Program will increase academic focus and female participation in first full year
The Blair Sports Academy (BSA) will strengthen academic support programs and offer new programs to attract more female students in its first full school year in session, according to MCPS recreation specialist Jose Segura.
Criticized in the past for focusing primarily on sports in a program designed to assist academically at-risk students, the BSA will spend an estimated $30,000 to $35,000 on academic support this year out of the $318,000 total budget allocated by the County Council. Segura hopes to incorporate more Blair teachers in the program in to support the BSA's academic components. While some teachers participated in High School Assessment (HSA) tutoring last year, Segura said that few made a long-term commitment to the program.
The BSA also aims to increase the variety of programs it offers. This year, Segura wants to expand the BSA beyond sports to offer tae-kwon-do and dance classes aimed at female students. A specialist from Hearts N' Parks, a national program designed to encourage heart-healthy lifestyles, is expected to provide classes on health and dance on Thursday nights to attract teenage girls.
In accordance with standard BSA policy, any participants who fail to meet the GPA requirement for extracurricular activities must attend academic support before they are permitted to take part in athletic programs and classes.
These two initiatives are among several proposed by social studies teacher Marc Grossman, who began circulating his written assessment of the program and his suggestions for improvement in early August.
The original proposal received the endorsement of the SGA, which, in a unanimous resolution, voted to support the expansion of the tutoring program according to records provided by President Eric Hysen.
The PTSA also expressed interest in further developing the BSA's academic programs. "The PTSA is trying to make sure that the initial intent is still addressed," said PTSA co-President Deborah Stoll. "The whole intent that we went before the Council for was to reduce the academic ineligibility and to help kids feel connected to Blair."
In his proposal, Grossman suggested that the program appoint an academic coordinator, who could hire qualified tutors, standardize the student recommendation process and obtain Blair faculty support. Grossman also suggested that the BSA collaborate with popular Blair extracurricular clubs like the Caribbean Club and Diva Dancers, since these groups meet regularly and often appeal to academically at-risk females. Clubs could be granted money to finance performances or uniforms from a $10,000 fund provided by the BSA budget if they are willing to commit to a BSA tutoring program.
The PTSA and Blair faculty also expressed concerns over the allocation of BSA funds. Under the County Council budget resolution for the 2007 fiscal year, $318,000 was allotted to the program, nearly double the $168,260 the BSA received in grants last year. For Grossman, a key issue was the disparity between the compensation of referees versus that of academic tutors. Last year, referees were paid $55 per hour, while tutors earned between $18 and $22.
Segura feels that the BSA spending has been judged unfairly in the past. According to Stephanie White, a recreational supervisor from the Department of Recreation, $12,000 was spent for academics last year, compared to $4,000 for referees. The BSA was also legally bound to follow Department of Recreation contracts that mandate the higher pay for referees. "We don't have a lot of flexibility from that standpoint."
Students believe that the BSA has been an effective way of providing academic support. "If you really like playing sports, it's going to force you to study," said senior Idriss Tchakounte, a member of the BSA. Blair teachers and PTSA, while concerned about shortcomings within the BSA, still support the program. "We just want it to be done effectively and efficiently and competently," said Grossman.
The demographics of the BSA spring indoor soccer program were quite clear to junior Eve Arias: there were too many boys to count and only 15 or so girls. Arias believes that the gender disparity results from the programs that the BSA currently runs: basketball during the fall, ping pong and board games in the winter, indoor soccer during spring, and various activities in summer programs. "They should have more things that involve girls," she said.
Arias lists dance, tennis and volleyball as more appealing sports that could motivate girls to participate, potentially supporting them academically and keeping them out of trouble. Arias herself has benefited from the academic support programs, despite their lack of Blair teachers, when she attended during the second semester final exams. If more engaging activities are offered, Arias believes that girls who choose to join the BSA will be well rewarded.
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