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.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.