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