Basketball is a welcome outlet for students, but first they must keep up with their studies
ST. PAUL - A dozen fifth-grade boys with skinny legs sticking out of voluminous shorts dribbled basketballs, squeaking their sneakers up and down the tiled floor at Webster Elementary School in North St. Paul.
ST. PAUL – A dozen fifth-grade boys with skinny legs sticking out of voluminous shorts dribbled basketballs, squeaking their sneakers up and down the tiled floor at Webster Elementary School in North St. Paul.
Before these boys hit the court for practice, they hit the books: They must keep up with their school assignments to stay on the team.
Four of five kids in the Webster student body are from low-income families, and participating in community sports might be impossible because of fees and transportation, Principal Mona Perkins said. This program uses state compensatory aid money to pay for team expenses, including a snack after school and, for kids whose parents can’t pick them up, a ride home in a district van.
“Right now, the staff has selected the kids, because it is an intervention program,” Perkins said. “Some kids need a hook.”
Coach Dillon Brennan, a paraprofessional for the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district during regular school hours, helps the boys with math and reading after school and then crosses the hall to the gym to teach them the basics of basketball – along with how to pay attention, follow rules and look out for each other.
The tutoring-basketball intersection is a sweet spot for these boys, Brennan said: “They are a lot more focused on school. Their behavior is a lot better.”
Twice a week, the students get extra help to understand what they’re studying and to finish their homework. They do better in school and enjoy it more. The discipline they learn on the court carries over into the classroom. They form friendships among their teammates and feel more comfortable at Webster, especially if they’re new to the school. Their parents spend time with school staff while cheering on their sons at tournaments, and if the parents don’t have a ride, the school van picks them up along with the players. The “opportunity gap” – most Webster students don’t participate in organized sports – is narrowed.
The carryover from the program to the regular school day is obvious, said William Moore, a White Bear Area YMCA employee who works at Webster during the regular school day and coaches the Webster fourth-grade team in both academics and basketball. Moore has heard one team member say to another who’s starting to misbehave in class: “Dude, you know better – you know what Coach expects.”
Danell Ceaser, 10, was with the first group of Warriors last year, and now, as a fifth-grader, he likes the program a lot.
“I keep practicing to be good,” Danell said. That practice includes not only layups but reading, because, he said, “If you want to be on the basketball team, you have to have good grades.”
His 9-year-old brother, Doreon, is on the fourth-grade team this year. Their mother, Taleisha Outlaw, used to play basketball and enjoys attending her sons’ games. But, she said, doing well in school is more important than playing ball.
“I’m happy they do their schoolwork first,” she said. “I like it that if they don’t have their grades up they can’t play.”
The program started small, with one team last year and two this year. Next year, Perkins hopes to add a girls team.
“I try not to start anything really big because there are always kinks,” she said. Another new part of the Webster afterschool program is a production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which will be presented Feb. 12 at the school. Even students who might need remedial academic help need enrichment, Perkins said: “You’ve got to keep kids busy.”
Jevion Tanner is proud to wear No. 13 on his Warriors jersey. The 11-year-old’s favorite sport is basketball, and he knows the score: “If you miss assignments, you don’t get to play.”
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