You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
Here are of our favorite some stories from the playground this year – anecdotes written by a few of our 1st-year Program Coordinators (also AmeriCorps members) that keep us thankful for the playground and opportunities for safe, healthy & inclusive play.
Written by Anthony D’Tiole (serving West Contra Costa County partner schools)
While working at Wilson Elementary, two sisters from the third grade, Lisa & Emily came to me interested in the Jr. Coach Program. I knew both girls were very shy, but also two of the nicest kids on the playground to their friends. So I gave them the challenge to teach a group of students from Kindergarten a game of tag, in order to give them an idea of how the program works. When put to the task, the two recruited 30 students for a game of Cookie Jar Scramble to such success that I signed them up as Jr. Coaches. Not long after another during recess, Lisa immediately came to me, gushing about her experiences so far: Wearing the Jr. Coach shirt had helped her to make new friends and made her want to be more responsible all the time. Both sisters have taken to the program so much that they will even offer to help the program on their “off-duty” recess days. I’ve since met their parents who are also grateful that they program has broken Lisa & Emily from their shells, allowing them to branch out and really take part in the school community.
This [year] is my first-time ever coaching a girl’s basketball team, and I have to say that it is so far my favorite part of the job! My girl’s team fell in love with the sport after their first game. Seeing their smiles and hugs once they made their first shot made me feel awesome inside! Even better, I’m able to see them use the skills I have taught them to achieve their goals every week. A handful of my players are in the same 5th-grade class; and shortly after that first game, their teacher shared with me the papers from 2 students on the team, saying I needed to read them. For their creative writing test they had chosen to write about their experiences on the team; with one of my players writing, “I love to play basketball with my friends…because when we play, everyone’s a winner!” The other player wrote, “In my dreams, I stole the ball from the other team and then made a shot on the other side of the court. The crowd went WILD!” It’s truly amazing to witness this huge swell of pride amongst all the girls in the school community because of the team, and to know that we at Playworks created this hype is even better.
I'm a “flex” Program Coordinator, which means I get to travel to different schools in the East Bay and support multiple school programs. It can be tough to remember so many students' names, but the kids definitely remember mine, even if I've only visited their school for a short time! One day I found myself attending an event for the Boy’s & Girl’s Club where each kid was paired with an adult “buddy”. The teams-of-two scored points by competing in a variety of tasks: ping-pong toss relay, free throw contests, etc. As it turns out, my “buddy” was a fifth-grader named David, who attended the Playworks partner school nearby. And sure enough, he and his friends instantly remembered me from my visit and seemed really excited to see me. I was just impressed that they recognized me in a different context, even without my Playworks shirt! At the end of the evening, David and I did really well in the various tasks and games – we even placed for his age group! We went up in front of the whole group to collect our trophies and have our pictures taken. David played it cool, but I could tell he felt proud of our accomplishment. Afterwards, David introduced me to his mom and sister. He told his friends he was lucky to have been paired with “coach” as a partner. I love being part of an organization that has such a powerful impact on kids. Playworks coaches truly are positive role models for the kids in these schools, and they can make a lasting difference in kids' lives.
And of course: I reminded all the kids that everyone is a winner as long as they play hard, respect the game, and HAVE FUN!
My story has to do with one of my Jr. Coaches. Before I met Kyle, I would see him every morning acting really gloomy and kind of depressed. I could tell he was good at sports when I saw him play, but I could also sense that something was wrong – he would often times give up and not play as hard as he could. From time to time he would bother me about the Jr. Coach program, but his lack of effort made me unsure about how ready he was for the responsibility. However, when I went over Kyle’s application with his teacher, I found out that his mother had been murdered two weeks before by someone he knew. She was the one who had recommended the Jr. Coach Program to him, and really pushed hard for him to be included in the program. Although I was reluctant to accept him, ever since he got his purple shirt, he’s been a totally different kid. He’s more social, less depressed and plays to his limit during recess now. With an interest in basketball, I have an eye on recruiting him for the basketball team too. It is incredible what our Jr. Coach Program can do for a child in need.