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Dougco football players tackle reading

Here’s an interesting approach to inspiring elementary school children to read. This article about an innovative program at Frontier Elementary School called Reading with Winners comes from the Douglas County School District. Share stories of things your child’s school is doing to inspire young readers by making a comment on this post.

“Many Parker elementary school students are wondering why there are big football players sitting at their desks in between school and football practice. Turns out these Chaparral football players have another type of winning game plan on their minds.

The senior boys are part of a volunteer group organized by Christine Harris, the building resource teacher at Frontier Valley Elementary in Parker. For two years, she has led a volunteer effort she calls Reading with Winners to assist teachers in the classroom and provide mentoring opportunities for elementary school students at five Parker elementary schools. The program started two years ago when, Jack – Harris’ oldest son, was a senior football player at Chaparral. Jack Harris is currently a redshirt freshman offensive lineman for the University of Colorado in Boulder. Tommy Harris, Jack’s brother, a senior football player at Chaparral, is now assigned to his former elementary school – Cherokee Trail Elementary.

“The goal is for the boys to return to their roots, see the small desks they once sat in, become a mentor to kids and make an impact on the youth right in their own community,” said Harris. “These boys are exceptional on the field as well as off. They are smart, ethical, tremendously athletic, and are now delighted to contribute to their community. All 19 boys are exceptional young men.”

This year, 19 senior football players have been assigned to their former elementary schools to help students with their learning, specifically reading. Harris closely monitors their grades throughout the football season to make sure they qualify to be in the classroom with elementary school children. Harris maintains close contact with varsity football coach, John Vogt to ensure the boys are meeting not only their athletic obligations, but their academic ones as well. The boys visit the elementary schools every Tuesday afternoon during their free period before their three-hour football practice at Chaparral.

Vogt is proud of his seniors this year. “They are my boys,” he said. “They are just really great all-around kids. We work hard to instill values in our football program – respect for elders, giving back to the community – those types of values – and I know they are enjoying the heck out of all they are doing on the field and off the field.”

At least half of the boys have grade point averages above 3.0 and nearly a third of them are posting close to 4.0 grade point averages and scoring high on the Colorado ACT – with one posting a perfect 36 on the science portion of the test. A few of the boys have had offers to compete at schools such as Stanford and the Air Force Academy, and several players are drawing the attention of other top universities across the country.

The boys wear their jerseys in the classroom to help the younger children recognize them if they attend a Chaparral football game. According to Harris, the football players want the younger kids to come out and see them play. The program runs throughout football season and extends into the playoff period to give the elementary school children the chance to watch their mentors on the field.

The Chaparral football players don’t stop giving back when football is over. The boys replaced landscaping at a Castle Rock nursing home and completed a service project for the Praying Hands Ranch, a therapeutic horseback-riding center in Parker over the summer.”

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.