Every Wednesday afternoon the third floor gym at Thomson Public Elementary School transforms. For just over an hour, dozens of 1st and 2nd graders look up at–and to–our SEGL students. It’s another week of our “Books and Basketball” program. The experience is a meaningful change of pace and an opportunity to learn from our neighbors.
Thomson is a Title I DC public school; 99% of its students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Nearly 2/3rds of its students are Latino/a, 20% are Chinese, and the remainder are African American. Most of the Latino and Chinese students are English language learners and come from immigrant families.
For the first half hour, we coach basketball in a positive, gently-disciplined environment. Led by our students, the Thomson youngsters 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!”) to put their toes on the line.
For the second half hour, we read with the students one-on-one or in small groups. This level of attention is exceedingly rare in their day-to-day lives. Along the way, our SEGL students learn tutoring skills: how do you keep a student engaged when she isn’t interested in reading? What do you say if one of your students is more advanced than the other? When do you help a student pronounce a word, and when do you let her figure it out?
Books and Basketball, which we began in the spring of 2012, is a modest program with an outsized impact on both Thomson and SEGL students. It is easy to see each student’s reading and basketball progress over the course of the semester. And it is easy to see our SEGL students growing in confidence as they try different strategies to mentor and inspire such wonderful, hopeful, and promising kids.