Sportmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center offers academic and youth development programs as well as recreational and competitive tennis for youth and adults. Some of these programs include after school, weekend leadership, summer camp, summer learning academy, fitness programs, and community programs for all ages. Sportmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center has indoor and outdoor tennis courts, classrooms stocked with books and technology, and even a community garden. The Center has a rich history in the Dorchester neighborhood and was the first African American tennis club in the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • An inter-generational setting allows a community to thrive by supporting one another across age groups, skill sets, neighborhoods, and interests.

  • Community partnerships can help staff build skills and knowledge to take into practice with students to meet their specific needs.

  • A holistic approach to wellness includes academics, physical health, and a “culture of we.” This begins with staff practices that transfer to your students and their families through high quality delivery of services.

What strategies are most effective in building students’ confidence to complete tasks and projects?

We do our best to blend all of our academic and fitness programs into one holistic youth development process. We utilize project based learning that can be accomplished through multiple grade levels working together. We try to offer tangible opportunities for success, like building rockets or structures using engineering practices, then tying them back to tennis. It may seem like you’re just hitting the ball back and forth, but there is very finite detail in the combination of spin, force, height, etc. that requires a higher level of attention to detail. Now that it’s warm, we utilize the garden. They see the fruits of their labor in the garden, which is not so common in Dorchester. We have many skill levels in tennis, and students frequently exceed to the next level. We make it clear that the students moving through the pipeline will come back and assist with the level they just were in, and they get very excited. They’re eager to be an asset for the other students. We also use language to encourage growth and reflection on what we can do better. Even if we’re happy with today’s work, we help students wonder if there’s anything that can make us happier next time. Imagine what may happen if we try new techniques.

How and when are students given the opportunity to reflect on their work, and critically appraise the ways in which they can improve? Do you have a similar process for staff to reflect on their work with students?

For students, we use one-on-one opportunities to listen to them through guided reflections like “How do you think you did this week?” We stop to listen to what students have to say consistently. Sometimes we’ll put in a post-assessment for students to tell us about how much they were able to learn and how much they enjoyed an activity. We use the SAYO-Y and that works well to engage students. We’re very fortunate to have great partnerships for student programming. We have majority black and latino after school program, so Sin Fronteras comes in from Brandeis and is a really positive role model. A fair amount of students are underperforming when it comes to ELA, so we brought in a literacy specialist. Now she loves it here too. We want to provide the best services we can for students and their families. Our staff has a really nice connection and has tried to build a “Culture of We.” At the end of the day we’re talking about certain kids, what worked and what didn’t, etc. We build in as many opportunities as we can to check in, both formal and informal, to get a genuine response from students and staff. We try to engage staff with partnerships too, so Children’s Services of Roxbury and Big Sisters Association come help with our trainings. They help staff become aware of what may be causing behavioral issues with students. We emphasize staff collaboration so that the kids can see everyone in other spaces- not only in the classroom, or not only on the tennis court. That’s super vital to keeping that energy.

Could you share a moment when you saw a student’s confidence building and how they got there?

One student has been motivated because one of her best friends has moved up a level in tennis. She has taken it upon herself that she needs to pick it up, too. The students who move up and then come back to help are often catalysts for other kids. Because they have the opportunity to work with whoever has phased out, they have that positive reinforcement from their peer, not just from a coach. It is amazing to see a student introduced to a sport that they’ve never played before, that’s not typical of the community they’re in, and then seeing growth in the footwork, the control on the spin, and the actual health benefits. They’re falling in love with something that’s keeping them happy and healthy. That’s going to be sustainable. A child that started about 9 months ago, who had never held a tennis racket before, has now turned his whole family into tennis people. He’s vastly accelerated himself in the game in a short time. He’s a dedicated player that looks forward to coming here day by day to do homework, reading, and whatever he needs to get done in order to get out on the court.