After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017 with a dual degree in psychology and sociology, Myla Ona knew she wanted to work with kids in a non-traditional office setting, but not much else. She needed experience. Never did she think her first job out of college would involve running recess, or that playing the games and activities that she leads with kids would help her grow as a leader.
‘Coach Ona’ now works full-time with a diverse K-5 student population at Mendell Elementary School in Roxbury. During school, she runs five 20-minute recesses a day for 100 kids, one grade at a time, leading games such as basketball and foursquare to get kids moving and build skills needed for success in the classroom and beyond. After school, she works with a group of 4th and 5th grade student leaders through Playworks’ Junior Coach Program and coaches teams for Playworks’ youth sports leagues.
Going above and beyond, Ona produces a bi-monthly newsletter for her students, facilitates Playworks programming for the YMCA of Greater Boston’s after-school program, served as a judge for the student science fair and, most recently, hosted the school’s first Mendell Prepares for Earth Day celebration.
“It is my job to serve as a constant adult role model for my students and provide them with the resources and opportunities needed to engage in safe and healthy play every day,” says Ona. “When given these opportunities, it’s amazing to see in just one school year the growth in my students in taking responsibility for themselves, using ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to resolve conflicts, and generally encouraging one another both on and off the playground by giving high fives throughout the school day.”
As a Playworks coach, Ona receives weekly trainings to increase her repertoire of games, navigate challenges on the playground, and share best practices to engage students and school staff of all backgrounds. She participates in workshops to build her own leadership and empathy and gets hands-on teaching experience working with kids in her school community.
Currently, Playworks New England is seeking more Playworks AmeriCorps Coaches, like Ona, to serve at elementary schools across Massachusetts. At Playworks New England, full-time AmeriCorps members commit to serving at least 1,700 hours, which is one full school year, starting in August. The position requires 40+ hours of work per week with some nights and weekends dedicated to sport leagues and community engagement events.
“After graduating from college, I knew I needed hands-on experiences that would help me grow and guide me to the next step in my career,” says Ona. “Working as a Playworks coach has inspired me to pursue to explore what it means to be a physical education teacher or special education therapist. Until then, I will be back coaching on the playground next year, helping to ensure my students continue to learn, grow, and thrive.”
To join the play movement and become a Playworks AmeriCorps member through the Massachusetts Service Alliance, visit: https://www.playworks.org/about/careers/americorps/. For more information about Playworks New England, see the Fact Sheet below.