Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Kayleigh Colombero, Executive Director
Written by Cristina Masurat (2012-2013 Graduate Fellow) 

          Everyone at Project Coach is very excited to welcome Kayleigh Colombero as the new Executive Director at Project Coach. Kayleigh comes to PC with many years of valuable experience, a deep faith in the potential of Springfield's youth, and a strong dedication to the program's future. 

         Kayleigh started her career with PC when the program was just beginning to blossom. As an undergraduate student, she served as an academic adviser and mentor for the developing youth program from 2006 to 2008. The relationships she formed in these early years impacted her deeply as she pursued a career in teaching and formed her long-lasting commitment to urban education. She says that a big motivation for her during this time, and a source of continued inspiration, was her potential as a mentor to change an adolescent's self-perception after years of receiving negative feedback. Though she left Project Coach for several years to pursue different teaching and coaching positions, Kayleigh says that she "always loved the mission of the program, its capacity to change the lives of Springfield youth, and the opportunity to showcase how amazing teenagers in Springfield are." Kayleigh is also very excited to be returning to Smith College, her alma mater. She says that she highly values her time spent at Smith College, acknowledging that the institution helped her develop into "a young, educated female leader early on in life."

         After her time with PC and Smith, Kayleigh began teaching at a small public school in Hadley, MA. While she enjoyed her time in Hadley, she knew her calling was to work with urban youth. After two years in Hadley, she started teaching at Renaissance in Springfield, MA and was inspired by the "amazing assets [Springfield] has as a city that are waiting to be developed." Her love for urban adolescents was clearly on fire at Renaissance, where she started the school's first cheering team. By starting this team, Kayleigh greatly expanded the limited options for athletic involvement available to girls at her school. After only two years, Kayleigh led her team to become the Western Massachusetts champions and brought them to the State Championship in Lowell. Kayleigh's belief that sports have the incredible power to teach teens "motivation, discipline, communication, and the importance of working together" was stronger than ever. 

         Now that Kayleigh is back with Project Coach, she has jumped into her position with astounding eagerness. She has been closely following Andy Wood, the current director of the program, in order to gain as much knowledge and advice as she can. She is learning about the program's complex network of support at Smith and in Springfield, its current trajectory of growth and its day-to-day operations. She honors Andy's legacy and greatly admires his commitment to connecting deeply with teens in order to affect change in their lives as well as his great accomplishment of guiding PC as it expanded into three schools in Springfield. She commends his wonderful presence with teens and staff and the "great wealth of knowledge" about sports that he brings to his coaching and mentoring. While Kayleigh acknowledges that "Andy certainly has big shoes to fill both literally and metaphorically," she is ready to fill them in her own unique way. She is excited to strengthen the Project Coach curriculum, nurture the program's relationships with its partners and continue the program's healthy trajectory of growth. She also hopes to greatly increase the awareness about Project Coach at Smith College, in the Springfield community, and beyond. Kayleigh believes that "improving urban education is at the forefront of the post civil rights fight for equality in this country" and her resolve to further this cause is stronger than ever. 

      We are all so excited to welcome Kayleigh to the program and look forward to a great year in Springfield. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Reflection on NJ (Michael)

When I first found out that the red shirts were going to go to New Jersey to work with the Boys Club of New York  I was extremely excited. Firstly, the trip helped the redshirts form closer bonds and secondly, it was a great distraction from the growing responsibility in the classroom. I thought that it would be a piece of cake after having participated in the program Project Coach hosted at Dunbar Community Center in Springfield with the camp councilors of the YMCA. I felt that because I have experience in the inner city, both as a student and an educator, that I had an advantage with working with the students from New York. I was comfortable--- I  thought it would be refreshing to work with the caliber of students I would be working with throughout the school year. Needless to say, I was pretty confident that the experience would simple, enjoyable and educational. What I found was that the experience was everything but simple. It was enjoyable at times but frustrating at other times. I also found out that it was definitely educational.

What I learned is that teaching/coaching is never predictable. One set of experiences cannot determine the outcome of another set of experiences. I also learned not to overestimate my skill set as an instructor or educator. There is always room to grow. The trip in New Jersey forced me to think critically about the decisions I am making to move toward education and the decision to work with younger people. When we arrived in New Jersey we were giving our red shirts, and it hit me that it was finally official. I was a member of Project Coach and things were about to get real. The boys from the Boys Club came into the auditorium soon are we arrived and greeted each of us with handshakes and their names. I was impressed with their level of communication and orderliness. I sat down at a table with four young men and their camp counselor. I noticed right away that half of the young people at the table were either yawning or on their verge of placing their heads on the table. The other half were very talkative, but about things that had nothing to do with the Program or its objectives. They seemed to be more concerned with money, girls and making jokes about the clothes some of the other boys were wearing. Immediately I knew that I would have to do something to captivate the attention and respect of the young men. This would be my challenge from that Saturday until Monday.

The guys seemed like they were very intelligent; they simply just did not want to be present at the training. They felt as if they already knew much of what we were discussing and I was disappointed to see that they were not enthusiastic about the material. I kept asking myself what I could do to change the demeanor of the kids. I tried to get them standing and acting out a few of the skits that were in one activity, but I soon realized that they did not feel comfortable acing "silly" or "uncool" in front of their friends. I tried to demonstrate that it was okay to be silly, but they still had a hard time grasping the concept. When we worked in the larger groups I was able to interact with some of the other students who seemed to have a better time at the training, and I understood that the challenge was not a global issue-- it was one that I had been dealt and needed to overcome.

By the end of Saturday it was clear that 3 of the 4 young men in my group did not want to be there. I had to come to grips with this conclusion and try to make the best of the situation. I found out that all of the guys in my group were good athletes, so when it was time to demonstrate coaching on the court, they showed off their ability. I complimented them on their skills, and tried to get them to invoke more of a coach's attitude. In some instances, I was successful. There was a time when Justin (who seemed to be the ring leader) actually took the initiative to lead the group through a coaching exercise. It was surprising and rewarding to see him step up to the plate. Once I was able to get Marquis to realize that it was okay to be silly, he began to demonstrate some coaching ability as well. Unfortunately, only one of the four were able to return on Monday. Marquis was the last one standing. When the younger kids arrived he realized the importance of paying attention during the training. He relied on me for much of the day, but then I informed him that he would have to do it alone the following day. He stepped up to the plate and learned how to coach.

I know that overall, the experience taught me not to make assumptions. I learned not to allow a few difficult students to ruin it for the rest of the group. I learned that educating is sometimes an extremely frustrating process, but the results can be phenomenal.

A Red Shirt's Reflection on NJ (Emily)

Going to New Jersey, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was not nervous, but I also didn’t feel prepared; I had no idea what I was in for! I remember standing in the auditorium greeting all of the boys as they walked in and chose their tables, and then being told to just sit at a table...those were the boys I would work with. My table had only four boys at it: two pairs of friends and they kept themselves that way the whole weekend. Two of the boys were very easy-going and engaged. They seemed to want to be there, and watching them coach it was clear they weren’t the best, but they put in the effort to improve daily.
Not all of the boys in NJ were that easy though, but this showed me even more why exactly I want to be involved in a program like Project Coach. Those two boys who did well coaching were fantastic, but they weren’t the challenge. They needed guidance and lessons, but they didn’t need motivation to be there. Another boy who sat at my table did, and he really reminded me why I want to be here. On the first day I asked the boys to tell me a little bit about themselves; this boy, Joe, told me that coaches and teachers have called him a natural leader in the past. He could have fooled me. His actions in the morning session did not reflect that whatsoever. When we played ice breakers he would stand or sit to the side without participating, when we watched film he would doodle, when he contributed answers (which was great) he would mumble and stare at the table (which is not great coaching practice).
But for some reason I really wanted to see this kid succeed. I made an effort to talk to him whenever we were walking from court to court; I wanted to figure out if there was any reason at all that he wanted to be there, or, if not, why not. He opened up to me, telling me about difficulties in his life right now, and I responded by showing him a lot of positive reinforcement. Whenever he would lead a good lesson I’d make sure to tell him that he did well, and if he seemed disengaged I’d let him know I believed in him and wanted him to do well. He responded to all of this especially well when he was not around his other friend, but getting the both of them engaged was something I never succeeded in doing.
At the end of the weekend there were discussions over the overall lack of enthusiasm of this group as a whole. Some boys were not invited to come back the next day to coach the kids. Joe was on the fence, but I advocated for him because I believed there was something in him that could lead to a really good coach. Much to my disappointment, he did not come on Monday (Was there something more I could have done??). My other two coaches, with whom I spent the day helping, rose to the occasion. They enthusiastically lead the games with clear direction, getting all the kids involved. The afternoon proved to be extraordinarily challenging; it was very hot out and the little kids just wanted to swim. My two coaches faltered and defaulted to assisting me in coaching the group, but remained as enthusiastic as ever. We debriefed in depth after the afternoon soccer session, talking about strategies to keep the kids involved, ways to avoid conflicts that arise from not enough balls being on the field etc, and while they seemed blown away by the intensity of actually being in charge of a group of young kids, they also were very eager for any hint or help I could offer.
Joe came on Tuesday and I’m told he did well, but he did not return the rest of the week. This upsets me, but does not leave me defeated. I feel like the weekend was a huge eye-opener but in the best way possible. I feel as though I learned way more from the high school boys than they learned from me, but I hope what I did manage to teach them helped! And as tough as the weekend was -- motivating kids that didn’t want to be there, pulling teeth to get responses to discussions -- getting to know those high school boys was the best part of the weekend, which reaffirms my belief that Project Coach this upcoming year is exactly what I want to be doing with my life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

PC at 2nd Annual Springfield Unites event in Forest Park!

This past Spring, Karen Pohlman, Project Coach’s Health and Community Liaison, introduced us to the Springfield Mayor’s Violence Prevention Taskforce.  The Taskforce is a collection of like-minded organizations that serve the Greater Springfield region and over the past few months, Project Coach has met a host of new organizations and public figures thanks to the group’s far reach. Each of the organizations associated with the Taskforce will - over this year and beyond - commit to implementing youth development curriculum in keeping with the Character RISE project. Character RISE emphasizes the importance of working alongside Springfield youth to develop critical life-skills such as effective communication, conflict resolution, and self-determination; all attributes essential to the core of Project Coach.

Last night, the group hosted its second annual “Springfield Unites Picnic” at Forest Park.  A Project Coach contingent made the trip down with our picnic gear in tow.  It was a great night all around, highlighted by great snacks, better chat with local figures and organizations, and some of the finest Zumba you will ever see. (I’m not kidding... check out that video below!)

Project Coach is excited to continue to work with the local organizations of the Springfield community and even more excited at taking our second crack at Zumba at next year’s “Springfield Unites Picnic”.

Thanks to Gianna Allentuck and everyone on the Taskforce that made last night’s event a success!