of high school students from Springfield to be sport coaches for elementary-aged children. Through sports, the program promotes health and nutrition, as well as values of sportsmanship and teamwork.

Education and child study professor Sam Intrator, who co-founded the project with exercise and sports studies professor Donald Siegel, believes that the significance of Project Coach is the ability to make a difference in the community.

"What's meaningful to me is working with my colleagues and students to make things happen beyond the walls of Smith. Together, we learn every day about how to create a program that matters to kids and matters to the community," said Intrator.

The north end of Springfield, which has an 80 percent minority rate, ranks as one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the state. It suffers from high crime rates, persistent drug and health problems, few after school programs and a lack of opportunities for youth employment. However, Intrator and Siegel saw an area with good facilities, under-utilized due to a lack of organization, and an abundance of teenage youths willing to create change.

Project Coach currently employs 25 students from five Springfield high schools as sports coaches for Springfield elementary students. Although Project Coach works with soccer in the fall and basketball in the spring, its main focus is not on the sports themselves. Instead, sports serve as a powerful hook to involve adolescents in activities that promote positive youth development.

Graduate students in Smith's education and child study department take responsibility for four to five high school students and monitor their performance in the program, as well as their social and character development. Project Coach provides academic support for the high school students, checking their grades every two weeks, preparing them for standardized tests and helping them get into college.

One Project Coach participant, Dwayne Henry, mentioned that a graduate student previously involved with Project Coach had assisted him with his schoolwork.

"I was struggling in school with math and English, and she helped me every day before Project Coach," Henry said.

Other high school students say Project Coach helped decide their futures.

"I originally wanted to be a teacher, and Project Coach has helped me to grow and make the decision to become a teacher," said Francesca Rodriguez.

Project Coach also aims to provide caring and reliable adult figures for student participants.

"It's good because I don't have a relationship with older people outside of Project Coach," Henry said.

Similarly, the elementary school students participating in the program benefit from their interaction with the high school student coaches. The coaches and the children come from the same community, have attended the same schools and share a common culture, which inspires the children to connect with their coaches.

Coaches in the program must be committed and reliable, as well as prepared to work in a professional manner. The students are paid to work for the program four afternoons a week, for a total of six hours per week. Andy Wood, Project Coach program director, said that although most students would volunteer whether or not they were paid, they deserve the payment because they are held to high standards.

"It's been a really eye-opening experience and helped me understand the capacity that the youth have for development and for growth when they're put in a position of genuine responsibility and when they're asked to be positive role models for children that need somebody to look up to," said Wood.

Project Coach also provides the opportunity for different students and faculty to work with each other. Undergraduate students involved in Project Coach work as researchers and reporters.

Marie Wallace '11, an education and child study major who works with Project Coach and writes for the Project Coach Daily News Blog, values the hands-on experience she has gained from this program.

"Learning about theories and educational issues in the classroom is one thing. But going to Project Coach and seeing a person like Sam [Intrator] actually make a difference in the lives of teenagers makes it all seem worthwhile, and it is truly inspirational," said Wallace.

Smith has various physical, human and historical resources, and its proximity to Springfield makes it possible for it to contribute to the local community. Intrator recognized that Project Coach could not have been successful without Smith's support. Smith awards four fellowships to students pursuing their master's degree in the education and child study graduate program, which consist of a tuition waiver and a small stipend.

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