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.

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