Athletes Bring Smiles & Learning to Local Children
February 3, 2017
Small bursts of laughter take over the motionless, narrow halls at Cogburn Woods Elementary and divert your attention to a table of developing minds at the back of the school.
There you see a crowd of smiling children alongside Cambridge student-athletes, who are there to help teach their younger counterparts.
This scene is repeated once a month when Cambridge athletes visit area elementary schools as part of the CARES (Cambridge Athletes Reading to Elementary Schools) program.
CARES is a new program created by the Cambridge Athletic Association, in which the school’s athletes spend their mornings, — one day a month — reading and working with elementary school students. The Cambridge athletes tutor in all subjects and help keep the younger students on the track to success.
Athletic Director Chris Bennett and a group of coaches developed the idea for the program as a way to get their student athletes more involved with the community.
Bennett said last semester that CARES had already become an instant hit because student-athletes were able to serve their community and show leadership.
“The ultimate end-goal of CARES is to come out and support these kids,” said Bennett. “Seeing our athletes in a different limelight of a position of leadership just shows how successful this program has become, and how much more it’ll become down the road.”
Many coaches who are a part of C.A.R.E.S have also said the program has allowed their athletes to discover the true qualities of being a team player.
“Any time you can get high school kids to act as a mentor to younger kids,” said Varsity Football Head Coach Craig Bennett said in an email, “you bring out certain qualities we want in our athletes, such as caring, patience and responsibility.”
Each month a few coaches choose students from different sports like football, basketball and cross country to take part in CARES.
The students then drive to either Cogburn Woods, Summit Hill or Birmingham Falls elementary schools to complete the task of enriching these kids’ education. All student-athletes are required to go at least once to participate in enriching the kids’ education.
Senior Kaelin Byrd, a running back and linebacker, expressed excitement when recalling the experience of the CARES program. He recalled how they treated him like a celebrity, bombarding him with autographs and asking him questions like they were a press junket.
“It was a really great experience all-around. Just seeing their little smiles light up when we taught made it all worth it,” said Byrd. “Hearing them sound joyful is one heck of an awesome thing, but seeing their reactions is probably one of the best feelings you could ever get in your life.”
Byrd’s not the only athlete who has a positive attitude towards the program.
Soccer player Charlotte Teeter, a junior, said she sees this program as a way to guide younger minds to a brighter future filled with endless opportunities.
“CARES gives these talented kids a chance to look up to someone if they don’t have anyone else to look up to,” said Teeter. “We’re here to help them and better guide them into the future.”
Head Varsity Girls Soccer Coach Eric Swanberg said that what Teeter said was basically the ultimate core message of CARES.
“I would say the core message of CARES is bringing the community together to provide added value to the lives of students,” Swanberg wrote in an email, “as it builds bridges for the youth to connect on a different level and helps to build positive relationships that could have a positive lifetime impact on students K-12.”
Fourth-grader Alicia Johnson walked into class expecting nothing but another day of seemingly endless grammar-related headaches. With her ponytails newly braided and her pink L.L Bean backpack clinging to her, she was ready to conquer the day’s challenges.
Upon arrival, her teacher announced that the Cambridge athletes would be visiting that morning. Johnson reacted with a smile riddled with titanium.
“They just make me feel really nice and polite inside because they were the ones being nice and polite,” Johnson said.
Johnson also made a note to praise the athletes’ teaching styles, saying that they should consider jobs in education.
“They would do a really, really good job at teaching if they decide not to be athletes anymore,” Johnson.
Johnson wasn’t the only elementary school student to react with so much positivity.
Fourth-grader Daniel Gonzales appreciated how the student-athletes were able to make the learning experience much more interactive.
“I liked how they can make teaching funny and cool, but also still teach us like our teachers,” said Gonzales.
Speaking to that point, the student-athletes have made it a point to connect with them on a personal level.
This is one of the reasons why fourth-grade teacher Eleanor Sullins thinks the program has been so key in the development of her students, as it gives them valuable leadership skills from a young age.
“I think it’s important for them to see leadership from a different perspective, like from an athlete or role-model, not just from an adult or teacher,” said Sullins.