Memphis Athletic Ministries builds ‘holistic person’
The Daily News, September 17, 2014, By Don Wade
Long-term outcomes, such as improved high school graduation rates and reduced dropout rates, are the ultimate objectives of the Memphis Athletic Ministries’ still-young Academic Diligence program.
But in the short term, feedback from teachers, parents and the students themselves has been overwhelmingly positive and the effectiveness of the program is as easy to understand as eighth grader Mya Woods saying she wants to do something no one in her family has done by becoming a lawyer.
“I want to be the first,” she said.
Nonprofit Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM) is an affiliated ministry of the Memphis Leadership Foundation. MAM long has been lauded for providing safe places for kids after school, places to play basketball and other sports and gain a sense of community – even family – and to have an opportunity to participate in Bible studies and mentoring programs.
The academic program started three years ago, MAM education coordinator Ginny Windsor said, but the idea had been simmering for quite a while.
“It had been kicked around for a long time, to do something with academics,” Windsor said, adding that they asked the schools what might help children the most. “The No. 1 need from elementary school principals was help with their homework.”
Rod Moses, MAM’s chief administrative officer, says the academic component in combination with athletics and spirituality gives them an opportunity to “build a holistic person.”
Hannah Cowell, who is a senior at the University of Memphis, has been working with MAM participants on their homework and reading skills for about two years.
“The major thing I’ve seen is improvement in behavior and wanting to come learn and do homework,” Cowell said. “It’s hard to have confidence when maybe you’ve not been told you’re good at something or don’t believe you’re good at something.”
“We get to come in here and say, ‘You can do this and I believe in you and I’m going to stay with you until you get it.’”
During the 2013-2014 school year, the Academic Diligence program provided homework help to approximately 350 elementary and middle school students at nine MAM centers every day after school. At three MAM centers, 150 rising fourth to eighth graders participated in academic enrichment through the 2014 MAM Summer Academy.
In May of 2014, MAM conducted a survey of teachers, students and parents to help gauge the effectiveness of the Academic Diligence program. Among the results:
80 percent of teachers reported academic improvement; 90 percent reported improvement in conduct and attendance.
77 percent of parents also reported improved conduct and attendance and 86 percent reported improved school work.
97 percent of students said they improved as a result of the Academic Diligence program.
Mya Woods, that eighth grader with dreams of becoming a lawyer, said the after-school help with homework and reading has brought tangible results for her when taking a test.
“It taught me how to comprehend questions,” she said. “When I take a test, I know what I’m looking for.”
Windsor says they are trying to build skill sets and attitudes.
“Our goal’s not really for them to finish their homework most days because we have them for 25 minutes and there might be 25 kids in the room,” she said. “Our goal is to provide a culture of working hard on homework every day and a (good) attitude toward homework and school.”
Moses points out that most of their youth coordinators have college degrees – real-life examples of what’s attainable.
“They have the opportunity to share their story and the work invested in their education,” he said.
MAM is investing, too, having just replaced their computer labs at their centers.
In a survey of MAM’s nearly 400 active participants – kids involved in one or more parts of the program, including athletics, academics, small group mentoring and/or Bible studies – 95 percent of them said they hoped to attend college. That’s a large percentage given that only about 70 percent of students attending Shelby County Schools graduate high school.
Further, MAM high school participants had a 56 percent lower incidence of drug use and a 70 percent lower incidence of alcohol use as compared to the Memphis average from the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Cowell measures things in a more basic way with the younger kids she mentors, especially when she goes to see them at their schools. The kids aren’t embarrassed, far from it.
“Some of them brag about getting to come to MAM,” she said. “Sometimes they call me ‘coach’ and sometimes they call me ‘Miss Hannah.’”