Friday, June 1, 2012

A Final Farewell - Redshirts reflect on a groundbreaking year

As the 2011-12 Project Coach year begins to draw to a close, and preparations move into full gear for an exciting summer program and a new cohort of "redshirts" joining us later this month, our current graduate students reflect on their experiences in Project Coach, and what it has meant to them as they prepare for careers in teaching, coaching, and youth development.

Last week the Gerena 4/5 team won their first basketball game. The kids were excited. And so was I. But it wasn't the win, or the margin of victory, that brought tears to my eyes as the final whistle sounded. What made me so emotional that Friday afternoon was the realization that these kids were truly playing as a team. "X-man, here!" Henry had shouted, passing it to Xavier in the lane. "Rosie, get it in," Axsel encouraged, giving his fellow player the confidence to take her first shot of the season. "De-FENSE! De-FENSE!" Alex chanted from the sidelines, taking a break due to a sick stomach but still wanting to be part of the charge. It was incredible to see these fourth and fifth graders not only working together, but also looking out for each other, selflessly and enthusiastically. 

These values of sportsmanship, inclusivity and cooperation did not come out of nowhere. They had been modeled, discussed, and explicitly taught by our Blue Shirts. Indeed, I saw and heard echoes of high school coaches Loeb, Owen, Johnny, Natasha and Alex on that court, as the 4/5 Falcons soared. And that's what's amazing, to me, about the PC model; these elementary school students have grown as players and people as their high school mentors have grown as coaches and leaders. 

Much like a tutor whose ultimate goal is their own obsolescence, I have mixed feelings about saying goodbye. I will miss the relationships that have developed over the year, and the rewarding high of seeing the high school students interact with their teams. At the same time, it makes me happy to see how far all of these kids have come--both coaches and players--and know that they will only continue to grow as positive forces in their schools and communities. 

As I prepare for the next steps in my own life, I too will carry PC with me. Just today, planning to demo a lesson for a job interview, I have been thinking about the Project Coach games-based, athletes-first model; when I step into that classroom, I want to keep my lectures short, and the engagement high. Of course, this is but one of many take-aways from a phenomenally inspiring year. It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside my fellow Red Shirts, as well as Andy, Greg, Don, and Sam. I thank them for this life-changing opportunity, and--perhaps most of all--am grateful to the Blue Shirts for their hard work and dedication. I can't wait to see where they go next.

--Jason Anderson

My year as a Project Coach Fellow taught me the importance of mentors in education.  The program is based on the importance of relationships.  All participants act as role models for each other in formal and informal ways.  The teenage coaches mentor the elementary school kids on their teams, we as red shirts mentor the coaches, and Sam, Andy, and Don guide us with their advice.  More informally, we mentor each other on the van rides back and forth from Springfield.  The more experienced coaches mentor new coaches before practice and through their example.  Even the kids give each other pointers during games.  Project Coach fosters this culture of support and guidance.  

My experience in Project Coach inspired me to teach in Springfield this coming fall.  I plan to encourage and teach the spirit of mentorship in my classroom based on what I have learned this year.  I hope this will happen through partnerships with other classes in the school, between students who have strengths in different subjects, and between myself and my students.  Project Coach inspired me in many ways and I am very grateful to have been a part of the program. 

--Katie Joyce

"I think of you as my role model," 3rd grader Brianna said to Blue Shirt Priscilla Morales for her leadership video second semester. After blushing and thanking her, Priscilla turned to me and said in a moment of clarity, "Hey, it's cool! We all have people to look up to in Project Coach!" Moments like these are what I will remember most from this year. I have gained so much from my experiences in Project Coach. Helping 3rd grade students with their math and science homework allowed me to remember what it is like to learn a skill from scratch. More rewarding, however, was observing my high school Blue Shirt coaches explain these skills to their players, invested in their outcome in school. After finishing homework, the elementary students get to play sports for an hour with these same high school students - mentors from the classroom to the basketball court. The look on the 3rd graders' faces when their coaches dribble around them or let them steal the ball for a shot is priceless, and it is clear that they look up to them, both physically and emotionally. 

The relationships that the Project Coach system creates are truly unique. While we, as Red Shirts, got to work with many younger students, we also had the incredible opportunity to work with experienced educators like Sam Intrator, Don Siegel, and Andy Wood, and were able to use their knowledge to learn so much about how a nonprofit organization is run. In working so closely with five high school students, I have learned the value of being flexible, understanding, and of listening to each teenager with the same empathy. Each of our Blue Shirts has incredible stories, and they are willing to share when someone is willing to listen. 

As I move on to teach next year, I will use many of the ideas that I learned this year in my own classroom. I will try to listen to each student's story and hope to be the person they can seek if they need advice or simply need to talk. I would love to create some sort of mentorship program within the school because of the incredible outcomes I have seen both for the role models and for the younger students involved. Just as I have gained so much from my experiences with my Blue Shirts, I hope to continue learning from my students so that I can become the best teacher and role model I can be."

--Taylor Stevens

One of the most memorable moments of the year for me in Project Coach this year was when Jafette, a North End resident and father of a Project Coach player, came in to speak with the Blue Shirts on a Monday night about his experience as an adolescent who took a path that led him away from his education and ultimately, resulted in his arrest and the death of his best friend. One thing he said to us that evening, pacing back and forth, backwards cap tilted sideways, his hands moving as he talked, almost like he was going to break into slam poetry, was something to the effect of: "I think about how different my life would have been if I had had a positive adult role model in my life-- someone older to guide me away from that path I took and showed me the importance of my education, a path that would help me to find myself, not lose myself." 

These words, in a nutshell, speak to what my experience in Project Coach has left me with-- how powerfully the presence of a positive, encouraging, supportive role model can affect and change a life. Moving into my experience next year teaching high school Spanish, I will carry with me the knowledge that the presence, attitude and encouragement role models-- especially teachers-- give to their adolescent students plays an enormous role in influencing the paths they choose to pursue. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn and grow alongside the Blue Shirt coaches this year and watch them develop as leaders and powerful individuals.

--Cait Scudder

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