Franklin & Marshall’s weekly online newsletter
Squash, Tutoring Help Students Become ‘ACES’
Liz Gatling ’14, a member of the F&M women’s squash team, teaches proper form to students from Reynolds Middle School in the Squash ACES program.
Chloe Singer ’14 (front right) and Sara Homayouni ’13 (rear left) tutor Reynolds Middle School students during an academic session in the Squash ACES program.
Only two blocks separate Reynolds Middle School and Franklin & Marshall College in northwest Lancaster. But for 16 Reynolds students, the twice-weekly journey to F&M is the beginning of a longer trip—one toward a promising future.
For the past two years, the College has partnered with the School District of Lancaster to organize Squash ACES, an after-school enrichment program for sixth- and seventh-grade students at Reynolds. The program combines academic tutoring with squash and other fitness activities to encourage personal growth in traditionally underserved students. It is modeled after larger urban squash programs under the umbrella of the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA). Squash ACES is privately funded.
“The long-term goal is college access, using squash as the hook,” says Barbra Smithgall, Squash ACES academic director. “The longer the students are in the program, they begin to see themselves on a college campus. They get to see what college is like, and it doesn’t seem out of reach to them.”
Each Tuesday and Thursday after school, the Reynolds students make the short trip to campus to play squash with F&M students in Mayser Center. Then they are off to Stager Hall, where they spend 90 minutes working with F&M tutors on homework and other academic activities. Students also take part in educational and cultural field trips. They have ventured to Lancaster County Park for team-building exercises, conducted a walking tour of downtown Lancaster to meet the mayor and police chief, and traveled to Philadelphia to visit the Franklin Institute and play squash with students from Philadelphia’s urban squash program.
Squash is the perfect way to maintain students’ interest, says Mike MacDonald, Squash ACES program director for squash and community service. “Squash is not a traditional sport the kids are familiar with, so it’s a challenge,” MacDonald says. “We’re seeing development in the kids after they’ve been in the program for a year. They’re substantially better, and they can play points and play games.”
The program has connected the Reynolds students with one of the giants of squash, F&M Head Coach John White, formerly the top-ranked player in the world. “They’re starting to get the idea that Coach White is a big deal,” MacDonald says.
Liz Gatling ’14, a member of the F&M women’s squash team, spent six years in New York City’s urban squash program. She is now one of several Diplomats helping the Reynolds students learn the game.
“My experience working with the children has been spectacular,” Gatling says. “They are always ready to listen and learn. I enjoy coaching because they are so dedicated and determined to improve their game. They’re good-spirited individuals.”
Squash ACES also takes the students into the Lancaster community. The F&M and Reynolds students have partnered on a variety of service projects, including Lancaster’s Race Against Racism, leaf and garden cleanup at the Milagro House and Lancaster City Linear Park, and letter-writing to U.S. troops for the holidays. The activities have fostered relationships among the students, tutors and staff members in Squash ACES.
“If not for the relationships we’ve seen develop, this would just be a tutoring program,” says Smithgall, who credits Mark Simms, principal of Reynolds and former assistant basketball coach at F&M, for lending strong support to the program. “The students have developed self-confidence that reflects on the court, in the classroom, in the community and in their homes.”
The Reynolds students have also received a taste of the liberal arts, something most middle-school students cannot say. Smithgall says Carol Davis, associate professor of theatre, has created opportunities for students to attend performances such as Little Shop of Horrors. Students have also experienced African dance classes in the College’s dance studio and worked with Barbara Strasko, Lancaster’s poet laureate.
“I love working with the children and helping establish a relationship between F&M and the Lancaster community,” says Monica Dewan ’13, a Squash ACES tutor. “I think it is extremely important for younger students to have a kinship and a strong connection with older students because it is beneficial to learn from others’ experiences.”
“This is a win-win for everyone,” Smithgall says. “F&M students learn as much as the kids do.”