It’s Wednesday at 4:30pm and dozens of little toes are gripping the mid-court line in Thomson Public Elementary School’s third floor gym. Each group of ten toes belongs to a first or second grader greeting us with eager, unvarnished energy. They laugh, cry, ask questions, work through challenges, and show off new discoveries. It’s time for another “Books and Basketball” session: a meaningful change of pace and an important opportunity to learn from and serve our neighbors.
Thomson is a Title I DC public school; nearly all of its students receive free or reduced-price lunch. About 75% are Latino and Chinese English language learners from immigrant families.
Each session we start with a call-and-response (“What comes after elementary school?” “Middle school!” “What comes after middle school?” “High school!” “What comes after high school?” “College!”) that gets them thinking about their future, along with some warm-up running and jumping. Then, for half an hour, we “coach” basketball in an upbeat, gently-disciplined environment. The students learn teamwork, camaraderie, and fine motor skills. They learn to yell “cookie jar!” after our students shout “follow through” and to wait to run until a “big person” says “go!” (not “go-rilla!”).
And then we read with the students for another half hour. The Thomson students get one-on-one or small group attention that is rare in their day-to-day lives. Though often the students focus on reading, we also help them think through the dilemmas of their day-to-day lives: a frustration from home, a disagreement with a peer, a worry about the future.
It’s a modest program with a big impact on our SEGL students. It is also easy to see each Thomson student’s reading and basketball progress over the course of the semester. And it is easy to see SEGL students growing in confidence as they try different strategies to mentor and inspire such terrific, promising kids.