Rec & Park afterschool program offers academic support and tennis instruction to low-income communities
Entering its fourth year, the Tennis & Learning Center after-school program is helping young students thrive. Free to students who meet low-income qualifying criteria, the TLC program has sites at the Palega, Hamilton and Betty Ann Ong Recreation Centers, providing kids with recreation and support – in the classroom and on the tennis court – that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
“We are trying to hit the low-income communities,” says Channing Hale, program coordinator of the TLC program at SF Rec & Park. “In addition to tennis and academic support, we try to offer opportunities that the kids do not get on a day-to-day basis, such as world history, arts & crafts, and dance. We asked teachers and principals to find out what services the kids were not getting at school and that’s what we offer.”
Students receive an hour of academic support and an hour of tennis instruction each day, led by Rec & Park certified tennis instructors. Equipment is funded by USTA NorCal, so kids do not need to have their own. Snacks and dinner are also provided.
In addition to the benefits of fresh air and exercise, Hale sees other positive outcomes of the tennis program. “Tennis gives the kids the opportunity to work with each other and see each other in a different light,” she says. “What I notice a lot is that the kids who are more advanced will go help the ones who are struggling and show them how to swing the racquet.”
Hale has special insight into how to make the program most useful to the students and parents participating, having grown up attending similar programs in San Francisco. “I could relate to these kids and families. I grew up in Bayview Hunters Point in a low-income, single-mother family so I was able to put myself in these kids lives,” says Hale.
As important as the tennis is the academic support that the TLC staff offers, which includes one-on-one tutoring three days a week. They also do regular check ins with the teachers and principals at the participating schools. TLC staff sit in classes with kids who are having difficulty during class time, offering continuity between the school day and afterschool program.
“At the heart of TLC is the belief that providing youth with access to positive relationships and educational support systems will promote healthy development and improve futures,” said Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the Recreation and Parks Department. “This is an important program that provides exposure to tennis, but the heart of it is preparing students for high school and beyond.”
The participating Recreation sites are chosen by a number of criteria, including income levels of the surrounding population and if there is a public elementary school within walking distance.
For now, the program serves K-5 students; however, when Golden Gate Park Tennis Center is renovated, Rec & Park will launch a TLC program there to serve middle school students from across the TLC sites, says Hale. “Students graduating from the K-5 sites can go to the GGPTC program in middle school,” she says.
Led by Hale, a passionate leader with over a decade of experience in afterschool programs, the TLC programs are by all accounts successful. Enrollment at the sites is growing and discussions are underway to open a fourth site next year, she says. And the TLC is generating enthusiasm for a sport that was not very visible in the communities in which these kids live.
“If you go to Hunters Point or Sunnydale or Fillmore, there are no tennis courts really and you don’t see a lot of ethnic backgrounds on the court,” says Hale. “Tennis brings a different light and atmosphere to this community because parents tell me their kids would never have played tennis otherwise.”