Sunday, October 31, 2010

Student-Teaching and Project Coach: A Parallel Process

Upon first consideration, it might be difficult to see connections between The Smith College Campus School, a day school in Northampton, and Project Coach, an after-school program in Springfield. However, PC Fellows like Anna Bartolini and Kathleen Boucher live this connection every week.

Bartolini, who is a student-teacher in a first grade classroom at the Campus School, says she is picking up on strategies to use with the elementary participants at Project Coach sessions. Going from the highly structured school day to the after-school atmosphere can be challenging, says Bartolini. At the same time, she is gaining useful experience with solving problems spontaneously, figuring out new ways to motivate and engage young people.

Bartolini also thinks of student-teaching and PC as parallel experiences. As a student-teacher, she plays a role quite similar to the High School coaches with PC. She notices strategies her lead teacher uses to encourage her as a new teacher, like accentuating the positive. Bartolini says that this serves as a reminder to always compliment the HS coaches, giving them encouragement along with increased responsibility.

Bartolini (left in photo) is not only learning from her lead teacher at the Campus School, however, as some HS coaches have more experience with Project Coach, and with working with young kids. Bartolini learns strategies from returning coaches, and with all of the coaches with whom she works, she is constantly learning how to become a better mentor by strengthening relationships. Part of this work involves learning about the goals of the coaches (Barbara (right in photo), Ty, and Elyahsa), both immediate and long term (like which college to attend).

In her first grade classroom, Bartolini gets to know her students in very different ways, through reading and recess both. As she gets to know her students, she sees what reading strategies work best. She says that the first graders were really comfortable with her at the very beginning of the year. While first graders are eager to "hold your hand at recess," Bartolini says, high school students can sometimes hold back until they feel they know who you are.

According to PC Fellow Kathleen Boucher, student-teacher in a fourth grade classroom at the Campus School, she feels like she transitions into a head teacher with Project Coach. While she looks for advice from her head teacher at her teaching placement, her high school coaches look to her for help with the elementary participants after school. At times, Boucher notes, she jumps in and becomes the leader of both groups. According to her, it is a sometimes a challenge to bring the structure of the classroom to the athletic field. One management technique she brings from student-teaching is for giving directions, whispering "If you can hear my voice, clap once." Other strategies she finds helpful include rotations of activities, like during the indoor sessions (due to rain) and, now, with the options of dance and track during soccer sessions. Boucher is interested in seeing how the basketball season compares with soccer, and in learning more about what the program means to elementary-aged participants.

Overall, Project Coach Fellows learn about children across ages, races, and classes. They work with them both in the classroom and after school, at the desk and on the field. They also help with academic assistance by helping to track grades and improve on homework. Undoubtedly, these experiences will help to make them insightful and effective teachers in the future.

2 Million Minutes of High School

High school youth coaches left the field after playing team-building activities, games like rock-paper-scissors as teams, and walked into the Chestnut Middle School Library where they engaged in a listening activity. Divided into groups, each youth coach had forty five seconds to describe what their post high school goals were. All the other members of the group were instructed to listen. At intervals the youth coaches froze and described what a good listener looked like. Good listeners were focused, made eye contact, kept their chins up, and nodded their heads. When asked how a teacher would react to a good listener one youth coach stated that the teacher would feel like “they are doing their job”. In their forty-five seconds, the coaches spoke with enthusiasm about their future plans. “I want a year of travel” because “what makes you smarter is not school but experience” going to “Miami and stuff”. When asked about funds, the coach responded, “save up and hope to win the lottery”. Another coach stated that she wanted to be an accountant because “I like numbers. I like how much control you have, the pressure. I want to move to California, get married. I already have someone I’ve been dating for a year and a half”. Once the listening activity was over, Sam Intrator asked the coaches how many minutes they spent in high school.

During the second part of the session the youth coaches watched a fragment of the movie “2 Million Minutes”, whose title refers to the number of minutes students spend in high school. The documentary follows two American students, two Indian students and two Chinese students, exploring the cultural, economic and social pressures these students face, emphasizing that US high school students lag behind in math and science. Among twenty-nine developed countries, the US ranks twenty-fourth in math.

After watching twenty minutes of the movie, the coaches discussed what they though the message of the movie was. Many voiced that they thought US students did not take advantage of their education, viewing it as a birthright. They spoke of the difference between the motivation of growing up with economic certainty and the motivation of students for whom education is a passport out of poverty. When the youth coaches were asked what steps could be taken now bridge the US’s lagging behind in math and science, and how they could achieve their own goals, they spoke of putting more of an emphasis on work and work ethics, of trying to do better than they were presently doing by “focusing on school, on yourself”. One youth coach stated that the best time to correct anything was now since they could not correct the past. It was emphasized that school grades are important but that there are also other skills and qualities that are important like the ability to communicate and listen effectively and the ability to lead, all qualities that the youth coaches demonstrate each week. After the discussion, each coach was asked to write a response to two questions. The first question asked about the message they, as coaches, could transmit to their elementary school players. The second question asked them to write down what they would do differently when they got back to school the next day. I will “take school seriously”, a student responded.

Photo Courtesy of Broken Pencil Productions

Monday, October 25, 2010

Here's Johnny! A Closer Look At The Man Behind The Scenes!

Anyone who has spent time in the North End has probably run into John Rodriguez.  The lifelong resident of the North End recently told me about some childhood memories, reflections about the North End today, and why he loves Project Coach.

John was born in Springfield’s North End in 1964, and remembers the neighborhood as family oriented when he was a boy.  The parks were always filled with picnics and kids played baseball after school and on the weekends. 

John went to school at Brightwood Elementary, down the street from the fields now used by Project Coach.  North End children today, he says, are not like they were in the ‘70s.  John sees too much drug and crime activity on the streets now, and observes that kids today are more street smart.  They have learned to adapt to their environment.  He observes another difference: growing up in the North End is tough on a lot of kids because their parents aren’t around.  John estimates that in any crowd of 20 kids, only 3 live with both parents.  And then he shakes his head.

I asked John why he works as a School Monitor at Gerena Elementary School.  John’s answer was much more complex than I anticipated. John is quiet and friendly man who defies the image of a School Monitor.  For years he worked in a nearby juvenile jail.  He saw a lot of good in the kids he worked with there, but also a lot of despair. The job was tough.  He gravitated to Gerena because he wanted to work with kids and give back to his community.  But he also wanted intercept these kids and help them chose the right path so they would not end up at the juvenile jail. 

John believes in Project Coach.  He values it because it offers consistency and a foundation to kids who do not experience much routine or comfort outside of school.  And he especially appreciates the confidence that emerges in the children.  At the beginning of John’s first year working with Project Coach, he remembers a shy small elementary school girl standing at the fence watching kids play soccer with the program.  He went over to her and invited her to play.  “Oh no, I’m too shy,” she answered.  With a little persuasion she joined the program.  John beams as he reflects on the way that little girl blossomed in Project Coach.  He chuckles as he tells me that she’s a confident and popular middle school student now.  His compassion shines through, he can’t hide it.

By Kuna Tavalin - Project Coach Fellow 2010-2011

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Youth Coaches and Graduate Students Collaborate on Individualized Community Projects

At the Chestnut Library youth coaches and graduate students assembled to begin a collaborative project. Each graduate student sat at a different table, giving their project pitches to each of the high school youth coaches who visited their table. The youth coaches then decided on which individualized project they wanted to participate in.

The project proposals included:

1. A civics project with Kuna Tavalin. The youth coaches would address a change they wanted to see in Springfield whether it is in education, health care or poverty. After researching the issue they will write a letter to the governor of Massachusetts, which could lead to a meeting, and presentation of their findings. One coach told her that it sounded like a “hard, long process” while another commented on how they would have to write the letter in a persuasive manner to “catch their attention”.

2. A project that will address gender issues and stereotypes in sports with Kathleen Boucher. Kathleen and a youth coach will compile a manual of specific situations that could arise and the possible ways of dealing with the situation. A youth coach did explain the some of the elementary school girls on his team had complained that “the boys don’t want to play with us” while the boys complained that the girls were being mean to them. This is one situation that the manual could address.

3.Matthew MacKenzie‘s project focused on financial planning, setting up a savings account, or a checking account while trying to set lifetime habits that could include tracking money through services offered online. The youth coach working with him may act as a liaison between a specific bank and his/her school, helping the students set up saving or checking accounts. One youth coach commented that for every paycheck he gets he saves $10 of it.

4. Courtney Centeno pitched a photography project. Each week a youth coach will develop a different kind of photograph, working to incorporate different elements such as lighting, perspective, and setting. They will photograph a portrait and landscape, manipulating elements to show what the person or location they are photographing means to them. While at Courtney’s table, a youth coach explained how she “ always did black and white” so that the viewer of the photographs could fill in the colours they saw in their own mind.

5 .Matthew Samolewicz first showed the youth coaches that arrived at his table a Jackson Pollock painting. He and a youth coach will create a project in which movement and art will be combined. One youth coach suggested using music so that one would be using their entire body to paint. When shown a series of cardboard sculptures one youth coach said “It looks like some girl dancing salsa somewhere”.

. 6. A literacy project with Marquis Taylor. The youth coach will pick a couple of sports themed books and then create a community-based project, connecting their reading to specific actions. One youth coach was reading “A Brave New World” but said that he couldn’t relate to it. He had however, read the entire “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, which he described as “good from the beginning to the end”.

7. Anna Bartolini asked for the youth coaches input and offered two different projects, one on nutrition, bringing the second piece of a healthy lifestyle, healthy eating, combined with sports. She also proposed to start an anti-bullying campaign that would incorporate a community speaker. Each project will involve community outreach.

"Making it Big" with Dance

With a recent art project and an even more recent dance component, Project Coach has been diversifying their activities and goals this year. After receiving an inquiry from Smith senior Phoebe Mayor about dance programming for inner-city kids, Sam Intrator and Andy Wood welcomed the idea, and invited Mayor as well as Suzy Rodriguez, to join Project Coach this fall.

Rodriguez, who is currently taking Professor Intrator's course on urban education, has always wanted to work with kids, and brings with her a love for hip hop dance. This past summer, she worked with an organization that provides dance therapy for kids with autism. Mayor, who focuses on modern dance, has long wanted to work with inner-city kids, and has a mentor from high school who has encouraged this goal.

According to Andy Wood, part of the motivation behind the new dance component was to reach out to kids who have not yet become passionate about soccer, especially the girls. Surprisingly, however, it was the boys who were most enthusiastic on the first day of dance with Project Coach. Rodriguez and Mayor were actually concerned that the boys would not want to dance, but when they started the first lesson by asking for names of famous dancers, the names the kids provided were mostly male. Perhaps because of these popular role models, the boys felt more than comfortable dancing, while the girls seemed shy at first. Mayor recalled that one girl who refused to participate was hiding the fact that she knew how to break-dance. When Mayor began speaking to the her, the girl was eager to teach a few moves to her dance teacher.

Just who will take the most interest in the dance sessions remains an open question, as there have only been two such sessions to date. However, Rodriguez and Mayor are confident that dance will provide a number of benefits for Project Coach participants, complementing soccer and basketball. This past Friday, two groups of kids fought against a cold and windy day to learn a few moves. The two who were hesitant to contribute served as judges in mini dance competitions at the end of each lesson.

One such benefit, according to Mayor and Rodriguez, is the ability to channel energy through dance. A term they plan to use with the kids is "Make it big," meaning to put all of one's energy into a single move. This ability to channel one's energy into a positive activity is indeed central to the aims of Project Coach. Through this project, Mayor hopes to connect her work in social justice leadership with teenagers. This may start with the implicit aim of dealing with emotions in constructive ways through sports and dance alike.

While Mayor and Rodriguez would like to make connections between soccer and dance (through work on coordination, footwork, etc.), they also hope to instill in the participants an appreciation for dance specifically. By providing the dance sessions each Friday, Project Coach is introducing the idea that one can play soccer, and be a dancer, too. Rodriguez and Mayor believe that dance is a crucial outlet, similar to sports, but unique at the same time.

As Rodriguez said, "For me, dancing is a way of completely disconnecting, especially when I'm in a surrounding where everybody else is dancing -- it's just that encouragement and that constant energy flowing around the room. It's a way for me to get away from everything else. I just hope that whatever it is we're doing gets them, at least while they're there, to think about what they're doing. They're learning to coordinate parts of their bodies, and they're enhancing other parts of the brain that can also be helpful and that aren't necessarily being trained. I just hope they get the most out of that."

Mayor (on left in photo) can already see a few kids expressing a genuine interest in dance for dance's sake, as one boy shared with her that he was trying to learn a complicated dance that his brother knows well.

Mayor and Rodriguez are not alone in their work, as two PC coaches are working with them. They email the coaches in advance of each week's session so that Jon and Barbara are aware of the plan. They also meet with the coaches during set-up time to practice the dance they will teach that day. Mayor and Rodriguez note that Jon and Barbara play an integral part as role models and encouragers of the elementary-aged participants. Because Jon has a background in salsa dance, he will likely end up teaching a few lessons of his own later in the season.

It is precisely this encouragement that the dance teachers seek to bring to the kids: "I think there are actually a lot of kids who have talent, but maybe it's not encouraged. A lot of them really can dance," says Rodriguez.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Relationships Across the Years-- What PC Means to our Teen Coaches

By Matt Samolewicz, Project Coach Fellow, 2010

What does it mean to coach? To Teach? Many of us are familiar with the athlete or student perspective, but what does it mean to be on the other end? Twenty three Springfield high school students are learning to take on the role of “coach” and with it, all of the pressures and rewards, as part of Project Coach.
This past Friday, October fifteenth, my mind hummed with a weeks full of preoccupations as I made my way to Gerena Community School’s cafeteria. Waiting for me, as almost always, were four of Project Coach’s high school coaches. I sat down and into a conversation that sprung me from all internal griping. Two of our returning coaches were observing a group of fifth grader players whom they have known for the past four years:
“We have seen these kids grow up. I mean, we have seen them grow,” said one coach.
Coach Tyree (4-year veteran) demonstrating the web of community
“I know! I can remember these kids when they were in first grade! Now look at them.”         replied the second coach.
“I remember what that was like,” said the first coach, “do you?”
This kind of conversation comes from an aware eye, an empathetic soul, and a teacher who is willing to learn from their students.   As I listened, the weight of the shared recognition seemed to pull on every conception I had made in our first five weeks. The students were not only considering the growing athletes as individuals, but as part of a larger context, one that is ever-changing and unpredictable. They were seeing “the bigger picture,” the one I had been trying all too hard to present, and without any external provocation. The coaches were tapped into what was happening in that cafeteria and reflecting on the significance of their relationships with the kids. By recognizing the children and their growth, the coaches were considering the affect time has on all of us. This insightful look was a result of recognizing the kids, their transformation, and ultimately, their story. Whether or not they knew it, the coaches were showing me how to see.
As I turned the interaction over in my mind, the coaches lined up our attending players for a rainy Friday Project Coach session. We were back into the swing of things and ready to facilitate a great afternoon. The clarity didn’t fade from our Coach’s eyes as they led the children down Gerena’s steps and towards the game.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Project Coach Dances

Project Coach has incorporated dance as a new component the elementary school players engage in every Friday after school. Last Friday, the Springfield players were moved into the gyms due to bleak weather. A large bright room was cleared of ping-pong tables to construct a spacious dance floor. Phoebe Mayr, a senior from Smith College majoring in Dance and Anthropology who envisioned incorporating a dance component to Project Coach, and Susana Rodriguez, a junior from Smith College majoring in Dance and Psychology reviewed the routines and games that would be taught to the players before the players loudly entered the room. Youth coaches John and Barbara assisted Phoebe and Susana as they led the players through different dance related activities.

After forming a circle in the middle of the room, the players were asked what dancers they admired. “Ciara!”, “Michael Jackson!” and “Justin Bieber!”, the players responded in yelps. To gain the players’ attention a call-and-response clapping system was devised; five claps from the youth coaches were matched with two claps from the players. As a warm up players were asked to say their names and add a personal move. One student said his name and then dropped to the floor, playing dead. Another student said her name and then shrugged their shoulders. A player named Ryan started beat boxing. Alex created the ‘run away’ move, running away from the assembled circle towards the door after saying his name. The players’ heads rolled side-to-side and up and down as they followed the routine to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” before playing freeze-dance. Three different age groups of players ranging from third to fifth grade participated in the dance activities and routines. With each group Phoebe and Susana tailored the activities to fit the specific groups’ needs. The last group of players were awed by Susana’s hip-hop routine and asked her to demonstrate repeatedly.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Youth Voices on Participating in PC and more...

By PC Blog Correspondent Angela Navarro Fusillo

Friday was gray and rainy and instead of being out on the fields everyone moved into the school gyms. Four high school coaches shared their thoughts on Project Coach with us in a quieter room full of ping-pong tables adjacent to the courts.

TYISHA, a twelfth grader, described the elementary school players as
“hyper and pumped up”. She was told about Project Coach the day prospective coaches were to be interviewed by a coach who had already participated in the program. She usually coaches ten to twelve kids with the assistance of another coach. Between themselves they swap leadership positions. One of the main issues she identified was how quickly the players get bored so it is key to prepare multiple games to keep the players “active and engaged”. Tyisha hopes to go to culinary school after high school and spoke of how her grandfather finally taught her how to cook stuffed shells after many years of delayed stuffed shell promises.

JOHN, an eleventh grader, spoke of how Project Coach has helped him with
his academics since he is doing far more of his homework now that he is in the program compared to the amount of work he was doing at the beginning of the year. He believes that Project Coach keeps the kids “out of trouble”. John, who has been dancing salsa, merengue, bachata and hip-hop for about ten years, hopes that the experience he is gaining as a coach will help him become a dance instructor and open his own dance studio.

TRAVIS, a twelfth grader from Renaissance, described Project Coach as a “safe place” for the players to go after school that provides an outlet for all their energy, a place to “better themselves”. One of the challenges he faces with the players is getting them to listen; however “it gets easier each time”.
On Mondays all the coaches meet in the library at Chestnut Middle School with the Project Coach coordinators and director. The coaches learn new strategies and games that will be used later on in the week with the elementary school players. When asked about future plans, Travis explained how he wants to go to college after high school to study Psychology.

ANTONIO, an eleventh grader, also heard of Project Coach from two other coaches who had already been in the program for a couple of years.He thinks of Project Coach as a valuable training that will enable him to work with kids
in the future. Antonio also agreed that one of the main challenges he faces as a coach is getting his players to listen. Project Coach keeps the kids active, giving them something to do rather that being “stuck at home”. He wants to study forensics after high school. Before going back to his players he described Project Coach as a “good program”.