Tuesday, December 20, 2011

And What A Grand Finale It Was-- PC Fall 2011!

Appreciation, recognition, reflection, and even a little healthy competition – these are just a few words that describe the season’s ending events. We had the opportunity to commemorate the end of a truly remarkable season on two separate celebrations. We kicked off the final week of Project Coach by bringing the blueshirts to Smith College for an evening of games and pizza. The highlight of the night was the long-awaited redshirt vs. blueshirt basketball game! Who doesn’t like a little friendly competition? The energy was through the roof (so were some of the egos!). An hour and a half in, and no one wanted to stop! One thing is for certain-- we work with a highly energetic group of young people, who not only know how to play ball, but how to have fun!

The capstone of the season was our celebratory banquet followed by an outing to the Springfield Armor’s basketball game. Blueshirts, redshirts, teachers, and family members gathered at the Brightwood Health Clinic to begin our final gathering of the fall season. The purpose of the banquet was to recognize the accomplishments of our amazing group of blueshirts and the program as a whole. The redshirts took turns recognizing each of their blueshirts by making thoughtful remarks about contributions to Project Coach. Then the redshirts took the crowd by surprise with a song dedicated to the group of blueshirts. By the end of the event, it was clear that everyone felt we had become a family with members that truly care for each other’s wellbeing.

After the banquet, we left for the Springfield Armor’s game. There wasn’t a person in the arena that could have missed the presence of the Project Coach crew. Our blueshirts were yelling and cheering, showing off their well-developed coaching voices. There were many memorable moments; here is a couple worth mentioning:

Joe, one of our blueshirts, was invited on the court for a shooting competition. As he was waiting on the side of the court, his fellow coaches with loud chanting of his name, “Joe, Joe, Joe”, encouraged Joe!

Colten, another blueshirt, was a dancing machine. He was dancing so wildly that he won the dancing competition at halftime. As a result, everyone in our group got a Dunkin Donuts gift card. To say the least, Colten was very proud of himself.

At the end of the game, we were given the opportunity to meet the coach of the Springfield Armor’s team. Our blueshirts asked thoughtful questions that showed they honestly care about being the best coaches they can be. It was really powerful ending the season with advice and inspirational words from a professional coach.

We are all very excited to continue growing as a group next season!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Building Community in the North End

A week before Thanksgiving, Project Coach hosted a pizza party. Teen coaches, parents, teachers from Gerena elementary school, and representatives from community non-profits gathered on a Friday evening to enjoy dinner and to discuss important issues in the Springfield schools.

We talked about how to help children do better in the North End schools. Colton Stovall, a freshman at Commerce High School, explained his point of view that teachers, parents, and the students themselves have to work together so that the student can do well in school. “If one person doesn’t do his part, it just doesn’t happen.” A father of a fourth grader from Gerena elementary school explained his own educational philosophy where teachers and parents should share ideas to provide the best education for children. Bryant Whitsett, a junior at Putnam High School, emphasized that his best teacher were the ones who communicated with his parents. Some even came to his home, or made regular phone calls to establish a strong connection.

The community pizza party provided a forum to make these connections. Teachers talked to their students’ parents in an informal setting. Parents met and spent some time with the teenagers who their children look up to as their coaches. Teachers, parents, and coaches gained a fuller understand of Project Coach by getting to know each other as the people who can contribute to make the program even better.

-Written by Katie Joyce, Redshirt Graduate Fellow

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Young Adult Author Kevin Markey Visits Gerena Elementary School

On Friday, November 18th, Gerena Elementary School welcomed young adult author, Kevin Markey, with open arms and eager smiles. Born and raised in Springfield, Kevin writes early chapter books about baseball and is a lifelong Red Sox fan. He challenged the students with riddles and let them in on his "3 secrets of writing." Many of the kids were able to get their own copy of Markey's book signed and got to talk to him about their own writing in school. See the video to experience a bit of this fun-filled afternoon!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Impact of Project Coach in Shaping Student and Coach Identity

Yesterday marked the final day of tutoring before Thanksgiving break. Huddled around a square table in the Chesnut Middle School library, Taylor and I assisted coaches Jon and Loeb put the final touches on their creative English assignments. Their project entailed transforming a simple manila folder into a suitcase that told a story of their individual lives. On the outside, they listed what they considered to be the four most crucial aspects of their identity. Both Coach Jon and Coach Loeb, after the categories of "Student" and "Son" proudly preserved an area on the folder that read, in big black letters, "COACH."

In talking with Jon about why he'd chosen "COACH" as one of the defining characteristics in his life, I began to feel just how profoundly the experience of Project Coach has impacted his sense of self. Next to a skillfully sketched drawing of a coach mentoring a young player, Jon's words spoke for themselves: "Through being a coach, I've learned to be responsible, organized, and mature." It was evident from Jon's carefully articulated thoughts how much being a mentor to young athletes in his community has not only shaped his identity but his intrinsic sense of self-worth and value. "Yeah, I'm a coach-- they look up to me. That's it!" he joked playfully. "When you've got other people looking up to you, that changes everything." Listening to Jon's reflection on his own role in Project Coach has given me pause to take a step back and reconsider my role as a redshirt in the lives of the coaches and players I interact with everyday. It sparked a sharp sense of solidarity between the blueshirts and myself, and the other redshirts in the program-- day in and day out, we all wear "many hats"-- student; coach; son/daughter; sister/brother; friend; teammate; teacher-- we are never just one thing. Hearing Jon so affectionately describe the way being a coach has impacted his sense of self sparked a new awareness in my own role as a mentor figure in the lives of my blueshirts, friends and family. I guess we're always learning something new about ourselves through sharing perspectives with those around us!

Monday, November 14, 2011

PC Youth Respond to Roberto Clemente Story

Project Coach high school coaches recently led a sports literacy lesson with their elementary players on the legendary Puerto Rican baseball star, Roberto Clemente.

After reading Jonah Winter's book, each class participated in a contest to create a commemorative placard to place outside of Roberto Clemente field, where PC participants gather two days a week to play soccer outside of Chesnut Middle School. See the video below to learn more about the winners!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Project Coach @ Western New England University

At its November 10, 2011, meeting, the Sport Management Association invited Project Coach (PC) Director Andy Wood and Assistant Director Greg Rosnick to campus to give a presentation on PC's work with Springfield Public School students in the North End, in a program that utilizes urban high school students as mentors to inner-city youth.  Wood and Rosnick talked to SMA members about the impact of this unique program that leverages sport to promote healthy lifestyles and teach life skills, on both the youth participants and the high school "coaches," 100% of whom have graduated from high school since the program's inception in 2005.  This is a remarkable statistic in a school system where barely half of high school students make it through to graduation.

by Professor Curt Hamakawa, Director of Center for International Sport Business, Western New England Univ.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beyond the classroom, off the field, and over the hurdle

“Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle”

As Project Coach continues to move forward with our new literacy program, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at Lincoln, Brightwood and Gerena elementary schools in Springfield were introduced to one Wilma Rudolph – an African American track star in the 1960’s who overcame debilitating polio on her way to a career marked by numerous accolades.

On September 7th, 1960, in Rome, Wilma became the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in the Olympics. She won the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and ran the anchor on the 400-meter relay team. Beyond this, she won numerous awards and other accolades – far too many to mention here.

“I believe in me more than anything in this world”

What does all this mean for Project Coach? For starters, it means that we are exposing inspiring life-stories of minority role models to students, many of whom do not know the likes of Wilma Rudolph, Tiki Barber, or the famed Roberto Clemente – a person with whom the kids share a connection, as the soccer field outside of Chesnut Middle School is named Roberto Clemente Field. More importantly, it showcases to the Blueshirt coaches and elementary players alike that overcoming adversity, disability, circumstance is anything but impossible. Success through hard work and perseverance (a focus word a few weeks back) is always, always obtainable.

Wilma Rudolph's story sparked a lively discussion in the minds of my 3rd graders. They were curious about what polio was (one of them claimed to have it!), what “disability” meant, and why it was necessary to overcome in order to achieve what Wilma Rudolph was able to achieve. I offered a personal anecdote about my own struggles with speech and stuttering, and saw players begin to make the connection between achievement and perseverance –much akin to a light bulb being turned on for the first time. All around it was a magnificent week, and the opportunities to motivate and encourage seem endless.

“It doesn't matter what you're trying to accomplish. It's all a matter of discipline. I was determined to discover what life held for me beyond the inner-city streets.”

Written by Elyse Quadrozzi, Redshirt Graduate Fellow

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Literacy Initiative Launched With Great Success!

Dear Project Coach Friends and Supporters -- please see below for a quick recap of our newest literacy initiative, by Academic Director Greg Rosnick!!

Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph and Mia Hamm- these legendary sports names are just some of the sports stories that third, fourth, and fifth graders are reading about this season in Project Coach during our new sports-based children’s book initiative.

Last week’s reading program continued to introduce the children to strong sports characters, as they read about the legendary Pittsburgh Pirate, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was a proud Hispanic man with undeniable talent. But as the children at Project Coach found out, he was more noteworthy because of his undying charity to his fellow man.

Roberto Clemente Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates.jpg

After reading the book “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates” by Jonah Winter and completing activities concerning Roberto’s story, all nine Project Coach classes took part in a friendly competition. Each class came up with a placard inscription that could be placed beneath the sign of Roberto Clemente Park, which just so happens is the very field on which Project Coach Soccer practices and games are played.

The following placard is the winning entry, submitted by Gerena 5th Graders Axsel and KC. Congratulations guys!

“Roberto Clemente was a great baseball player and man. He was a proud Puerto Rican who stood up for himself and inspired people. He helped people with his charity. Sadly, he died on December 31st, 1972, flying to help earthquake victims. We will always remember him as a great baseball player and a great man!”

Roberto Clemente Placard Winners.JPG

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Using Video to Teach in Project Coach-- A promising pedagogy

I am getting ready for a presentation to Smith in the City -- an event sponsored by Smith for alumnae in NYC. I will give a talk on the achievement gap and I will have an opportunity to mention the work that we have been doing in Project Coach.

In preparation for the talk, I am attempting to identify three key and essential research studies that provide robust explanations as to why the achievement gap persist. One of the studies that I've been reviewing is the Betty Hart and Todd Risely study that was done in Kansas in the early 1980s trying to understand if there were differences in language use in the homes of professionals, working class, and poor families. Hart and Risely followed preschool aged children around their homes with tape recorders and recorded every sound, utterance, word, and sentence. The core finding of their study is sometimes knows as the The Early Catastrophe: The Thirty Million Word Gap by Age 3, which refers to the gap between the vocabularies of welfare and professional families by age four.  This number came from the data that showed welfare children heard, on average, 616 words per hour, while children from professional families (essentially children with college educated parents) heard 2153 words per hour.

While reading up about the study, I came across a well-done NPR report that interviewed Betty Hart about her work. The reporter quoted Betty Hart describing how she felt after she had crunched the numbers,

     "And personally, Hart says, seeing those numbers staring back at                her on the page made her more than demoralized. "Horrified might be a better word," she says. "Horrified when you see that the differences are so great, and you think of trying to make up those differences. I mean, the image that you have is of running after a train. You just look at it and say, you know, 'it's hopeless.'"

The reporter then asks, "But is it hopeless?" The report then turns to describing a research project conducted by Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.

Mendelsohn's study is brilliant and relevant to Project Coach. Essentially, Mendelsohn reviewed countless studies that attempted to teach parents how to provide poor children with language-rich environment. This includes flooding the home with books and toys, to giving parents workshops on reading to children, to modeling what good practice looks like. All these work -- sort of, but not really. What Mendelsohn did was videotape mothers with their children. The mothers watched themselves and analyzed their modes and frequency of interaction with their children. Here is the transcript from the NPR Report:

The first was a video taken with a mother and her baby early on in the program. On the screen, a mother and her 2-month-old were given a mirror to play with. The mother patiently held the mirror to the child, but didn't say much. 

"The mother is holding the mirror up to the child, but is not really paying that much attention to the child," Mendelsohn says. "She's not talking to the child. She's not looking to see when the child is interested."
And so, after making a video like this, the child development specialist will show it to the mother herself and suggest ways that she might behave differently: Use the mirror to talk to the baby about reflections, or the color of eyes, use the mirror to engage the baby.
Following Words With Actions
It is these micro-behaviors that add up to macro-differences, Mendelsohn says. To all the millions of words Betty Hart's children were missing, he points to the study's results.
"Mothers had roughly a doubling in the amount of certain kinds of labeling activities," Mendelsohn says. "And a 50 percent increase in the degree to which they reported that they talked about the events in the child's life ... and what was going on in the surroundings of the child." (Here is a link to Mendelsohn's full study "Primary Care Strategies for Promoting Parent-Child Interactions and School Readiness in At-Risk Families The Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy, and Education Succes."

In Project Coach we use videotape with out teen coaches. If we want them to be getter communicators there is no better tool then them seeing themselves communicating: projecting, mumbling, or somewhere in between. We have never tested our hypthesis, but I believe that the video analysis provides the effective tool we have for changing behavior and providing a pedagogy to build skills around these capacities such as attitude, communication, initiative-taking, and more. As Mendelson said so beautifully, "these micro-behaviors that add up to macro-differences."

Here is a quick video of a coach running a post-game huddle. The quality is flat out crappy, but when you get past the absurdly bad videography, there is much to mine for meaning. Our process-- when we do it right-- involves showing it to the coach and to the other coaches. We'll sometimes use rubrics and ask the coaches to appraise their colleague's work. Other times we'll use a simple protocol:

a. Find something you want to celebrate. What good is going on? NOTE: This question provides affirmation, but there is something analytical that happens when you have to identify a positive quality and put into words.

b. Find something specific that you think the coach needs to work on to get better the next time?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coaches Jon and Charlie Visit Emerson College with Redshirt Tom

This year in Project Coach, there has been a focus on goal setting. Every two weeks, our high school Blue Shirts submit S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-specific) goals to their Red Shirts. The process of talking about, writing down, and then submitting the goals to someone else significantly increases the likelihood of success in completing them. Coupled with a bevy of other support systems in place, our high school blue shirts have already achieved tremendous feats – from bringing a failing course grade to a B+ in a two-week span, to getting an A- on a challenging Chinese exam. These goals are working towards a greater goal that goes beyond success in their high school classrooms. For most of our Blue Shirts, the ultimate goal is to attend college. All of the smaller goals that they set along the way are steering them in that direction, though it can be easy to lose sight of what the long-term goal looks like in the moment.

This past Saturday, two of the Blue Shirts took the opportunity to see this long-term goal close-up in a trip to Emerson College for its admissions open house. Coach Charlie and Coach Jon got a taste of what it is like to go to college at Emerson. They sat in on panels of students discussing their paths to college, got overviews of specific visual-media arts curricula from department chairs, met with athletic coaches, and toured the dormitories across campus. All along the way, Jon and Charlie had the powerful experience of coming face-to-face with their end goal and meeting people at an institution that could help them to get there.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Responding to the NY Times

The NY Times ran a story that examined how NYC schools have stripped away physical education programs to near nothing. The article asserts that the combination of dwindling budgets combined with the intense pressure to raise academic achievement has resulted in reductions of all subjects and disciplines that are conventionally viewed as ornamental or extra: art, music, and physical education.

The focus of the article is on how some schools have tried to preserve a semblance of phys ed by devising entrepreneurial and creative programs that function outside the typical flow of the school day and budget: 
But some teachers and principals have gotten creative to prioritize movement during the school day, stretching money, space and time to fit in exercise wherever they can.
After reading the article, Sam Intrator and Don Siegel were inspired to write a letter to the editor of the NY Times. We don't know whether it will be published, but we share it below (letters are limited to 150 words, so there is clearly more to say).
Dear Editor:

Kids need to move. It’s good for their brains, their bodies, and their spirit. At a time when school physical education programs are being cut because of tight budgets and the pressure to prioritize academics, we need entrepreneurial approaches that keep children running and playing. In Springfield, MA, where many children get only 40 minutes of physical education per week, we run an after school program called Project Coach.

Our idea is simple: high school students can be wonderful sport coaches if they are prepared and supervised. Our teenage coaches run after school sport leagues for elementary-aged children. Teenagers need work that is meaningful. They also need jobs (we pay our coaches). They also bring a special charisma and energy to sports that the elementary students adore. Our teenagers learn to lead because coaching is about inspiring, solving problems, planning, improvising and more. The children move, play, and learn.

Sam Intrator and Don Siegel
Co-Directors of Project Coach and Professors at Smith College

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Finding Time for Fitness: PC and Physical Activity

A buzz of energy fills the room - feet bouncing, hands tapping, chairs shuffling. “When are we going outside?” a girl asks after chasing her friend around the room and under the desks. We start Project Coach academic tutoring at 3:20 PM. Not surprisingly, after a full six and a half hour school day, the kids are dying to run around.

An hour later, we rush out to the fields.  The pent up energy is released as soccer balls fly by, feet run towards the goal, and children yell to their friends for a pass.  The kids who caused behavioral problems in the classroom smile as they chase after the ball.

The soccer players from Gerena, Brightwood, and Lincoln elementary schools in Springfield do not get much time to exercise during the school day.  According to the Springfield Public Schools website, elementary school students participate in physical education for only 40 minutes a week.

Springfield’s children are not the only ones being deprived of the opportunity to play and compete.  The New York Daily just published an investigative news story about an audit of NYC elementary schools that found while “about 40% of city kids are obese or overweight, schools aren't providing the required physical education classes.”  NYC guidelines prescribe that students from kindergarten through third grade should have daily gym classes, totaling at least 2 hours of physical education each week, and that none of the 31 schools audited by the Controller’s office were in compliance.

Coach Joe Wray, a senior at Central High School and one of the experienced teenage coaches at PC, spent most of Wednesday’s game time working with two misbehaving fifth-grade students who needed some individual attention. During a post-game conversation, he overheard that the kids only attend P.E. twice a week for 20 minutes.  “That explains a lot right there.”
# of minutes of Gym per Week
Gerena Elementary
40 minutes
Brightwood Elementary
40 minutes
Lincoln Elementary
40 minutes
Smith College Campus School
120 minutes
Jackson Street School
80 minutes

Coach Joe’s observation about the link between behavior and activity is one lens through which to view the benefits of Project Coach. Another involves the fundamental health benefits linked to ongoing and intensive physical activity. Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have even more ambitious targets to get young people moving. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is a report designed to provide information and guidance on the types and amounts of physical activity that provide substantial health benefits. Here are the findings on children and adolescents:
  • Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily.
    • Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
    • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days of the week.
    • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days of the week.

At Project Coach we take seriously the importance of getting children moving and having our sessions promote the range of physical activities identified as critical to health. In fact, last year a research study investigated the intensity of activity in a Project Coach session. Our coaches had kids moving through a range of activities that were aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening. The accelerometers that we used to track the intensity of movement reported that the elementary-aged players were only sedentary for 4.2 minutes out of the hour. To read more, see our pilot study.

By Taylor Stevens and Katie Joyce

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A sweeping glance at the first two weeks!

So far, it’s been a great first couple of weeks at Project Coach. Our blue-shirt high school coaches have stepped up big to plate, showing tremendous leadership with the elementary students both on the field and in the classroom (or, in the case of Brightwood elementary, in the basement cafeteria!)

As we’ve mentioned earlier, Project Coach is thrilled to be extending it’s impact in the lives of the 130 elementary students that participate in the program in Springfield’s north end. For the first half of our sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays,  a spirited team of redshirts, blueshirts, elementary schoolteachers fuse together to tutor, teach and encourage sports literacy.  In just the past few weeks at Brightwood elementary, we’ve accomplished incredible things!  From mastering multiplication tables with the third graders, to  reading Jackie Robinson’s sports biography to fidgety fourth-graders, to facilitating a fiery session of sports trivia, our blue shirts have exhibited their remarkable knack for connecting with their players.

On deck for next week, thanks to one of our enthusiastic Brightwood teachers, we'll start afternoon sessions with a short yoga lesson, giving students a time to stretch out the mid-afternoon squirminess and focus on their schoolwork. Can you say Namaste!?

On the fields, gleeful shouts, joyful laughs, and whetted whistles compete to be heard. As the teams have begun to bond and gel, parleying over team names and huddle cheers, it feels like we're sinking in to the season. Today, during the closing huddle with the Bluejays, the third grade team from Brightwood, I couldn't tell-- was it the crispness of the fall air or the warmth of our now-familiar huddle that gave me chills, when Xaiver, the Jays' smallest player with the biggest grin, congratulated the rest of his team for the "awesome teamwork we did today." After Coach Bryant counted them off, "Teamwork on three, Jays! ONE TWO THREE," the erupted roar of "teamwork" is still ringing in my ears.

Video by Ashley Niles
Story by Cait Scudder
Project Coach Graduate Fellows 2011-12

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Meet the Blueshirts! Practicing for Perfection in 2011


It was an awesome day for Project Coach Saturday on the fields at Smith College. It wasn’t just the flawless weather though that made this day so special; it was the tremendous effort and enthusiasm of the Project Coach Blueshirts that really shined through. 

The 2011 Project Coach cohort was in the classroom all morning, honing their coaching philosophies in both small and large group settings, discussing different hypothetical coaching dilemmas and how to handle them. The Blueshirts then took the theory and knowledge they had been covering in the classroom, and took it directly to the fields. They were thrown into the deep end, tasked with running a number of small-sited games for a ferocious team of six-year-olds, which was their first experience working with kids this season. 

As we have come to expect in Project Coach, the Blueshirts rose to the challenge. While it was a little bit difficult for the new coaches to get right in and lead the youth groups, our veteran Blueshirts stepped up big time, and set an example that all coaches could strive to achieve.  All the coaches, old and new, brought phenomenal attitudes to the fields. This was evidenced by the wave of smiles that flooded the fields all afternoon- from players, coaches and even parents! 

After the youth team had left the fields, Blueshirts and Redshirts together gathered to support Smith College’s soccer team and enjoyed some great pizza for lunch. It was very special to see what all of our Blushirts were capable of, and we couldn’t be more excited to kick off the year with the kids from Gerena, Lincoln and Brightwood!

Story by Tom Messinger
Video by Jason Anderson
Photos by Tayor Stevens

All proud 2011-12 PC Graduate Fellows!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Could Adults You Know Pull This Off?

By Sam Intrator, Project Coach

Think about your colleagues in the workplace or some of the adults in your family. Put into mind three adults that you would describe as effective and productive in the circles they inhabit such as the workplace, community, and family. Imagine them as the lead 'coach' in the video below? Could he or she organize an hour of improvised activity in cramped basement space for 36 third, fourth, and fifth graders? What about if I told you this was a Friday afternoon after the kids had spent 8 hours in a classroom?

Let me add some context:

It’s a Friday afternoon in late September and they have agree to serve as a youth sport coach for elementary-aged children. The program involves meeting children at their school. These children attend schools that provide what is called “extended day,” which is a policy initiative designed to provide more academic instructional time as a way to catch kids up. The school has no gym space so children have little opportunity to move or play during their seven hour school day.

At 3:30 coaches arrive at the school and because the priority remains providing academic support, the first responsibility of the coach is to work with several colleagues and provide homework help and academic enrichment to the elementary-aged students. After a grinding week of school and an extended day of being in the classroom-- imagine the simmering energy of these third, fourth and fifth graders. The coaches provide some snacks and then provide some homework help and academic enrichment.

If you can imagine a vat of water on the stove right before it heats to boiling. Bubbles churn up, steam rises, and the lid rattles. Each passing moment more bubbles froth about in random, patternless surges of energy. Yep-- that pretty much describes a classroom of kids on Friday. The promise and anticipation of sport and activity keeps the lid from completely blowing off. The typical plan is to bring them across the avenue to an outdoor field complex for soccer; however, the remnants of a Noreaster have been lashing the city all day and outside activity is not an option.

Now back to those adults that you were imagining. How many would have the patience and energy to keep kids occupied in the classroom?

It’s 4 PM in the schools and a cell phone vibrates. One of the coaches picks up and it’s the Program Director. “Slight change in plans, the gym at the middle school across the street is closed. You have to keep them occupied until 5:30 dismissal.”

Just to recap: the elementary students are now working on 8 hours of classroom time on a Friday. It is the first day of a sport program and they had been told, “we’re going to the gym for sports at 4:15!”  I guess I would describe the situation as daunting. Here is what transpired:

Our coaches are not adults. They are teenagers and here is what they did. I believe they deployed a repertoire of skills and capacities that we want any of our adult colleagues to possess when facing a thorny and difficult situation:

Once they found out the gym was closed they quickly consulted with school people and talked with them about whether they could bring the 36 children down to a narrow basement space. They had prepped a soccer coaching plan, but they figured that they could use the space to do some movement activities. The supervisors in the program watch the teenage coaches problem solve on the fly and intentionally retreat from the foreground. They watch the teenagers exercise problem solving skills, negotiation skills, and make quick and confident decisions.

Thirty-six children, 12 teenagers, and two supervisors clomp down into the basement space and they begin to play versions of the old playground standby, “Red Light, Green Light: 1, 2, 3.” They add dance steps and silly movement sequences into the game. They break the 36 children up and have a team competition where each high school coach has a team of four. The energy surges, the noise level bounces off the basement walls, and the coaches deploy little tricks of keeping a crowd of kids engaged, but sensibly feeling when the energy level is surging too high.

The elementary aged players are dripping sweat. They are smiling. They are high-fiving the teenagers, they are cheering on their teammates, and groaning dramatically when they march back to the starting line after being caught in a red-light, green-light transgression.

Back to my original question: how many adults do you know could pull this off? I know some, but one of the propositions of Project Coach is that teenagers have unique gifts that allow them to thrive in the role of youth sport coach. These gifts such as energy, coolness, ability to build rapport, passion for sports-- are raw and we work hard to develop a skill set that allows them to work with children. It’s a winning combination.

The video highlights some of the core capacities or supercogntivies we try and teach. By supercognitives we mean achievement capacities-- which often get labelled pejoratively as non-cognitives or soft skills. We endow them with the prefix “SUPER”  because in enacting a soft skill such as ‘communication’ you not only have to do the cognitive work upstairs, but you have then have to go public and do something. In other words, having an idea about what you should say is flat out easier than having that idea and then having to articulate it to people and in doing so make judgements and decisions about tone, audience, pacing, modulation, and more!

Xavier and Kiana, the two coaches most visible in this clip are enacting a range of these supercognitives (link to read more @ the supercognitives):

  • Initiative: Rather than waiting passively, passing the buck, or drifting to the background. The team of coaches came together, devised a way forward, and made something happen. Reed Larson (link to pdf of his article) highlights initiative as the ability to be motivated from within to direct attention and effort toward a challenging goal. In addition to being an important quality in its own right, I believe that initiative is a core requirement for other components of positive development, such as creativity, leadership, altruism, and civic engagement. 
  • Communications: They are projecting with their voice, deploying a range of non-verbals and tuning it towards their rambunctious audience. 
  • Teammwork: They quickly devise roles for themselves and switch-- often seamlessly-- letting the focal person change over time. 
  • Problem Solving: Clearly they perceived that something needed to be done. Something was awry in the program and 

Monday, September 19, 2011

We started as a lemonade stand on the corner, now we're going global (sort of)....

Sam Intrator, Project Coach

As with most out-of-school programs, we began as a lemonade stand. Entrepreneurial in spirit, we launch with an idea, a sense of anticipation, and unspoken belief that our intentions are noble, our idea was distinctive, and that we have the skill and perseverance to run a lemonade stand on the corner. Metaphorically, after a few sales and some encouragement-- we start to dream. How can we expand? What else can we offer? What if we were to move to a busier corner and attract more business? In short, the story of Project Coach and so many of our sibling programs -- we start out in the garage or on the corner with a handmade sign, "Lemonade $1" and end up as a 'real entity' with all the promise and complexity of being big.

As we are getting ready to launch PC 7.0 this fall, one of the exciting additions to the PC Lemonade Stand involves us launching an academic enrichment experience for the elementary-aged players that participate in our sport leagues. The core of the initiative involves providing an hour of academic experience at the schools before the players head over to the athletic facilities for their sport experience.

What do we do with that time? Our plan has two elements: first, we want to provide opportunity for the PC team to provide homework help. When we met with the elementary school principals about how to use the time, they lobbied for us to use the time for homework help. As one principal said, “having extra time to support students with their homework would be a great asset to the children and their families.” We agreed, but we also -- in the spirit of always trying to connect to our touchstone-- “using sports as a vehicle to promote academic, social, and community growth”-- we reached for a more ambitious idea.

We are amidst planning to launch a sport-themed children’s book project that would involve developing a series of lessons that would focus on literacy, book chats, and on themes naturally unfold from the realm of sports: perseverance, what does it mean play fair, playing on a team, the role of practice in getting good at anything, and more.  Our curriculum planning is underway, but Greg Rosnick piloted this venture a few years ago and wrote about for our blog and presented what he learned at a Smith College Collaborations conference.

As I think about how we expanded and developed this initiative, I sense that we relied more on our intuitive sense of how to give ourselves the best shot at success. How can we deploy our resources so that our academic program could be a successful complement to what we already do in the gym? We sat down and planned what the program should look like, but there is a robust literature on the linkage between academic achievement and out-of-school time. We didn’t necessarily consult the literature prior to our initial planning, but since we are still in the planning phase, here is what we would have learned:

In a speech delivered to a assemblage of educational and business leaders in Springfield, MA, Geoffrey Canada shared his metaphor of the train -- which he used to explain what he called the “physics and math of the achievement gap.” He describe two trains leaving Springfield. One train left at 8 a.m. heading south. A second train leaves at 1 p.m. also traveling South. His question, “both trains are traveling at the same rate, when would the second train catch the first train?” His answer was sobering, “the physics and math of this problem are simple-- train B will never catchup.”

His meaning is indelible: poor children can’t catchup to middle class children without speeding up the train or running train B longer. In other words, to hearken back to Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare. Can a tortoise running slow and steady for longer spans of time catch up?

One policy intervention that has been adopted by a number of reform entities involves extended time, which entails adding time to the school year or school day as a way to improve achievement. This logic of this approach hinges on the the axiom, “more time on task.”  This approach is both promising, but like many policy initiatives carries with it some unintended consequences as Patall et al (2010)  point out in there systematic review of research on the effects of extended day.

Potential positive effects for students
  • Increased learning and better academic achievement
  • More time for learning
  • More repetition of material; deeper coverage of curriculum
  • More time on task
  • More opportunities for experiential learning
  • Deepened adult–child relationships
Potential negative effects for students
  • Wasted time (allocated time does not necessarily translate to increased instruction)
  • Increased fatigue and boredom and decreased effort
  • Increased absenteeism and drop-out rates
  • Less time for informal learning, extracurricular activities, student employment, and free time
Our PC Academic Initiative strives to dance a balance. We are increasing time for learning and focusing on academic outcomes but connecting it to our PC Sport curriculum. We will address literacy elements, but do so through processes and content that students would not necessarily experience during the school day.

This begets the question: if merely extending the school day does not uniformly lead to better outcomes, then what features should be in place in an out-of-school program that strives to move the needle on academics?

Lauer (2006)  and her colleagues conducted a meta analysis of studies that examined the impact of out-of-school programs on academics. They only included studies that included a direct assessment of students’ academic achievement in reading, mathematics, or both. Examples included classroom assessments, standardized tests, and grades in subject areas research and evaluation on out-of-school programs that strive to address academics. Several of their conclusions are of import to our efforts:

  •  OST programs can have positive effects on the achievement of at-risk students in reading and mathematics.
  • OST programs need not focus solely on academic activities to have positive effects on student achievement. Study results indicate that OST programs in which activities are both academic and social can have positive influences on student achievement. This finding supports the belief that OST programs should address the developmental needs of the whole child.
  • Duration of academic component does not matter as much as strong implementation. In other words, high quality instruction can be done in small dosages.
  • OST programs that provide one-on-one tutoring for at-risk students have postive effects on student achievement in reading. This was one of the strongest findings from the meta-analysis and is supported by other research on tutoring of at-risk students during the school day
Lauer et al’s findings corroborate many of the other reports and studies that emphasize what programs can do to help students develop academically. The two elementsthat Lauer does not emphasize as much as other researchers do involves the significance of having engaging content that is distinctive from school content and developing alignment and coordination with the school.

So as we ready to launch, I feel we’ve designed a program that entails many of the elements identified by the research as being important to successfully improving academics:

Research-Based Practice & Our Plan in Project Coach
  1. Focus on academics through an engaging and interesting approach that is distinctive from the syntax and flow of school.  Our sport-themed children’s book curriculum will be intriguing both in terms of content, but also because it will be taught by our high school coaches and college students.
  2. Focus on instruction and delivery not just duration of program.    We have been developing a unique curriculum and we will have professional development sessions for coaches each week where we will address delivery of the program.
  3. Adapt instruction to individual and small-group needs. Use one-on-one tutoring if possible; otherwise, break students into small groups. Our ratio will be one PC Staff member for every three students. Each team will have 12 elementary students, 2 teenage coaches, and 1 Smith student. This ratio should provide ample opportunity for
  4. Align the out-of-school time (OST) program academically with the school day and coordinate staff. We have worked with the elementary-school principals to identify teachers to guide our work in the classroom. The close coordination between staff will hopefully yield coordination around academics and other important outcomes.


Lauer, P. A., Akiba, M., Wilkerson, S. B., Apthorp, H. S., Snow, D., & Martin-Glenn, M. (2006). Out-of-school-time programs: A meta-analysis of effects for at-risk students. Review of Educational Research, 76(2), 275-313.

Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Allen, A. B. (2010). Extending the school day or school year: A systematic review of research (1985-2009). Review of Educational Research, 80(3), 401-436.