“TOES ON THE LINE!” “TOES ON THE LINE!” “TOES ON THE LINE!”
Each Wednesday afternoon, several dozen 1st and 2nd graders at Thomson Elementary in DC hear us shout those words. It’s Books and Basketball time, and our SEGL students are in charge–and learning.
Books and Basketball happens on Wednesday afternoons, after our Ethics and Leadership day, at Thomson, a Title I public school just north of Metro Center. Our students trek 20 minutes down Massachusetts Avenue and sign in at the front door of an old DC schoolhouse (so old that the entrances on each side of the building are still marked separately for “Boys” and “Girls”).
For the first 30 minutes, we coach basketball! These sessions are often the only organized sports activities the children experience each week. They also learn discipline (“toes on the line!”), teamwork (“support your teammates even if they miss!”), fine motor skills (“elbow over knee under ball!”), and other lessons. (Special thanks to Modell’s Sporting Goods for supplying the 12 tiny hands-sized basketballs that we use.) So far this semester we have worked on shooting, dribbling, passing, and defense.
Then each student pairs with one or more first or second-grader(s) to work on reading skills. Most of the students are ELL (English Language Learners); about 50 percent are Latino, 25 percent Chinese, and 25 percent African American. Nearly all receive free or reduced-price meals at the school. The reading session allows the students to do something they rarely do at home: work on English reading skills.
The results of these opportunities are important for the Thomson students, who improve their reading considerably over the 15 weeks of the semester, but they help our students even more: a first-hand understanding of the public school system, poverty, and associated challenges; a close-up view of young immigrants; experience managing the sturm und drang of tiny emotions, and the ability to push aside the day’s woes to prioritize the needs of others.
At the beginning of the semester, our students discuss the pros and cons of this opportunity: is it worth putting off more rigorous exercise, social time, and studying for this kind of learning? Will the work be meaningful, impactful, and fun? Will they be up to the task?
The answer was, and is, yes.
Below you can find pictures from some of our sessions!