Life on Track | City of Ideas
Issue to be Addressed:
A variety of social factors, including a lack of role models, community supports and resources, and supportive environments and relationships, affect the health and achievement of young men and boys of color.
Sport and physical activity can contribute to general positive health practices as well as to the prevention of problematic behaviors.
Good health is not only the foundation of a productive society; it is an essential prerequisite for young men of color to achieve social and economic success.
Youth in Boston have limited access to opportunities for participation in sports and recreation, contributing to poor health outcomes.
The World Health Organization has suggested that:
-Sports may enhance health due to the positive socializing influences of involved adults. Leaders may be more likely to promote healthy lifestyles in the course of team sport participation.
-Sports may divert individuals from negative influences by placing youths in environments conducive to positive behaviors.
-Sports may enhance personal resilience and esteem, and provide a setting to learn positive health behaviors. Participation in sport may enhance self-confidence, provide a sense of physical empowerment, and give social recognition within the school and community.
Life on Track, a running program for fifth through ninth grade boys (age 9-15) at Boston’s McKinley Schools, targets boys and young men of color from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Life on Track integrates nutrition, character development, mentorship, and walking/running components.
Life on Track provides at-risk students the opportunity to participate in a safe, accepting, and organized athletic program, culminating in a five mile/km road race, to improve self-esteem, health, and school achievement.
McKinley students have experienced repeated school failure, involvement with the juvenile justice system, and experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and more. Unfortunately, not only do youth in Boston have limited access to opportunities for participation in sports and physical activity, the social and emotional needs of McKinley students often prevent their successful participation in community-based activities. Life on Track will change the trajectory of these children’s lives.
Youth involved in athletics have higher self esteem, engage in fewer risky behaviors, and have more positive health outcomes than those who are not and there is ample evidence that investments in prevention and wellness have a high payoff in terms of health outcomes and reducing health care costs.
Life on Track offers McKinley students an incredible opportunity to achieve!
Role of Collaboration:
The McKinley Schools are substantially separate special education schools within Boston Public Schools, serving students identified as having an emotional disturbance or behavior disorder. Many of the students enrolled in the McKinley Schools are also managing learning disabilities, mental health conditions, and stressors that include difficult life histories, poverty, and neighborhood violence. Seventy-five percent of boys aged 9-15 who attend the McKinley South End Academy and Elementary School live in Dorchester, Mattapan, or Roxbury (100% live in Boston). Life on Track would take place at the school site with support and professional staff providing coaching and mentorship.
Wediko Children’s Services is a non-profit organization committed to transforming children’s lives. Since 1934, Wediko has been providing therapeutic and educational services to children, families, and schools struggling with complex emotional, behavioral, and learning issues. Wediko has partnered with the McKinley Schools for over 30 years to provide clinical and program consultation to teachers and administrators, direct clinical services to students and families, and trainings and workshops for parents and teachers. Wediko seeks to restore a sense of competence and hope by providing students with the resources they need to overcome life’s challenges and experience success.
Bill Rodgers is an American runner, Olympian, and former American record holder. Most known for being a four-time Boston and NYC Marathon winner, he is also a teacher. Bill experienced the benefit of taking students outside for physical activity everyday. Despite limited resources and a principal who disapproved, Bill didn’t relent – and he saw the difference running makes in children’s lives. Bill appreciates the unique strengths and needs of students who struggle in school and will serve as a valuable mentor, coach, and consultant. In addition, this partnership provides Life on Track with increased exposure and access to community resources.
Both Wediko and McKinley work with children who have struggled to make friends, succeed at school, and have positive family time. Many of these students are young men of color from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Research has shown that young men of color have limited experience with supportive environments and relationships as well as a lack of community support and resources and the research consistently mentions the importance of such in fostering positive educational outcomes for students. (The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color)
Through Life on Track, Wediko and McKinley will help students find their strengths and build skills so that they can face challenges in a new way. With the guidance of Bill Rodgers and his experience with goal-setting and perseverance, children will see what running – and accomplishing – can do for them.
The collaboration that can implement Life on Track will improve the lives of at-risk and underserved boys and young men of color from Boston communities. Increased self-esteem, meaningful connections, and improved health means a better life for Life on Track participants. Perhaps most importantly, students will experience success – so critical to building hope for a brighter future.
Wediko believes that hope and success are the foundation for a brighter future. Unfortunately, both can be painfully elusive for so children. Boys and young men of color face additional challenges and suffer from disparate opportunities for success. McKinley Schools, Bill Rodgers, and Wediko are committed to helping children and families restore hope and build a strong future.
This fall a parent wrote: “Thank you all for the work you did with my daughter. At Wediko she transformed from a sad & withdrawn child back to the child she used to be – happy, running fast, smiling, full of energy. Such a change. Thank you. “ Although the parent of a female student, it is clear that transformation is possible and hope can be restored.
With hope, children find strength to endure and continue on their journey to improve life and embrace their successes and accomplishments. Hope also brings joy – and all children deserve joy.
Another important aspect of Life on Track is community involvement and mentorship. Local track and field athletes of color, who would act as role models and mentors for Life on Track participants, have expressed interest, but it is not yet possible to announce a partnership.
Kate Regal started working at Wediko when she was 20 years old. Seeing the power of success for underserved and at-risk children, Kate knew where she wanted to do for the rest of her life. As a therapist and consultant, Kate has worked in partnership with children, families, schools, and other professionals to build skills, address needs, and ultimately restore hope. As a 13 time Boston Marathon finisher, Kate is familiar with perseverance and the power of a healthy mind and body to overcome challenges. Kate would act as Project Manager of Life on Track.
Velicia Saunders leads the McKinley Schools, empowering staff and students to seek change and better outcomes. Ms. Saunders has a long tenure as a Boston Public School and McKinley special education teacher and trainer. Ms. Saunders doesn't just look to improve student outcomes - but students' lives. At McKinley, this means stretching resources and getting creative to meet children where they're at and move them towards their goals. McKinley's motto is "Alone we can do so little, Together we can do so much."
Bill Rodgers is best known as an Olympian, former American record holder, and for his victories in the Boston and New York City Marathons. But Bill started his career as a special education teacher who saw the benefit of physical activity for his students. He's never forgotten the power of running for children - the benefit of health, improved focus and self-esteem, and the meaningful connections that form.
Life on Track has spoken with local track and field athletes of color who attend a local university. Interested in mentorship and coaching opportunities, a partnership is in the works!