Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mentor Story by Cristina Masurat

Sometimes mentoring is hard and it feels like it is not working. I felt like this when two of my three high school mentees did not show up for one of our weekly commitments. It hurt. I wondered if I had done something wrong, if they had lost interest in the program, and even if this was something worth investing my time in. But then I realized that the girl who did show up was courageously taking on the challenge of running our afternoon tutoring session by herself. She had the 4th graders sitting at the table, getting out their homework and writing utensils. She settled the students down with our clapping routine and they listened to her clear instructions.  This moment, when she had no one else to rely on, gave her the chance to shine. I looked around and saw math worksheets and spelling words in front of nearly all the students. The one student who was taking a bit longer to get ready had my mentee right by his side, guiding him towards getting out his school work and helping him remember what had been assigned in class. I beamed with pride watching her excel rather than being flustered or angered by the absence of her tutoring team. Despite her amazing performance, however, I still couldn't shake off the feeling of the other two not showing up. 

Before the students could finish one side of their worksheets, one of the no-show mentees ran into the room. He was panting and a bit flustered. He looked at me and apologized for being late. His living situation had changed abruptly and he had needed to go a few extra bus stops to get his uniform. Before I could even excuse his tardiness, he was beside a student helping explain a grammar question. No more than three minutes later, the last mentee came through the doors. I took one look at him and knew something was not right. He seemed shocked, like he was in a daze. He apologized for being tardy, but mid sentence his voice cracked. We took a walk outside and it became apparent that he was clearly troubled by something that had happened. During a long walk and conversation, he revealed some information about his family life and talked about how it was affecting him. Afterwards, he said it felt so good to finally get it off his chest. I asked him if he wanted to skip our commitment for the evening and take the time for himself, but he refused, saying that he wanted to be around Project Coach. He remained quiet through the rest of tutoring, but I could see in his eyes that being with his team of coaches and with the 4th graders was lifting his spirits. After tutoring, we started our soccer practice with the 4th graders. All three high school coaches were there and doing a great job. The mentee who showed up last was still lower spirits than normal when we started, but by the end of practice, he was goofing around with the children, playing games, and even led our team through the final huddle. 

I left Project Coach that day understanding a little bit better how much this team, this family means to our mentees. It is an opportunity to step up to the challenge, to learn how to quickly adapt to changing and unexpected situations. It is also a place that will ground you when the rest of your life is in flux and when you maybe do not know where you will be sleeping one night. It is also a place where you can go and be with people who support and care for you, where you can get things off your chest and not be judged, where the relationships you built will sustain you through dark hours. On my home that evening, I also realized that even when it feels hopeless and like nothing is working, it oftentimes actually is. 

Springfield Armor Game

Last Friday, the Project Coach community cheered on top basketball talent and grew as a family. I find every event we share strengthens individual and collective bonds. Friday, I had the pleasure of driving to Springfield with red shirt Kelly and his girlfriend. I find it empowering to share, what often seems to be the bubble of Project Coach, with the ouside community; I could tell Kelly's girlfriend was touched by the students we work with and the friendships we have formed. Upon arriving in Springifeld our blue shirt, Josh, was eagerly awaiting our late arrival. Josh was unfazed by our tardiness but rather was  eager to watch the game and spend time with his friends and mentors.

When we arrived at the game we met up with our director, Kayleigh, and a whole contingent of PC members, including red shirt Michael. It was Mass Mentor night--so, admission was free and we all recieved a ten dollar voucher for food. A couple blue shirts made the most of this voucher and purchased the grande nacho dish--this spurred many laughs as we watched our blue shirts attempt to corageoulsly finish their mammoth sized dishes.

Project Coach was well represented all night--the event brought our organization much deserved admiration from roughly 3,500 spectators. Initially  Josh served as our mascot as he greeted the Armor players during the game introductions. At halftime I had the pleasure of walking on the court with my fellow PC colleagues. Along with purple shirt, Loeb, blue shirt, Josh, and fellow Red Shirt, Kelly, I was able to represent Project Coach in the spotlight at the Mass Mutual Center. As we walked out to half court, Loeb and I joked about different ways we could impress the crowd upon our introduction. "Perhaps we could do push ups", I joked. Loeb laughed stating, "Yeah--I think that would be pretty good. You know, just to show everyone the toughness that is Project Coach". Our laughs continued through our introductions. So much so, in fact, I was oblivious to my name being called. My image on the jumbo-tron showed me joking with Loeb. In retrospect, I cannot think of a more fitting way to show off Project Coach--a mentor and a mentee galvanizing our friendship through positive laughter. It is these moments that brings our family together and reassures one another--and in this case a much larger audience--that we, at project coach, continue to have each other's back.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Project Coach Crew

           On Tuesday, January 8th a number of our coaches, the graduate students, and Kayleigh, our program director, received our first official crew training at the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club (PVRC, located in the North End of Springfield.  The PVRC is a rowing facility operating under the mission to promote river-based sporting activities, to develop river access, and encourage recreation in the Greater Springfield metropolitan area.  Project Coach is thrilled to have developed a partnership with the PVRC in order to aid them in their mission to expose Springfield residents to the wonderful, yet widely untapped resource that is the Connecticut River by exposing our own coaches and elementary-age program participants. Project Coach is always looking for ways to expand, in order to offer our participants as many unique and quality experiences as possible.  An opportunity to introduce not only a new sport, but also a wonderful new public facility to our kids was too good to pass up.

Learning some of the rowing fundamentals.

For the entire month of January a group of our coaches will be going to training sessions twice a week in order to learn about the sport of rowing and how to teach it to their elementary students.  Erin Sprong, PVRC executive director and “jack of all trades”, is leading the sessions with the Project Coach crew (no pun intended) and has some help thanks to Barbara Blank, a smith undergrad from the crew team whom also tutors with PC and was kind enough to come along.  The first session went over well with the coaches eager to learn about the new sport being added to the PC repertoire.  In the first tuesday we learned basic rowing terms, the fundamental rowing positions, the proper order of movements, and how to properly use the ergs (rowing machines).  It was a lot to take in, but by the second session the following thursday, the coaches had the basics down pretty well.  The group enjoyed completing an activity geared towards communication (a cornerstone in the PC program curriculum) in which one person had to lead their blindfolded partner through an obstacle course by nothing but verbal communication.  The activity not only stressed the importance of being an effective communicator in order to teach and lead, but also provided a few laughs for the group watching the blindfolded volunteer complete some silly tasks.  Overall the first few training sessions have gone well and the coaches will look to improve their knowledge of the sport and creative ways to teach it over the remaining sessions.  By the end of the month we expect that they will be ready to act as excellent ambassadors to the sport, to the PVRC, and the Connecticut River for their elementary students who look up to them so much.  So do not be surprised if you see a boat full of PCers out on the water in late spring once things have started to warm up!

Wasting no time getting in a bit of a workout on the first day of the January trainings!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Fall 2012 Banquet

Coach Carawell Speaks to Project Coach Staff at Banquet 

       On Tuesday, December 18th, many of the staff members of Project Coach including our teenage coaches, Springfield Public School teachers, co-founders, and youth community leaders gathered in the Brightwood Health Center Community Room to celebrate a successful first half of the year. Together, we enjoyed some good food, heard Loeb Rosario and Joseph Wray share some of the highlights of the semester, listened to Coach Carawell talk about how he became a coach and what he has learned coaching Duke and the Armor, and watched a video made by one of our graduate students with clips and pictures from our first semester. It was an excellent way to cap off a semester filled with new adventures, recognize the hard work of our teenage coaches, and thank all of our staff members for their dedication all semester. 
       To begin the night, Loeb and Joseph shared many of the great things Project Coach experienced from August to December. In just that short frame of time our coaches went on tours of 5 colleges, attended multiple college application workshops, ran 8 weeks of soccer games and tournament play, were trained by Smith College Volleyball team, ran 8 weeks of Volleyball for the first time in Project Coach history, and worked hard with their Smith College personal academic coaches to raise their GPAs. Many of our coaches also received G and F level trainings from MA youth Soccer and our veteran coaches took a trip to NYC to see Project Coach in action at the Boys Clubs of NY. With more elementary students than ever before, more coaches, and great literacy lessons on sports-themed books, this semester truly was a success. Loeb and Joseph also gave out three awards for perfect attendance to all Project Coach events in the first semester. These went to Coach Priscilla Morales, Coach Xavier Rosario, and Coach Brian Arroyo. The group cheered their accomplishments before welcoming our guest speaker for the night - Coach Carrawell from the Springfield Armor. 
        Coach Carrawell, who began coaching as an assistant coach for Duke and is currently the assistant coach of the Springfield Armor, shared many great lessons with the group. Having played college basketball all four years at Duke, been drafted into the NBA and then retiring and becoming a coach, Carrawell had many great experiences to share. Perhaps the most profound and relevant for our staff, was his story of moving from player to coach. He spoke openly about how difficult it was to let go of being an NBA player and become a coach. He shared something he learned from the great Coach K while working at Duke. He said that they were always taught to let go of whatever just happened in the game and focus on "the next play". By doing this, they didn't let any disappointments from the last play interfere with whatever came up next in the game. He explained how he tried to apply this to his life and took the opportunity to coach at Duke while getting his graduate degree. He also spoke about how important his education was in order to allow him to transition into coaching. After his speak, our teenage coaches asked a lot of excellent questions about his experiences coaching and in life. All of the staff members really enjoyed his speech and were great-full he came. 
          After enjoying the video of our first semester and having some desserts, we all went out separate ways thinking about how great this first semester and first experience with volleyball was. The leadership team, graduate students, and the purple shirts (veteran leaders in PC) have already met to discuss many ways we can continue to improve, grow and impact the lives of youth in Springfield next semester. In a little over a week, we will kick off our rowing training in preparation for our pilot program with the Pioneer Valley Rowing Club. 

First PC Volleyball - Kelly Coder (Smith Graduate Fellow)

Volleyball in Action!

       After our first 7 weeks of volleyball, Project Coach was pleased with the initial experience and full of new ideas for making it more active and even more fun. This was the first time the program had ever used the sport of volleyball as part of its curriculum. Going into this unit we knew it would be a challenge.  Our coaching staff would have to learn a game few had ever even played themselves and they would then have to teach this game to their groups of third to fifth graders.  On top of this, because volleyball can be a less active than our other sports, the coaches were taught a series of fitness activities that would be implemented along with the volleyball games. A lot to take on for any group of young aspiring coaches.
      While our coaches and youth leaders had suggested we add volleyball to increase our sports and expose kids to something new, we felt a bit overwhelmed at first by the daunting task. In the past we have kept it simple with our two sport seasons of soccer and basketball. We also usually don't run programming this late after thanksgiving. However, following our training workshop prior to the start of the unit we saw our coaches demonstrate an incredible amount of enthusiasm and excitement for both the volleyball and fitness pieces. We knew they'd be just fine.
      As the volleyball section unfolded our team was faced with more and more challenges each week. But rather than making excuses we thought of ways we could improve ourselves and these new methods of programming on multiple levels. Taking advice from the elementary students, our blue, purple and red shirts, as well as new ideas from our experienced founders and partners we were able keep the kids engaged and enthusiastic as they learned this brand new sport. The students progressed each week as we added new games and fitness units that our coaches implemented wonderfully.
       One of the biggest challenges we had to face with this new unit was the higher inactivity level. With soccer and basketball it is much easier to keep the kids active and constantly moving. With volleyball it's a lot more difficult, we had to modify games and add fitness whenever possible. Using devices called accelerometers we were able to calculate just how many calories were being burned and showed us how active the kids were throughout the volleyball/fitness unit. The data showed short periods of moderate and vigorous activity along with some lower levels of activity. We are going to take these results and use them to improve the quality of our program going forward. Project Coach will continue to use data from accelerometers and similar devices to help us make the proper adjustments necessary to create the high levels of fun and activity we aim to achieve while developing the lives of young adults and children.
        Overall this initial run of our volleyball and fitness unit was a success. We have set the foundation for our curriculum and we have expanded the program to new lengths. We are extremely proud of our coaches and the rest of our PC family who showed incredible enthusiasm and patience as we implemented this new curriculum. We can't wait to see where the program can go from here and just how effective we can make our ever improving curriculum which now consists of 4 sports and a developing fitness program.