Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Play It Smart - A Win-Win for All Concerned

The School of Business's Play It Smart program has wrapped up after a successful year of community outreach, thanks to a tireless army of Centennial volunteers with their hearts in the right place.

Play It Smart concluded on March 29 with a boisterous party involving the children and their parents, as well as student volunteers and faculty, at the Progress Campus Student Centre. Participants were treated to a dance, talent show and even a PowerPoint presentation on 9-year-old boy assembled about Play It Smart.

The pilot program offered a mix of school tutoring in English, math and science, as well as some basketball instruction and house league play on the professional court at Ashtonbee Campus. The free 20-week program, which took place every Sunday morning between September and the last weekend in March, involved more than 100 children between the ages of 7 and 13, as well as Centennial's own students who volunteered their time as coaches and tutors.

"For some of the kids, the carrot really wasn't the basketball," says Vern. "It was an opportunity to get some extra help in English and math. We had one young girl who was specifically interested in learning how to write well. She gave us a great speech at the final event."

Each Sunday, the kids received 30 or 60 minutes of tutoring in a subject they felt they needed help in, and then the instruction moved onto the hardwood for a half-hour of basketball coaching and a half-hour of house-league play. School of Business Professor Vern Kennedy borrowed the concept from his friend Claude Nembhard, who has coached basketball to kids in North York and York Region.

Centennial's participants came from the Malvern neighborhood in northeast Scarborough. The youth were bused from the Malvern Town Centre to Ashtonbee (the Progress DEL Gym is closed for redevelopment) at no cost. Vern was able to get some corporate sponsors involved, including Canadian Tire and Boston Pizza, to help defray costs.

"The Student Association (CCSAI) provided the volunteers and they did a fantastic job of recruiting them," says Vern. "I can't say enough about the creativity and commitment shown by our own students, who gave up 20 Sunday mornings to work with these kids." The students were recruited from a number of programs, including Child and Youth Worker, Early Childhood Education, Police Foundations, Recreation and Business.

Vern, who teaches marketing and advertising, says introducing youngsters to Centennial now will help them feel less intimidated to try post-secondary education in the future if they've already had a positive experience on campus. The outreach program is also an effective way to have Centennial become better known in the community.

Vern credits the School of Business staff, including Dean David Johnson and Professors Linda Donville, Les Miscampbell and Scott Abraham for working out the logistics of the outreach project. Verns says plans are already in place to continue Play It Smart this fall, thanks to ongoing funding and support from the CCSAI and the community.

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