New York

'Good kids' mentored at Hoops & Leaders Basketball Camp

Campers ask the mentors about the colleges they attended. Photo: Kelly Vaughan
Campers ask their mentors about college. <em>Photo: Kelly Vaughan</em>

“The cool thing about teamwork is it can translate to any part of your life,” NY1 host and reporter Budd Mishkin says, concluding a story about Michael Jordan’s 1995 game-winning assist in a match against the Knicks. A roomful of lanky adolescents in blue and grey jerseys listen intently, occasionally interjecting good-natured jokes into Mishkin’s talk. Seated among them are adult mentors, who come every evening for a week to play basketball, eat dinner, and participate in leadership activities with the youth at the 5-year-old Hoops & Leaders Basketball Camp in the West Village.

About 40 youth and 40 mentors are participating in this year’s camp, held at the Tony DaPolito Recreation Center, and although the camp is technically only for boys ages 13-16, this year’s group includes one young woman and a female mentor, according to director Justin Weir, who says the camp tries to pick boys with potential who don’t make it into academic prep programs or elite sports camps.

“What happens to good kids who are trying their hardest in school and basketball and are superstars in neither?” Weir asks. “Those are the types of kids that we want to be in our program: the kids who don’t get picked but still have value and potential to blossom into amazing people if given the proper attention.”

Mentors say the program is personally rewarding. “Where else can you sit here and hang out with kids ages 12 to 17 and do something they love?” asks mentor Luis Valentin.

This summer, the weakening economy hampered fundraising efforts and reduced the number of teens the camp is serving, after running multiple sessions in Manhattan and a satellite camp in Brooklyn last year. Still, the program adheres to the model established in 2003, when Aaron Dworkin looked at his friends’ regular basketball game and saw a solution to mentoring organizations’ ongoing shortage of volunteers. Dworkin is now the director of programs for After School All Stars, a national after-school and camp provider.

Dworkin and Weir developed the curriculum around Values of the Game, the book by former New York Knick and presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Each day of camp focuses on a different value from the book — teamwork, resilience, discipline, responsibility — with every activity, from the drills on the court to the night’s leadership activities, oriented around that value.

A night at camp includes basketball practice drills, dinner for the mentors and campers, a guest speaker, and “double rotations” between playing basketball and doing leadership activities. At 9:30 p.m., one camper and one mentor must each hit a free throw to wrap up the evening.

Each camp session ends with either a trip or a community service project. Last year, campers from one session renovated a basketball court. This year, they will visit the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Weir recruits speakers with careers in sports who are not athletes to give the campers a variety of realistic careers to consider. Previous speakers have included television personalities, a marketing director from the New Jersey Nets, and an NBA referee.

One of the coaches gives advice during a time-out.
One of the coaches gives advice during a timeout.

“We learn about responsibility on and off the court,” says Jonathan Heard, 16, who will be a junior at the High School for Leadership and Public Service in downtown Manhattan. “Some of this stuff I believed in already in my life, but camp backed that up,” he said. “We meet grown men here who are mentors who did this their whole life. I’m still young so it’s just first steps.”

Valentin sees the program changing the campers’ attitudes. “I do see some of them actually grabbing onto what we’re telling them,” he said. “They let down that guard that they build up towards each other.”

Patrick Jasienowski, 15, a rising junior at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, says he’s learned a lot at Hoops & Leaders. “It’s awesome,” he says. “It helped my shot and offensive and defensive game. The leaders are very cool, too — they do inspiring things.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede