On the rebound: The transformative power of sports in education
Forty percent of Washington, D.C. high school freshmen will not graduate in the next four years, according to the Washington Post, but Donald Curtis wants to amend those statistics.
Curtis, the founder of Student-Athletes Organized to Understand Leadership (SOUL) moderated a panel on Tuesday night in the Media Innovation Lab to discuss solutions to the dropout rate epidemic. The panel included Risa Isard, the program coordinator for the Aspen Institute Sports and Society program, Michelle Holmes, a student-athlete at American University, and Edward Wilkerson, a basketball and softball coach at H.D. Woodson High School.
“Our goal is to use sport to engage kids academically,” said Curtis, who helps kids who are struggling academically through SOUL, primarily in Ward 7.
He provides tutoring and mentoring to the students and also coaches them in basketball. Ninety percent of the participants in Curtis’s SOUL program have been able to graduate high school and go off to college. While getting boys involved with sports is not as challenging, the panel conceded that a better effort needed to be made in order to attract more women to sports.
“Only about 4% of airtime is dedicated to women in sports,” Isard said. “Girls are largely left out of that culture.”
These statistics resonated with Holmes, and she said that playing for an all-women’s coaching staff at AU gave her role models who she could look up to.
“[Basketball] gave me an opportunity I otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Holmes, who plays under a scholarships at AU, said.
While not every kid who plays a sport is going to become a Division I athlete, Holmes emphasized that her education always came first, and the combination of education and sport served a way to incentivize her to do well, in and out of school.
Wilkerson, a high school coach, has created a safe haven for his kids from the distractions of the city. He employs mandatory study hall as a way of keeping them out of trouble while also helping them further their education. Wilkerson and Curtis have built a strong foundation of stability for their kids by engaging with them on a more personal level by treating them as equals, stressing the importance of learning ,and helping them improve on the basketball court.
In a case study conducted last year, SOUL supported all eleven players on the 2014-2015 H.D. Woodson basketball team for the year, and the squad saw their average GPA rise from a 2.30 to a 2.92. They experienced success on the court as well, winning their school’s first boys basketball city title, proving what the panel had stressed time after time: academics do not have to take a backseat to sports. It is just a matter of giving the kids a little motivation to strive for academic excellence through sports.