Return to Headlines

After-school program serves up literacy with tennis (Video)





An after-school program at Mary B. Martin School is allowing students to get in touch with their feelings, receive access to tutors who help them with their homework, increase their literacy skills and discover tennis.  

Principal Gary McPherson says the program is filling a void on many levels.  

"Our parents have really been asking for us to provide extended-day services for their children,” said McPherson. “And with limited funding, we knew that we had to partner with individuals in the community. We wanted them to have the same interests that we did in providing a safe place for kids after school and at the same time giving them access to high-quality after-school enrichment activities.” 

That is where CMSD community partner, Advantage Cleveland Tennis and Education comes into play.

For a decade, AdvantageCLE has offered an eight-week summer tennis and education program at the Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center in the Hough neighborhood.  Executive Director Liz Deegan says the group wanted to expand the program, especially in Ward 7.

"So, we started with Mary B. Martin, which is closest to Thurgood Marshall. And we brought literacy, tennis and homework help last year. This year, we are bringing more of the wellness piece, poetry and STEM to our afterschool programing.”  

 Three days a week, from 2:30 p.m. to about 5 p.m., the students spilt into two groups and participate in various activities. 

On this day, a Mary B. Martin third-grader, RaKayla, wanted to read a book to her group. She says it was her first time doing so.  

“I wanted to show everyone that I am a very good reader,” RaKayla said. “And so, they could hear that I am a good reader.”  

Deegan, who is a former English teacher, says that after a pilot last school year, they noticed the students who participated in the program tested slightly higher in reading than those who didn’t.   

"I think an extra dose of literacy really helps kids with their confidence and gives them the ability to think about reading in a different way,” Deegan said. “Plus, it gets them excited about reading. I think a little bit of attention, one-on-one tutoring really helps.”  

The program also exposes these students to a sport primarily found in private clubs or in the suburbs. 

"I feel all kids should have access and opportunities to play whatever sport they want and especially tennis,” said Deegan. “I feel like the kids who would be able to play tennis might be looked at for colleges. An opportunity they might not otherwise have. So, we're hoping that tennis provides just one other support to kids who are looking at college scholarships." 

One of the mentors is Teon Harvey, a Martin Luther King Jr. Campus grad started in the summer program back in 2010. He says he fell in love with tennis and went on to compete and win the Senate Athletic League tennis championship in both the 10th and 12th grades. He says the students are starting to like the game.  

“They've actually changed their whole outlook on tennis,” said Harvey.  “When I first got here, a lot of them were like, ‘Oh, no, no, we're not going to do this. I like basketball.’ But as the days go by, they're just like, 'Can we come to tennis? Can we come to tennis?’ ” 

Kelli Price runs the poetry session. She is a graduate of the Cleveland School of the Arts and a summer camper alum as well.  

Price says she is building the students' confidence by showing them love.   

"I think that when they come into the class, it [love] is the first thing that they feel. It is the first thing that they interact with," she said. "It definitely shows them that you care. A child is definitely going to respond better when they feel, or they know for a fact, that you have a love for them and that you care about the things that are going on in their lives.” 

Principal McPherson says it is working. 

 “I just think that any time that we can provide positives that are not one dimensional that we should be engaging in them because it's not just benefiting the student,” said McPherson. "It is also benefiting their families and the community. And that's the broader piece of it, that we're helping grow a more healthy, stronger community.  

AdvantageCLE plans to expand the program across the city.  The group's next move is start an after school program at Daniel E. Morgan School in January.