Football Players Team Up to Tutor in Student Athlete Program

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Twice a week, a busload of Berkeley High School football team members come to the UC Berkeley campus, not to play sports, but to study.

As members of the Student Athlete to Student Athlete mentoring program, the high school athletes team up with Cal football players in the Travers Club room of Memorial Stadium.

During their meetings every Monday and Wednesday, the students work to improve their academics.

The athlete mentoring program is open to UC Berkeley athletes through the education professor Herbert Simons' Education 195 class.

"The objective is to help at-risk youths to acquire study skills that are necessary to maintain a good academic performance, to help them stay in school," says Simons, who created and founded the program.

According to Simons, UC Berkeley juniors and seniors are old enough and mature enough to be good role models for the young.

"The earlier you start to get kids thinking about schoolwork and the future of their education, the better," says Simons, a professor of language, literacy and culture in education.

Because Berkeley High School policies prohibit students who do not maintain a 2.0 GPA from participating in school sports, the school's football team often loses a significant number of its players throughout the season.

"Mentoring programs such as Student Athlete to Student Athlete are a good way for the university to contribute to the community," Simons says. "Berkeley High School has all the problems of an inner-city school."

Many student athletes at the high school are unable to maintain a GPA that is sufficient for them to stay on the football team, he says.

"Many of these kids are very much at risk," Simons says. "One kid dropped out of school completely, and went to a group home."

Being a student athlete is a tremendously hard task, especially at first-rate educational institutions such as UC Berkeley, says Simons.

Because college athletes have to commit an average of 20 to 25 hours of their time each week to sports, they can relate to the high school students' needs, he says.

"Cal athletes (are) good role models and their advice as to how to combine sports and good grades is all the more valuable," Simons says.

According to Simons, a large amount of bonding goes on between the athletes.

"Many of them became like brothers to each other," he says.

Senior Keala Keanaaina, an American Studies major, plays as a fullback for the Cal football team and tutors Berkeley High school freshman Anthony Cole, a defensive tackle on the school's team.

As the oldest child in his family, Keanaaina says he is accustomed to being a pedagogue and a role model.

"We study just about everything - at times, I have to refresh my own memory in certain topics," says Keanaaina. "Sometimes it happens, that if you major in math, for example, you may forget a historical event."

He also points out that the relationship between himself and Cole is not a one-way connection.

"Thanks to Anthony, I've learned a lot myself," Keanaaina says. "It's good to get to know someone closely, the way friends do. To me, Anthony is no longer just some kid from Berkeley High that I tutor. We interact on a personal basis. We know each other's nicknames. If I came down the street, and saw Anthony, I'd call him 'Twin,' which is his nickname, and he'd call me 'K.K.,' which is mine."

Occasionally, when Keanaaina does not remember a particular fact, he refers Cole to the schoolteacher.

The referral and encouragement from his mentor gives Cole an incentive to ask his teacher for help and in this way, the Student Athlete to Student Athlete program promotes a better student-teacher relationship, he says.

Many mentoring programs are currently being tested throughout the country, but none of them match athletes from the same sport like Simons' Student Athlete to Student Athlete program, Simons says.

Berkeley high school students involved in the program are given free tickets to Cal football games and invited to watch.

"The fact that both sides are football players gives them one extra reason to relate to each other - a very significant one," says Simons.

Even with the success of the mentoring program, Simons says he still wants to improve certain components of the class.

He wants to have the students' parents get involved with the program as well.

"There are things we are going to do differently next year," he says. "Next year, I am going to start the course out by having a meeting with the parents, and explaining to them why this opportunity to study with Cal students may be very important for their children."

Exact statistics are not available yet, but athletes who stay in the program generally see their GPA improve while they gain other valuable skills, Simons adds.

"Many of these kids will go to college," Simons says.

But he also points out that not all of the students who participate in the program have anything to worry about, academically.

Eli Jacobsen, an offensive linesman from Berkeley High, has a 3.6 GPA, but nevertheless decided to participate in the program.

"For me, it's an opportunity to hang out with football players," Jacobsen says. "I did not really need the help."

Jacobsen, who has expressed interest in studying history, says he hopes to attend one of the schools in the UC system in the future.

His mentor, Cal punter Adam Sugarman, is a history major.

"Sometimes, Adam brings history books he has to read for his classes at Berkeley for our sessions, and we discuss them," Jacobsen says.


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