considers Coaching4Change an education reform program. Yet, it’s not happening anywhere near a classroom. Instead, he’s bringing education reform to the youth, and he’s doing so out on the basketball courts.
Taylor is the Founder and President of Coaching4Change (C4C), a nonprofit that utilizes sport to create opportunities for inner city youth and re-engage them within the community. As a 2014 Social Innovator on the “Youth in Gateway Cities: Investing in Young People, Revitalizing Communities” social issue track, Taylor hopes to expand on C4C’s innovative approach for helping youth realize and act upon their full potential.
Taylor understands well the power of sports in helping youth. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, he credits basketball with keeping him on track to graduate from high school and then college. His background, along with feeling unfulfilled by his corporate job and disheartened by traditional, test-driven education, inspired him to take education reform into his own hands by starting C4C. He describes, “Our goal is to widen that lens for [inner city youth] and give them a reason to become self-motivated, to develop that self-worth so they’re able to survive.”
The C4C model puts high school students in the role of “Community Coaches” for elementary school “Student Athletes.” At the same time, the high school coaches receive support from “College Leaders” who act as mentors. This hierarchy of roles allows for students to work with peers while still being in leadership positions. Taylor explains, “The whole idea of coaching is you’re a role model and a leader right off the bat because you have young kids looking up to you.” As a result, a great deal of responsibility is placed on the high schoolers to figure out how to plan, schedule, and run a practice, and in doing so, they begin to develop skills that help them both academically and professionally.
According to Taylor, “[Coaching] is a vehicle of empowering young people to challenge themselves to develop 21st century skills.” He cites a common example of how in a classroom, students might be taught goal-setting or time management by laying out a schedule and allotting certain amounts of time to doing homework in order to get a certain grade. Yet, as he points out, “If you’re talking to a kid that’s not interested, that conversation means nothing.” Which is perhaps why C4C is so effective: because the learning is happening on common ground with the youth. Maybe the goal is to get the players to do 100 jumping jacks or to fit four drills into an hour practice. The student coaches must learn and apply these essential life skills - like goal setting or time management - in an environment that engages and excites them. “Our end result is the same but we’re just starting at a different place.” Taylor says, “We then take the lessons learned in the gym as a coach and transfer that into the classroom.”
Through the lessons they learn and the responsibility put on them by being a coach, the high school students develop an understanding of what it takes to lead others and be in a position of authority. “Often times, teachers, parents, and other superiors are talking at kids; we’re telling them what to do and many times kids are rebellious because they don’t see or understand the need to do these things,” Taylor observes. At C4C, when these rebellious youth have to deal with younger people with behavioral issues, they begin to understand the implications of their own actions, and start to feel empowered to take on more leadership and responsibility in their own lives.
While these students are gaining all this experience, C4C also offers resources to help them apply this experience to important steps like job searching or applying to college. Taylor explains that when he first began the program in Brockton, Mass., he was surprised to find many of the young people had never heard of Stonehill College, even though it’s in the neighboring town. Taylor comments, “Inner city youth who aren’t coming from a well-educated background don’t always have access or the wherewithal to go and understand what the processes are of getting a job or into college.” By pairing high schoolers with college mentors, they get exposed to new resources and may begin to realize their own ambitions. “There’s a lot of untapped potential and because of the population we work with and the way in which schools are moving, it’s difficult for them to really understand what their potential is if it’s not within this cookie-cutter platform,” Taylor says.
Unfortunately, for many of these youth who don’t fit this “cookie-cutter platform,” it can become easy for them to fall through the cracks. These mid-to-high risk youth that C4C specifically targets can have many factors working against them, including being in the juvenile delinquency system, having a parent in jail, being on the verge or failing out of school, or being someone just floating through the system, disengaged with school and their surroundings. Once these youth get lost in the shuffle, it becomes even harder to help them back on track. Which is why Taylor and his team try to step in before this happens. “C4C becomes an intervention that helps young people stay the course,” Taylor explains. C4C works closely with guidance counselors and teachers to be able to track students’ grades, attendance and behavior to ensure they are getting the help they require. Taylor continues, “We enhance their academic and school experiences. We create those relationships that they need and a platform that allows their voices to be heard.”
So far, C4C’s model is proving to be effective. This year, 100 percent of high school seniors in their program are on track to graduate. 85 percent are heading to college and 15 percent are enlisting in the military. As Taylor says, “The kids have the answers and know what they need to do, it’s just a matter of getting them to take those actions.” And having programs that know how to inspire youth to begin taking those actions.
Given the current success of C4C, Taylor says being a Social Innovator gives him a new perspective and challenges him to think differently in hopes of expanding C4C’s impact. “It’s not that we’re a solution,” Taylor comments, “But it’s more that we’re able to use the resources that are already existing and use them differently.” As C4C continues to pilot new ideas and dig deeper into what works and what doesn’t for education reform, Taylor hopes to see the organization expand across the country and become a pipeline to colleges and universities. “In 10 years, I hope we’ll have colleges across the country, high schools across the country, buying into our model,” says Taylor. Given the great results C4C has had so far, more and more educational programs might start to take notice.
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