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Title:Collaborate for school success: African-American students from low income/public housing backgrounds. Education 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. Coordinated Partnerships 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 underground competencies. Reduced Victimization 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, 1995). 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 week? Why? 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 adults. 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 behaviors. Fought Tradition 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. Source Citation 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.