From the Playground to USC | Playworks

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From the Playground to USC

Coach finds purpose with Playworks
Tue, 08/01/2017

After graduating from college, McKenna Griffith was searching for an opportunity where she could make an impact on students’ lives. She was interested in youth development and wanted to hone her skills by earning a master’s in social work, but McKenna knew that she needed more experience to successfully transition into a graduate program.

When McKenna discovered the Playworks AmeriCorps coach position, she thought it would be the perfect opportunity to gain experience working with kids and to strengthen her graduate school application. By delivering safe, healthy play to elementary schools, Mckenna would help students resolve conflicts, solve problems, and become more engaged learners—experiences that she could utilize in her social work career and beyond.

In fall 2015, McKenna started her Playworks AmeriCorps service year at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA.

Although Watts was different from her own community, as a Playworks coach, McKenna found ways to connect with students and to work together while celebrating differences. McKenna found strength in Playworks’ mission and knew that she was making a difference each time she stepped onto the playground.

“I committed to service knowing that the days would be long and the work would be tough, but through it all I had a purpose to create change,” said McKenna. “I knew that each day would be more rewarding than the last.”

Over the course of two years, McKenna found ways to connect her experiences as a coach to her social work career aspirations. Whether collaborating with school staff to play games that build students’ social and emotional skills or supporting kids to make the best choices on the playground, Coach McKenna was learning how to work within the school community and advocate for students.

All of McKenna’s hard work paid off. In the spring of 2017, McKenna was accepted into the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Mckenna also earned a spot in the prestigious Pupil Personnel Services Credential program, through which she will receive her school social worker credential in a year.

Before Playworks, McKenna never considered working in elementary schools. After serving as a Playworks AmeriCorps coach, McKenna says she learned what a big impact she could make in a student’s life during this critical period of their development.  

“This is the time that students are most vulnerable to positive and negative influences and need the most support,” says McKenna. “I want to be the person that shows them that they have the resources to succeed all around them if they persevere.”

With Playworks, McKenna found her passion and purpose.

“Playworks has shown me that through the power of play anything is possible.”


Curious how you can launch your career while making an impact on students’ lives? Learn about Playworks AmeriCorps coach opportunities

We’re still hiring paid full- and part-time AmeriCorps members for the 2017-18 school year.