Civic Matters

A Catalyst for Community Dialogue

Issue 2, April 2008

From Theory to Practice: Creating Diversity Through Athletics

Mike Fratangelo & Greg Rosnick

The decision making and social action approach extends the transformative curriculum by enabling students to pursue projects and activities that allow them to take personal, social, and civic actions related to the concepts, problems, and issues they have studied.

—excerpt from Curriculum Transformation by James A. Banks

The Praxis program is a community-based learning experience that combines academic study with active and relevant fieldwork. The goal of Praxis is to help students link the theoretical aspects of a course to the real world. While in-class material, such as assigned readings and discussion, deals mainly with the theoretical, the Praxis component of the course is concerned with the practical. The program allows students to see the everyday, real-world workings behind theory and, ultimately, provides them with a comprehensive learning experience. Although this objective may seem like an obvious benefit, it is not always seen as such by students. Amid written assignments, exams and journal entries that Praxis courses require, weekly field site visits can feel more like an extra burdensome assignment, rather than a helpful learning tool. As past Praxis participants, we can attest to overlooking the program’s true value. In fact, it wasn’t until mid-March of last year that we fully understood the significance of the Praxis program.

That semester, we both enrolled in two education courses: “Critical Issues in Education” and “Multicultural Education” (taught by Marsha Pincus and Michele Muñoz-Miller, respectively). The two courses were grounded in educational theory and also required a weekly field site visit to schools. Through this interplay of coursework and fieldwork, we became fully engaged with the material. After reading James A. Banks’ Curriculum Transformation, we began contemplating feasible ways for educators to move away from the “Contributions Approach” of multicultural education (focusing on heroes, holidays and discrete cultural elements) toward the “Social Action Approach” (having students grapple with social problems related to race, gender, sexuality and culture and then proposing ways of creating awareness about these issues). We wondered, “How can the social action approach be effectively structured into a curriculum? What types of students are willing to be ‘agents of social action’? Is this even possible?”

And then we had an epiphany.

In both courses we had been discussing residential segregation by race and socioeconomic status and how it affects schooling in America. Since schools are a microcosm of society, the student populations of schools reflect the racial and socioeconomic dynamics of neighborhoods. Segregation ultimately limits the interactions between children of different backgrounds. Students from inner-city schools (predominantly poor minorities) and students from suburban schools (mostly white middle-class students) rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to interact with each other. To address this problem, we wondered what if we could create a program that would bring together students from the suburbs of Philadelphia and the inner city—two groups differing in racial and socioeconomic background? And, moreover, what if we could connect this program to something that we both love: basketball? With these questions, and several meetings with our professors and various members of the Bi-College community, DiverseCity was created. Our pilot program consisted of a basketball camp, a choice we made because of our knowledge of, experience with and love for the sport—and because it is played by children of all backgrounds.

However, DiverseCity is more than a typical summer basketball camp. Along with athletic instruction, the program provides an educational experience by conducting group discussion sessions and classroom activities that delve into issues of race, socioeconomic class, gender and other aspects of diversity. The goal of the program is to facilitate meaningful and enriching dialogue so that every camper has an opportunity to understand himself and the other campers better. Athletics, then, is utilized as the main thread through which campers learn about these essential societal issues.

The program’s first year was nothing short of a success. The campers, middle school boys and girls from West Philadelphia and the immediate suburbs, participated in a program that included highly individualized basketball instruction from college players and coaches, multicultural classroom activities and discussions, and visits from distinguished guest speakers. The speakers included Jameer Nelson, a current NBA star of the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia area native; Bob Krech, an award-winning author of the young adult novel Rebound; Dennis Stanton, a European professional basketball player; and former basketball coach Dr. Ross Gay, who is now an associate professor of poetry at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. The speeches varied in content, but all of the speakers discussed their respective professional fields and how their experiences with diversity have influenced their understanding of the world.

The most rewarding portion of the program, for both campers and counselors alike, was the classroom discussions and activities. Every morning we would introduce a fundamental basketball concept that was applicable to our classroom sessions. For example, if the basketball concept of the day was “teamwork,” we would structure the day’s drills around passing, sharing the ball and winning as a team. During our classroom session we would then reinforce this idea by having the campers work in groups, co-present their work and make decisions collectively. Each theme of the day served as the vehicle through which we facilitated discussion about the more abstract, underlying concepts of diversity. On “teamwork” day, for instance, campers participated in a “partner rap” activity. Campers were paired and asked to compose and recite a rap song that 1) complimented their partner’s skill as a basketball player and 2) shared a special quality about their partner that was not obvious to the rest of the class. This exercise segued into a discussion about assumptions (our diversity topic of the day) and the implications of “judging a book by its cover.”

Creating and directing DiverseCity was an exhausting yet rewarding experience. The biggest problem we encountered was securing the funds to run the camp. We knew our idea was special, but we had literally no money to run the activities. We sought help from former Haverford basketball players, and with their generous contributions we were able to collect enough money to host the first year. A second problem was finding campers to attend. We proposed the idea rather late in the spring semester, and after attempting to spread publicity, we realized that many students already had their summer schedules booked. To overcome this obstacle, we contacted middle school principals and coaches, visited churches and passed out brochures at local basketball courts and summer league games. On the first day of camp, thirteen campers registered; this number was relatively small compared to other summer camps, but it was the perfect size for our pilot year. Having a small group allowed us to test the program, evaluating what worked and what needed to be discarded.

The entire project was a true learning experience. In the months leading up to the camp, we learned skills in organization and project management; during the camp, our lesson plans and our ability to facilitate discussion improved immensely. We are truly indebted to the Bi-Co community for the help and support we received in making this project work. We are grateful for the knowledge and expertise that our professors, the Education Department, the Praxis Program and Haverford College passed along to us. Haverford’s longstanding commitment to diversity and social justice was instilled in us early in our undergraduate years, and when we presented our idea to members of the administration, they believed in us and were eager to help. Above all, we must thank the campers who participated in the inaugural week. They helped us bridge together “theory” and “practice” and enabled our vision to become a reality.

In “Critical Issues,” we ended the semester by reading “A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin. In this piece he tells the educated that it is their job to change society. In light of this message, the two of us are doing all we can to maintain and to grow DiverseCity in the future. We are seeking increased support from our donors, reaching out to additional alums, applying for grants and planning to increase our enrollment. Next summer, we intend to offer multiple sessions at venues in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with the hope that more campers will be able to take part in the experience. Should the goals that are set forth be achieved, we firmly believe that DiverseCity will leave a small mark on the global society.

Mike Fratangelo earned his B.A. in race and cultural studies from Haverford College in 2007. Presently, Mike is pursuing a master’s degree in social service from Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research.

Greg Rosnick is currently a junior at Haverford College, working toward a B.A. in political science, with minors in economics and education.