As of last Thursday, I have visited each of the schools where World Sport Chicago runs BAM-Sports. It was great to see how engaged the BAM-Sports mentors are with their students and programs, and I think the program has the potential to be a huge success in reaching young people this school year. Among many observations walking through these schools, I was struck by their consistent under-enrollment. I attended a school similar in physical size to many of the BAM-Sports schools, but with double the attendance that most have. To me, these schools seem empty, underutilized, and ineffective places to learn.
I went to high school in rural Pennsylvania and suffice to say, the environment I went to high school in looked a lot different than the schools I visited for BAM-Sports, many of which are located on Chicagoâ€™s south and west sides. Most of the schools we visited were under-enrolled, neighborhood schools. Built to serve a couple thousand, the attendance at these schools of only 300-500 left the buildings with a dull or absent vibe. While I am used to seeing buildings bustling with activity and decorations flooding the hallways, I literally saw some rooms and halls which were barren and devoid of activity.
After a bit of exploration, I learned that such environments are not conducive to learning, at least according to an article by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California. Students perform best and achieve at highest levels when their classrooms and learning areas are decorated in a welcoming and inclusive way and when the physical building allows natural lighting and a calm learning space. Many of our BAM-Sports mentors are working to solve environmental concerns in their schools by making sure their work spaces such as offices and group rooms are areas where students feel welcome and can succeed.
The role of BAM-Sports mentors is to promote resiliency and self-efficacy in students, skills students will need to succeed in schools which may not be the best physical spaces in which to achieve and learn. This is just one of a plethora of problems inner-city schools face, but one which quite glaringly caught my eye. At many of the BAM-Sports schools, I saw firsthand the need for strong mentors and I got to see the hard work the the BAM-Sports mentors are putting in to make sure that students can succeed even in such harsh learning environments.