Aiming High at Harlem Lacrosse

Quan is a rising 7th grader at the Mildred Avenue K – 8 School who started the Harlem Lacrosse program last summer. Since entering the program, Quan has grown as both a student and an athlete.

“He took on a lot of leadership roles over the summer that he hadn’t taken during the school year,” said Program Director Dan Hanley. “He came every single day throughout the summer.”

“I developed as a leader by showing when my teammate is down I have to help them back up and when someone’s sad I have to cheer them on, make them get back out there, and have fun,” Quan said.

From one New York teacher introducing lacrosse to his class in 2008, Harlem Lacrosse has grown into a national program, expanding to four other cities, including five sites in Boston in 2016.  Harlem Lacrosse serves at-risk youth with a model that integrates playing lacrosse with academic support, mentoring, leadership training, college readiness, career exploration, and admissions counseling.

“For Harlem Lacrosse, the athletic component of lacrosse is really the hook that gets kids involved in our program – it’s what they get excited about, it’s what makes us different from a lot of academic-focused programs,” Dan said. “By mixing those in the summer, it gives kids something to get excited about and also another area where they can learn in a different environment from the classroom, so the kids are still learning, both in lacrosse and social-emotional skills, while they’re in lacrosse.” 

Part of the Harlem Lacrosse model requires students to attend daily study halls led by the Program Director to complete their schoolwork and build academic skills. As the Program Director for the boy’s team at the Mildred Ave site, Dan acts as a tutor, mentor, and coach for the students in the program and is a daily presence in the school throughout the year, which is how he first met Quan.

“He didn’t like the academic side of school – he got frustrated with study halls before practice, and didn’t like the structured, academic work,” Dan said. “But he blossomed during the summer program, when all school sites come together at the Mildred, so he was with kids from other schools, other teachers, program directors.”

Harlem Lacrosse encourages students to set high expectations to build confidence, teamwork, and perseverance on and off the field. In order to measure student success, they track both academic and athletic progress. Since its founding, 100% of participants in the program graduate middle school on time and pass classes at a rate 20% higher than other students at their schools.

“In summer academy, I was one of the best students in my class because of Coach Hanley. He helped me with multiplying fractions, and he helped me develop my skills,” Quan said.

“He grew a lot and was able to get more practice and repetition at his math and reading skills – all of those benefits that you see from consistent academic work in the summer,” Dan said. “We saw that he came back in 6th grade and his academic habits and his views toward being a student changed.”

An integral part of the program is relationships with local colleges such as Boston University, offering students the chance not only to visit college campuses but to speak with students about their academic paths. To date, Harlem Lacrosse participants have earned over $27 million in scholarship offers. The connection between playing lacrosse and college athletics, along with health and social-emotional benefits, makes lacrosse instruction a fundamental part of the program.

“It also provides us an opportunity to show parallels between the learning they’re doing on the field and the learning they’re doing in the classroom and how things like having a growth mindset and showing resilience and effort can translate to both of those areas,” Dan said.

Dan saw Quan develop a growth mindset at Summer Academy, in part because of the specialized attention he was able to receive from the variety of adults involved in the program. From teachers and program directors from five sites to interns and volunteer coaches, students are supported in their athletic, academic, and social-emotional growth.

“One thing is I’m learning to control my temper, because usually when something doesn’t go my way, I get kind of mad or have a temper when I do my work,” Quan said. “But then, Coach Hanley cheers me back up, and makes sure that I get my work done.”

During the summer program, students start their day connecting with their peers, then have academic sessions focused on math and reading in the morning, followed by lunch and then outdoor activities including lacrosse, basketball, and bubble soccer in the afternoon. Another component is the trip to Maine for Summer Bounce at Camp Cedar, a camp run by Harlem Lacrosse that emphasizes teamwork and character building along with offering activities like fishing, archery, tubing, and zip-lining, in addition to lacrosse. Participants from Boston as well as New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia earn the opportunity to go to Camp Cedar by attending Summer Academy every day.

“They learn commitment and we really reward students who show commitment throughout the summer and show consistency in their attendance and their efforts during the summer,” Dan said. “Those are skills that are certainly going to be useful in the coming academic year and in life and athletics.”

Through meeting and collaborating with peers, community-focused learning, career exploration, individualized academic support, and lacrosse instruction, Harlem Lacrosse participants develop not only as athletes and students, but also as leaders and community members.

“A lot of our kids are not able to participate in enrichment programs during the summer and this program is free, it provides an opportunity for them to engage with friends, it provides an opportunity for them to get academic preparation for their next school year, and it provides an opportunity for them to have fun and participate in an activity that they really enjoy,” Dan said.

Quan has continued to participate in the program through the school year and was looking forward to returning to Summer Academy this summer.

“I want to have fun and I want to show Coach Hanley that I love the lacrosse team and I will always show commitment,” Quan said.