Bringing Out the Best: Coaching 4 Change

Want to help kids graduate? Let them lead.

With the advent of Playworks’ 20th Anniversary and our aim of reaching 3.5 million kids in 7,000 schools by 2020, I've launched a blog that I am calling "Bringing out the Best." I welcome your ideas and suggestions for stories! 

It seems unlikely, but Coaching 4 Change had its start in the subprime mortgage crisis. Not unlike the characters in The Big Short, as a young man, Marquis Taylor managed a portfolio of low-income housing tax credit investments. His work took him to parts of our country where he came face to face with devastating poverty.

“I was in the Mississippi Delta,” Marquis remembers, “and I asked a property manager about jobs in the area.  He told me there were ‘catfsh farms, the local grocery and Subway. I’ll never forget, he said, ‘if you get out, you’re not coming back.’ ”

In response to what he saw and based on his own experiences, Marquis was inspired to start Coaching 4 Change. As a kid, Marquis struggled with reading, behavior and completing tasks, but he loved to play. From freeze tag to basketball, play taught him perseverance and ultimately won him a scholarship to attend Stonehill College. 

After 2008, Marquis went back to grad school, thinking he would become a teacher to help kids expand their opportunities in life. As he focused on pedagogy, he kept wishing he could make the content more engaging, more fun.

So while he was still finishing his master’s degree, he decided to do just that. Marquis founded Coaching 4 Change, which helps students in the academic middle succeed through opportunities to lead and participate in sports leagues and project-based learning activities.

In Massachusetts, students are grouped in one of four categories: advanced, proficient, needs improvement, and urgent warning. Many programs are aimed at the “warning” and “advanced” categories, but C4C focuses on “needs improvement,” with a goal of helping kids move to “proficient.”

The leadership model at the core of C4C is cross-aged, tiered mentoring—college students mentor high school students, and together they run afterschool programs for middle and elementary school students.

From Marquis’ perspective, the emphasis on creating a playful and supportive environment in C4C is at the heart of what brings the participants together and helps students develop leadership and academic skills. From kids who are shy and introverted to the loud and boisterous, play is the unifying element. C4C works hard to create an atmosphere where it’s not necessarily about being especially good at the sport—it’s about having joy, self-improvement, building relationships and breaking down barriers.

Ultimately, Marquis maintains that education and relationships are inextricably intertwined.  “Whether we like to think it or not,” he says, “Wherever you are—on the street, in the classroom—you’re getting an education. It might be wrong, but it’s still an education.”

Recently, Marquis and C4C were named a CNN Hero, and they have great plans to expand their model and continue to celebrate the power of play to bring out the best in every kid!

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