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.”

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 [email protected]

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”