Antwon, a kindergartner, had been an active listener and participant in every class game time I had held up until about two weeks ago. His behavior changed dramatically as he grew aggressive and difficult to engage in games. While the other students attempted to listen and follow instructions, Antwon was taking every opportunity to tell me "No!" when I tried to redirect him. After a while, I allowed Antwon to roam the playing space freely because it seemed more interesting to him at the time. I asked his teacher, Ms. Tasha, upon walking the class back to their room, if she had noticed anything different about Antwon's behavior. She couldn't help but see a difference at that point because Antwon refused to come back into the classroom and hung onto the coat hangers saying, "No." After further discussion, Ms. Tasha informed me that some things at home had changed for Antwon and he hadn't been himself since. I assumed he needed to adjust, so I began to take a different approach with him… particularly, at recess.
On the playground, Antwon was responding to other students as he had been in CGT. He was very physical and took equipment from students without asking. One day this week, I walked up to Antwon in the midst of these behaviors and redirected him to a game of Monkey in the Middle with the student he took a ball from. I figured Antwon was trying to work through the changes he experienced and that this game would, perhaps, allow him to do similar things that he was already doing, but in a healthier manner. He was slow-to-warm up to the idea of being in the middle, but eventually, he chased the ball down after a missed catch from the other student only to return to the middle. By the end of recess, his play reminded me of the student he was before the changes.
I made an effort to get Antwon involved in something the next couple of recesses and the activity that seemed most influential was jumping rope. Coincidentally, before Antwon's turn, a first grade student standing off to the side yelled, "He's a boy! Boys don't jump!" I responded right away, "Boys can jump just like girls can jump." The student shrugged. Antwon stepped into the middle of the rope and after my Junior Coach and I recited, "Ready… Set… Go," the students behind me in line were counting the number of times Antwon cleared the rope. "6, 7, 8, 9" the students yelled. Antwon was smiling from ear to ear as I reached out to give him a high-five. He hopped right back in line, eager for another turn. Not only did he prove a point, he had fun while doing it. This was the Antwon I knew.
–Submitted by Coach Chevy
Earlier in the year, I began recruiting 4th and 5th grade students for my Playworks co-ed volleyball team. I had 12 available spots and all were filled by enthusiastic participants within the first day. A few days after narrowing my final list of players, my school’s Assistant Principal called me into her office to discuss a 5th grade student (I’ll refer to her as “Natalia”) who had been having some issues with her peers. Natalia was being bullied and excluded and felt out of place in general at the school. These issues had escalated to a point where Natalia’s mom had come in to meet with the principal to discuss her concerns. In my conversation with the Assistant Principal she suggested that perhaps being on the volleyball team would be beneficial for Natalia’s self-confidence and esteem. I agreed and was excited that I had been sought to help Natalia out, but I informed the Assistant Principal that unfortunately my team roster was already full and it would be unfair to replace one of the other students who already had been selected.
The day following our discussion about Natalia one of my volleyball team members came up to me in the morning with a sullen stature, he shared with me that his mom had told him that his other commitments would prevent him from being on the volleyball team. Although I was sad for him, it meant that I could add Natalia to the team and I immediately went to find her to discuss the opportunity.
Although Natalia is generally a very shy girl who uses her words sparingly, I could tell she was excited about the team when her eyes lit up as soon as I informed her.
Within the first couple practices I saw a change in her behavior. Despite the fact that the team is a compilation of students from 8 different classes (most of whom Natalia does not know) she has been outgoing and talkative within the group. It seems to me that Natalia just needed an opportunity and avenue to start fresh with a new group of peers and she has definitely taken advantage of that opportunity. Before Natalia joined the volleyball team I would often pass her in the hallways and extend my hand for a high-five, but she would sheepishly pass, eyes glued to the ground. Now with her new found confidence Natalia can now be seen bouncing down the halls, eyes up, hand ready to meet mine.
–Submitted by Coach Tom
“Coach, when will we be able to go outside and run games and play with the little ones again?” asked Bella, one of my Assistant Coaches. Due to weather conditions, the students at Hartford have had indoor recess for several weeks. After hearing my response, “When the weather clears,” Bella asked if she could help me out in the classes that I cover during indoor recess. Bella is a very involved and helpful sixth grader who has much potential. Her role as an Assistant Coach has helped me in such a great way. She enjoys working with the preschoolers but works with any grade without a fuss.
When the Assistant Coach Leadership program first began, Bella was quiet, and very timid. During the first couple of weeks Bella would ask me what she should be doing and how it should be done. By the third week of the program, Bella began to overcome her timid nature and work more autonomously with the skills she was learning. She started to lead games on her own, recreate games that she noticed were no longer popular, and encouraged the other assistant coaches to do the same. Through her caring and passionate attitude and actions, she built relationships with the students she played with and the recess staff on and off the playground. During assistant coach meetings, Bella always assists me in leading games and cheers. She has been phenomenal in creating cheers with me that are appropriate for and liked by the middle school students. During her class game time, she also helps with game set-up. Seeing a student participate in this way warms my heart and reassures me that students at Hartford embody what Playworks stands for.
In December, Bella participated in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest about Fair Play, Goodwill, and Justice. To my surprise Bella mentioned Playworks in her essay as the definition of fair play. She stated that “Playworks is a program where they teach us new games so that everyone has the chance to play.” She focused on Playworks’ second core value, which is inclusion, by giving the example that during recess the sixth graders play kickball with the first graders and help them to better understand how to play. A week or two ago, Bella’s hard work, earned her a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I am proud to say that Bella’s leadership, hard work, dedication, compassion, positive attitude and willingness to grow demonstrate what Playworks is all about–respect, inclusion, healthy play, and healthy community.
–Submitted by Coach Dominik