Sunday, July 28, 2013

Engaging our Graduate Students and Veteran Coaches in Holyoke's "Summer of Power" Program

Empowering Youth Through Summer Programming
Andy Wood (Program Director of PC at Holyoke) 

Almost one year after taking the decision to return to the high school classroom, and to pick up the coach's clipboard once again, I'm delighted to be serving Project Coach once again during it's inaugural partnership with the Holyoke Public School's "Summer of Power" program for English Language Learners (see post below for details). 

Almost immediately, it felt like just like old times, as the PC staff begin the process of training its incoming graduate student (redshirt) cohort in the many facets of the organization. Equally familiarly, these highly recruited future educators warmed to the task, and wasted no time immersing themselves in the philosophy and curriculum of Project Coach, willing to throw themselves into whatever was asked of them. Nevertheless, over the last three of weeks, the biggest determinant factor in the success of the program - by far and away - has been the purple shirts, who have risen through the ranks of high school-aged coaching at PC and are now serving as homegrown leaders to current teens looking to follow in their footsteps.

During my time leading the organization, I often felt like we needed to really "stage", to some extent, giving youth coaches responsibility as leaders. In many ways it was absolutely necessary, of course, but perhaps too often in the past we would offer up opportunities already really knowing what we wanted to happen, and shaping things ourselves, almost giving them the feeling and impression that they - the purple shirts - were forging ahead, but essentially pulling the strings behind the scenes.

How that has changed! It's no understatement or use of excessive hyperbole to say that the power dynamic has shifted tremendously. Struggling to pull an activity together, I turned it over to the purple shirts to pretty much save me from sinking, and they blew my effort away with a quick, off-the-cuff rescue. Likewise, in the gym planning session, they are politely overruling my ideas with far better thought out, more engaging approaches. Their poise and thoughtfulness in working with entirely novice coaches - most with limited English proficiency - has been a lesson to senior staff, as has their ability to rethink and better deploy elements of our curriculum to make it more effective and better suited to a new audience. In short, they have become our best resource in thinking about how we continue to improve and refine the program.

It's testament to the work that everyone associated with the organization - from inception to present-day - has done with them, and from being a skeptic about how much they could genuinely inherit power within the program, I'm totally sold by their mastery of it. It has been truly inspirational and incredibly rewarding to witness; they have become colleagues rather than simply participants.

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