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   Date: 1/28/13 Bookmark and Share

Project Coach Continues Growth with New Leadership

Q&A with Kayleigh Colombero '08, Director

Since its founding in 2003 by two Smith faculty members—Sam Intrator, professor of education and child study, and Donald Siegel, professor of exercise and sport studies—Project Coach has steadily expanded its programming and number of participants. Project Coach started with a core belief that sports can act as a positive vehicle to enhance the lives of children, families and communities. The program employs elementary-aged students and teens from Holyoke and Springfield as coaches and mentors, who learn and develop their leadership and coaching skills working with Smith faculty, staff and graduate students. The participating coaches lead their own teams, in basketball, soccer and other sports.

This year, Kayleigh Colombero ’08 became director of Project Coach, as well as the Urban Education Initiative. Colombero, who has served as a teacher in Springfield since her graduation, and was a mentor with Project Coach while at Smith, recently responded to questions about her Project Coach leadership.

Gate: What captured your interest in the position of Project Coach director?

Kayleigh Colombero: Having worked for Project Coach as an undergraduate I have always loved the program and the work it does with teens and youth in Springfield. After graduating from Smith, I immediately moved to Springfield, having fallen in love with the city while volunteering at Project Coach and Gerena Elementary School. When I began teaching in Springfield, I started to work for Project Coach part time as an academic advisor for students at Renaissance school. Then I became the coordinator of registration and grades for all the Project Coach teens while I was still teaching. Since I stayed connected to the program and saw it grow and develop, I always hoped that one day I could become the director. I saw all the program had to offer, the way it gave teenagers real responsibility and leadership skills, and the way students who felt disengaged by high school lit up while coaching kids in their community. I also felt like my connections to Springfield Public Schools and Smith could greatly improve the awareness and community involvement that Project Coach currently had. I wanted to be a part of the continued sustainability of the program, the impact the program had on countless teens, and the leadership that created and drove such an amazing program.

Gate: In your view as a Smith alumna, what is the importance of programs like Project Coach to the college's outreach and partnership with the local community?

KC: Project Coach and other community outreach programs attached to higher education institutions have the ability to utilize an amazingly gifted, educated and hard-working group of students who can and do have major impacts on the surrounding communities. Local communities often are in desperate need of mentors, tutors, extra after-school programs, youth development programs, etc. As a former Springfield teacher, I know that the work is often overwhelming, that there are so many kids who need more individual attention, and even more teachers who are struggling to keep up with the workload. By partnering with schools in local communities or providing after-school support, college students can help children who are not getting enough support, teachers who don't have enough time in the day to get everything done, and school systems working overtime to close the achievement gap. It seems to me that community outreach should be every college's top goal. We are coming to understand as a country that public education is in a crisis. We need to mobilize all available, educated and motivated people to help with our education system. I can't think of a better place to find these people in large numbers than at colleges.

Furthermore, if colleges truly want to prepare students for adult life, careers and citizenship, students should be engaged in community outreach throughout their college experience. As a student at Smith, my participation in Project Coach taught me the potential of teens in Springfield, the struggles the city was having, and how much untapped capacity the city had. It was responsible for my decision to do something to help children in Springfield. It was the reason I lived and taught in the city, the reason I coached there, and the reason I now run Project Coach. In my opinion, every college student should have this type of formative experience.

Gate: Project Coach recently began providing free dinner to all participants on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Why is that an important initiative? What's it like to coordinate?

KC: Although at times the dinner initiative feels like a logistical nightmare, it is hugely important to our program and our participants. By partnering with [food management company] Sodexo, we are able to provide free dinner to all of our elementary-aged participants and our teenage coaches. Through Sodexo, this is also done at no cost to Project Coach. Adding dinner to our programming ensures that our participants receive a balanced meal after participating in an hour of homework help and literacy programming and an hour of sports practice. Since 97 percent of our elementary-aged participants and 75 percent of our teen coaches come from low-income families, this service helps families significantly. In order to pull it off, our participants come in from the gyms at staggered times, one of our graduate students checks off all students who take a meal on our spreadsheets, and students sit at their tables with their coaches to enjoy their meal and wait to be picked up. The coaches, graduate students, and kids really value this time to hang out, get to know each other better, and talk about the day's programming. Also, parents begin coming in at the start of dinner and many talk with program staff, coaches, or even their child's teacher (we employ 9 SPS teachers to work in our program) about how their child is doing in school and in the program. Overall, the dinner component adds a lot of value to our programming and truly helps our participating families.

Gate: What's next for Project Coach?

KC: It almost feels like it would be easier to answer what isn't next! We have so many new projects in the works. This year we added two sports to our repertoire—volleyball and rowing. Volleyball was also combined with a new fitness curriculum and rowing will take place in the new north end boathouse. In February we have a group of 30 high school girls from Denmark coming to stay, for over a week, and participate in leadership trainings with our coaches. We are partnering with Mass Mentoring to participate in Mentoring Day at the Boston State House and working with the Springfield Armor to provide clinics and free games for our coaches. We are partnering with WNEU to have a volleyball clinic and a formal end of year banquet at the college. Next year, we are hoping to increase our numbers of coaches and participants by adding both dance and art components for the first time. We have already secured a grant to promote a few of our veteran female coaches to leadership positions next year. We are truly getting stronger and developing into a larger program. As always, we will continue to get the word out at Smith and involve as many Smith students as possible in all aspects of the program.

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