Program begins winter session amidst controversy over funding allocation
The Blair Sports Academy (BSA) is currently drawing questions from the community regarding its organization and the allocation of resources between the academic and recreational components of the program.
Currently, the Montgomery County Department of Recreation leads the administration of the BSA, which is also partnered with community-based organizations like YMCA Youth and Family Services and the Juvenile Justice Family Advocacy Initiative and Resources (JJFAIR). Partners of the BSA and members of the PTSA are concerned that the academic support portion of the program is being neglected.
The BSA received $168,260 from the County Council in October to reestablish the winter and spring sessions, according to an Oct. 14 memo from Council President Tom Perez. At that time, the County Council also gave administrative control to the recreation department, a decision that has been called into question by PTSA co-President Fran Rothstein and JJFAIR Director Stacey Gurian-Sherman.
Balancing books and sports
Gurian-Sherman did not agree with the amount of money going towards referees and a full-time recreational specialist compared to academic tutors. The BSA's budget includes $11,650 for referees; $9,810 for foods, awards, jerseys, incentives and supplies; and $41,650 for a recreation specialist to oversee the entire program. This, she said, was an indication that the program's priorities had shifted. "The recreation should be used as the vehicle to get students engaged," she said. "Recreation is supposed to be the means; recreation is not supposed to be the ends." The recreation department felt that it was important to have a trained referee because of the competitive nature of the sports, and the referee's cost is based on the county's contract, according to Linda McMillan, legislative analyst for the County Council.
The main criterion that the PTSA wants the BSA to meet is an effective after-school academic support program, which, according to Rothstein, should be at par with the recreation program. "We want the academic support to be as strong as the recreation component," she said. Currently, both Gurian-Sherman and Rothstein do not think the two are at the same level. The amount of time spent on tutoring compared to activities is an indication of the imbalance, said Rothstein, noting that daily, the first hour of the program is dedicated to tutoring, while the next hour and 45 minutes is spent on sports and games.
To strengthen academic support, the BSA has teamed with the YMCA, which has promised about $8,000 for tutoring and is currently providing staff for academic support, according to Melanie Coffin, manager of Affiliated Services in the Montgomery County Recreation Department. There are now six hired student teachers and three parent volunteers involved in academic support.
Rothstein and Gurian-Sherman believe that organizations like YMCA Youth and Family Services would be better suited to run the BSA than the recreation department because of their experience with tutoring and managing programs that involve multiple community organizations. Giving the recreation department control was a "slap in the face to [YMCA] Youth and Family Services," said Gurian-Sherman, who thinks the YMCA would run a more focused program with greater accountability. "[The recreation department] knows how to run a sports program, but when it comes to the academic component, it's not happening," said Gurian-Sherman. Youth and Family Services has been providing services and programs for the Blair community for about 45 years, according to Lisa Bradley, YMCA Youth and Family Services grant manager.
BSA director Jose Segura is satisfied with the recreation department and believes that the partnership with the YMCA is improving the academic component of the BSA. "I am committed to this academic piece and seeing it through. I've been the one pushing this, and the recreation department has been behind me the whole time," he said. Segura believes that the recreation department is more capable of running the BSA than the YMCA because of its experience with athletic programs involving large groups of students. Citing the intramural basketball league run in the fall by the YMCA, Segura explained that it could have attracted a lot more participants had it been under different leadership.
YMCA Youth and Family Services, YMCA Silver Spring and the recreation department were all part of the Blair Task Force, according to Bradley. The Task Force aimed to bring after-school activities such as the BSA to Blair. Because of the collaborative nature of the program, the YMCA is continuing to cooperate with the recreation department to fulfill the primary objectives of the program. "When we all share the same goal, it is important that we come together to see how we can meet the needs of the youth in the most efficient way. We maintain a positive working relationship with the rec department in other projects and support the decision for the rec department to have administrative control over the BSA," Bradley said in an e-mail.
At this stage, arguing about management is not what community members should be concerned with, said Ron McClain, PTSA vice president and a volunteer tutor for the BSA. He has been pleased with the recreation department leadership's attitude, receptiveness and efforts to improve the program. McClain also explained that the recreation department's connection with the County Council could be beneficial for securing funds in the future. "If this is going to have staying power, the recreation department can secure that power because they have more political clout. We may be best off with the way it's structured," he said. He stressed that the recreation department must work with the school to maintain an effective program.
Recruiting the right group
Rothstein does not believe that the recreation department is unable to run the BSA, but rather feels that improvement is necessary in order to have the BSA successfully meet its goals, which include boosting academic performance and giving students a safe after-school environment. "We have this opportunity here [with the BSA]. We're trying to make the most of it," she said.
In order to truly meet the goals of the program, the BSA must target and recruit those students for which the BSA was initially created, said Gurian-Sherman and Rothstein. The BSA was specifically designed for students who are academically ineligible to participate in other after-school activities at Blair. "It should serve the needs of students MCPS is depriving of extracurricular activities," said Rothstein. Spending $1,200 to send BSA registration information to the entire student body was not an effective means of bringing the desired group of students to the program, she added.
Segura disagreed, explaining that it is easy for students to be segregated and that the BSA provides an opportunity for students to make connections and interact. To ensure that at-risk students are especially recruited, Segura said that he is talking with the math and English departments and the academies to target students who are not passing their courses.
After the release of first semester grades, the math department identified 170 students who need additional help and sent letters to ninth-grade students who need additional attention, urging them to come to academic support.
The math department hopes to use the BSA as a way to draw students to academic support, according to McClain.
Engaging the police
In addition to providing academic support, the BSA is intended to be a gang diversion program, part of which includes engaging police officers with youth so that students can learn that police officers are not the enemy, according to Rothstein. Gurian-Sherman and Rothstein are concerned that currently, the police officers at the BSA do not seem to be involved with activities or communicating with the students.
Segura agreed that the police should become more involved with students, but he emphasized that this is the first time the BSA has included a winter session and that the program is constantly evolving. "Bottom line is, the program is improving," he said. Segura said he welcomes opposition because he believes it is key in making the BSA a stronger and more effective program, regardless of funding. "Questions are good, because they can help you see things that maybe you're not seeing. If they gave me $2 million or $10, I'm still going to be here," he said.
Kristi Chakrabarti. Kristi Chakrabarti is finally a Magnet senior who is obsessed with basketball and is a die-hard Wizards fan. When she is not religiously following the NBA, she enjoys playing tennis and reading. Her favorite TV shows are Friends and ER and her favorite food is … More »