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