Title:Collaborate for school success: African-American students from low income/public housing
Gary Reglin. 116.n2 (Winter 1995): pp274(5). (2628 words)
A Bleak Picture
The state of North Carolina report cards for the public schools revealed some alarming statistics for
the urban school districts. The statistics show African-American students - at all grade levels -
lagged behind Anglo-American students on test scores, missed more days, and received more
discipline. African-American students from low income/public housing communities were worse
off than all other students. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) coordinated
partnerships to help the schools educate the high risk students.
In 1993 - through partnerships with community agencies, Parks and Recreation, state and national
tennis agencies, local tennis professionals, the Housing Authority, and various university student
organizations - UNCC's College of Education founded and operated the Ron Charity/Sugaw Creek
Junior Tennis/Academic program. This program got kids hooked in a positive tennis environment
and mentored and tutored them into improving their school success. Because of the flight of many
middle-class African-Americans from inner-city neighborhoods, these children suffered from a lack
of appropriate role models (Ascher, 1992). To better serve the schools, the Ron Charity/Sugaw
Creek Junior Tennis/Academic program realized the need to expose the students to more positive
mentors and more positive environments (Reglin and Harris, 1992). Much of their after-school
unsavory environment were replaced with a different positive environment enriched with
mentors/tennis teachers and tutors.
Community organizations, UNCC student organizations, and preservice teachers helped mentor and
tutor these high risk students. UNCC, like other universities, found mentoring and tutoring
experiences to be beneficial for preservice teachers. Transylvania University, a private college
which traditionally educates many students from the upper-middle classes in Kentucky, established
a mentoring and tutoring program at Johnson Elementary School (Simpson, 1992). Preservice
teachers mentored and tutored underprivileged African-American youths from public housing and
also made home visits. Meaningful interactions were experienced and visions were broadened as a
result of this preservice. Preservice teachers got a feeling for the students' interests, motivations, and
The positive environment of the Ron Charity/Sugaw Creek Junior Tennis/Academic program
reduced the perceptions of being victimized. As an African-American and a product of the public
housing community, I observed many students' conversations about being a victim of racism. Some
were too young to understand and to have experienced racism. Feelings of victimization came from
interactions with peers and adults who "preached" victimization.
The victimization attitude prevented these students from adopting serious academic attitudes and
perserverance in schoolwork. The adolescents brought this attitude into the classroom where the
teacher was typically Anglo-American which consequently caused teacher frustration and/or teacher
patronization. An adverse effect on academic achievement resulted with this behavior. (Reglin,
Having been exposed to our positive mentors/tennis teachers, hearing the success stories, and
experiencing positive attitudes reduced the students' sense of victimization which perhaps
minimized teacher frustration. Our program selected mentors/tennis teachers who cared; the
students could quickly sense adults who did not care. Students were informed that society owed
them nothing; therefore, students had to work hard and get along with others to be successful.
Fostered Intrinsic Motivation
Mentors/tennis teachers fostered intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic rewards - money, buying "soft
drinks," t-shirts, etc., were used sparingly. Once students were hooked on playing tennis, extrinsic
rewards were slowly withdrawn.
Used Game-like Features in Instruction
Five strategies fostered intrinsic motivation. One strategy was the game-like approaches in making
tennis fun and enjoyable. An example was "Tennis Twenty-One," where names were placed in a hat,
then randomly selected to form two teams. Next, teams started the competition from the baseline.
After that, a mentor/tennis teacher put all balls into play from the opposite side of the net. Finally, a
successful serve, groundstroke, and a successful volley earned one point each. It is pointed out that
proper technique and accuracy were encouraged. A team member could score a maximum of three
points on each trial. The first team to win two "Tennis Twenty-One" competitions were exempted
from picking up balls and running one lap around the court.
Organized a Small Mentor/Tennis Teacher to Student Ratio
A second strategy was the small mentor/tennis teacher to student ratio which included four to six
students per court with one to two mentors/tennis teachers per court. The small ratio enhanced
mentoring, allowed individualization of instruction, and allowed mentors/tennis teachers to find out
about the students' backgrounds. These students brought "excess baggage" onto the courts; therefore,
the "whole child" was dealt with to enhance successes. The Ron Charity/Sugaw Creek Junior
Tennis/Academic program sought information concerning students' peers, the home environment,
and the community environment to better help the students. The information was shared with
teachers and parents. Typical questions asked were: Who are all the adults and children in your
house? What adults are home when you come from school? When do you complete your homework
and who helps you with the homework? Are there personal concerns bothering you about which you
can talk? What are your grades in each subject? How many days have you missed from school this
These questions provided a wealth of information. Mentors/tennis teachers discovered one of our
youngsters was failing in school. He lived in a single parent family (female head of the household);
the mother worked a full-time and a part-time job - 3 PM to 11 PM and 12 AM to 5 AM. No other
person was in the house to help with the homework or to supervise him. He invited negative peers
to the house at night or simply left the house to hang out on the streets until about 11 PM. We
informed the mother and located community folks to help with the homework and the supervision.
Attendance and grades improved. Now, he rarely misses a day from school or an evening from our
program largely due to the positive attention given by the mentors/teachers to his situation.
Employed Role Models for the Work-Ethic
A third strategy was to expose the students to successful professional tennis players and university
tennis players who would discuss the work ethic and the good grades required to achieve their
successes. MaliVai Washington, a professional tennis player, shared his goal setting strategies,
acknowledged his love for the sport, and described the work ethic which led to a respectable world
ranking. UNCC college tennis players hosted a tennis festival and discussed the sacrifices and the
time management needed to be good tennis players and good university students.
Maintained a Warm and Supportive Environment
A fourth strategy was to ensure our instructional environment was warm and supportive.
Mentors/tennis teachers did not criticize students and did not tolerate students who teased or
laughed at other students in the program. If this occurred, the guilty students were firmly counseled
in private. Our students were encouraged to asked questions and their opinions were respected. We
consistently asked the students for input on the instructional activities. Students shared what they
liked and disliked; we made the appropriate instructional changes when needed.
Planned Relevant Instruction
A fifth strategy was to make the tennis instruction relevant to the students. A better understanding
was evident by connecting the instruction to students' experiences using manipulatives. A
policeman hat and a stop sign were employed to teach the volley. The volley was similar to a
policeman stopping traffic. A camera and a picture were used to teach the forehand groundstroke.
The forehand groundstroke was similar to a person posing for a picture. A wooden sword and a
scabbard were used to teach the backhand groundstroke. The backhand groundstroke was like
drawing a sword from a scabbard.
The students worked in small groups and received immediate feedback on their errors. Our first
activity, the volley, permitted all students to quickly achieve mastery of the volley because it was
the easiest stroke to master. After students mastered the volley, more difficult strokes were taught.
Identified Symptoms of Intrinsic Motivation
How did the Ron Charity/Sugaw Creek Junior Tennis/Academic program know intrinsic motivation
was fostered? Eighty percent of the students returned for the second year. Some gave up other
sports to devote more time to our program. They pleaded for more court time, organized a challenge
ladder, and boasted of victories. Students organized car pools to practice on days other than the
scheduled program days and invited parents to participate and to observe the program. Our reports
from teachers revealed enhanced attendance, grades, social skills, and self-esteem.
Prioritized Academics over Athletics
Our program fought the self-fulfilling prophecy effects. The self-fulfilling prophecy effects induced
a significant change in these students' behaviors. Self-fulfilling prophecy effects were those in
which an originally erroneous expectation led to behaviors which caused the expectation to become
true (Good and Brophy, 1991). Peers and adults in the community and the news media sent a clear
message which was athletics - particularly basketball and football - were more valued than
academics. Students devoted more time to sharpening their abilities to play ball than sharpening
their abilities to master academics. Evening and weekend hours were spent playing ball; students
aspired to be a Shaquille O'Neal or a Randall Cunningham even though their chances to play in the
NBA or NFL were slim.
Numerous hours were devoted to practicing the moves of the NBA and the NFL elite. Low
expectations for academics and high expectations for athletics were ingrained through the self-
fulfilling prophecy effects. Yet, when high academic standards and high academic achievement are
expected, these students' will rise to the challenge (Reglin, 1993).
The Ron Charity/Sugaw Creek Junior Tennis/Academic program's mentors/tennis teachers
emphasized academics over athletics; good grades were critical in playing university and
professional sports. We emphasized there were few NBA players but myriad lawyers, doctors,
teachers, and nurses.
Our personal successes were shared. One mentor/tennis teacher who was a corporate manager
shared his outstanding background in high school and university basketball. The corporate manager
was not good enough to play for the NBA. Still, he and his family had many of the "freer things" in
life because of an early, a consistent, and a high value on quality education. Students and parents
signed a contract prioritizing academics over athletics.
Contract with Students and Parents!!!
Our program emphasizes academics first and sports second. Mentors/tennis teachers are more
concerned with molding good students than professional sport players. To remain in this program,
students must show good academic performance and court behavior. Signatures indicate compliance
with the following:
1. The number one priority will be working hard for good grades; also, students will work hard in
the classroom and on the tennis courts.
2. Attendance will be excellent.
3. Behavior will be excellent.
Signature of Student
Signature of Parent/Guardian
Signature of Program Director
An Unsavory Environment of Low Expectations
Our program targeted an unsavory environment - the outdoor basketball courts at the nearby park -
which occupied much of these students after-school time and taught low academic expectations and
poor social skills. When I arrived in the county in 1989, I observed the parks visited by African-
American youngsters from low income/public housing backgrounds, particularly the environment
near the outdoor basketball courts. What I saw was similar to other urban counties; students devoted
precious hours playing basketball and/or just "hanging around" the courts conversing with peers and
Observations revealed that much of the conversation, behavior, and language on the outdoor
basketball courts were not positive. Profanity was spoken often, and rap music, degrading women
and the police, played loudly from "boom boxes." Adults and teenagers sipped beer. NBA
basketball players of questionable character were praised; fighting and arguing were common.
Some adults were high school dropouts, and others were drug dealers.
Teachers worked hard in the school to mold good behavior; the outdoor courts worked against the
teachers' efforts. Our program complemented these efforts.
Targeted a Positive Environment near an Unsavory Environment
The park which housed our program was similar to the other parks our target population visited.
The outside basketball courts were near the tennis courts, sometimes as near as 40 yards. The
environment on the tennis courts and within 20 yards of these courts was visited by few youngsters
but many middle class adults who were influential in the community. Most of these adults were
college graduates. Some days, we saw as many as 24 adults on the six courts playing tennis.
Another 10 adults might be near the tennis courts discussing politics or career aspirations.
Students walked and rode bicycles past the positive environment to get to the unsavory environment.
This bothered me because the adults on or near the tennis courts were lawyers, medical doctors,
teachers, ministers, etc. I believed the positive tennis environment could instill positive student
Change agents know that tradition is a valuable and comforting source of stability. Sometimes,
tradition no longer serves. When the demands made on society change, the way society prepares for
them must change (Reglin, 1990). There was a need for an innovation program to restructure
traditional community tennis to be more supportive of school success.
Acquiring the proper credentials was part of the restructuring process. Organizers of similar
programs need academic and athletic credentials to coordinate partnerships. Since the academic
credentials were in place, vital tennis credentials were pursed with a long-range plan. The
credentials gave me and the volunteers confidence and facilitated community support. Community
supporters donated tennis racquets, provided clinics, publicized the program, mentored, and tutored.
Researching successful parks' tennis programs revealed vital credentials for the director: a teaching
license from a tennis certifying agency and a respectable state ranking from the North Carolina
Tennis Association (NCTA). Tennis certifying agencies were the United States Professional Tennis
Registry (USPTR) and the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA)
The plan was to acquire the credentials in two years while training potential volunteers. We
discovered the ACE tennis teacher workshops. Ace was funded with a grant from the American
Tennis Industry and operated by the USPTR. ACE trained adults to teach the fundamentals of tennis
to youngsters traditionally excluded from tennis.
Several 10 hour ACE workshops were coordinated at our park. There was no cost to participate but
a 10 hour community service component to get the USPTR ACE workshop completion certificate.
We required all ACE participants to sign a contract to participate in mentor training and to be a
mentor/tennis teacher in our forthcoming program. Besides ACE, I interned with a local tennis
professional and reviewed tennis books and magazines for teaching strategies. In 1991, I passed the
USPTR certifying test and was awarded a USPTR tennis instructor license.
We organized tennis drills and local competitive matches to prepare for the NCTA sanctioned
tournaments. Participation in five of these tournaments resulted in my NCTA ranking of number ten.
Many ACE participants completed their community service obligation in our program as
mentors/tennis teachers. The initial investment to acquire the credentials and to train mentors/tennis
teachers paid for itself in the community support for our nontraditional program and the students'
successes in the public schools.
Reglin, Gary. "Collaborate for school success: African-American students from low income/public
housing backgrounds." Education 116.2 (1995): 274+. Student Edition. Web. 7 Feb. 2011.