Time and again, baseball players, particularly those who have overcome adversity, make great role models. Case in point: One teacher used Jackie Robinson's story to inspire a remedial reading class of 12 middle school boys in suburban Dallas to reach higher literacy levels and bolster their self-confidence. In the end, the students learned how to be their own source of inspiration.
The students in Whitney Kelley's class, who started out reading at least two levels below their grade, had a lot of obstacles to overcome. They were in her class because they either required education accommodations for learning disabilities or had scored poorly on standardized testing. Kelley wanted to help them, but a big obstacle was simply motivation.
At the beginning of the year, they read the story of Jackie Robinson together. "We referenced it throughout the year to remind ourselves of teamwork, big visions, and overcoming," Kelley said. "I chose it because it was an all-boy classroom, and I wanted to find a way to connect with them. I had no idea that it would ultimately connect them not just to one another but back to themselves."
Jackie Robinson's struggles with discrimination hit close to home, particularly when it came to the students' personal lives. "The students in this classroom were all minorities — either racially and/or socioeconomically," Kelley explained, "so they were able to relate to the life circumstances that Jackie Robinson had to overcome."
Kelley's class required the students to pass certain benchmarks, and every Friday, they celebrated how many books and words each student had completed throughout the year — and much to Kelley's surprise, Jackie's story kept coming up as time went on.
"It was not my intention for Jackie's story to become a metaphor for our classroom, but it just organically happened," Kelley said. "It was the students who began to hearken back to it when we faced difficulty. They were the ones who would reference the story and talk about how Jackie Robinson would have handled situations."
A Resounding Success
By the end of the year, all of Kelley's students had progressed by at least two grade levels, and some were reading at or above their own grade. One student in particular made major gains, and even earned notably high scores in standardized testing.
To celebrate the achievements of the entire class, Kelley reached out to a friend who had ties to the Texas Rangers, who got the entire class a private box for a game. The students were absolutely blown away by the stadium. "If I recall correctly, none of them had ever been to a professional sporting event," she said. Sitting inside a private box on a beautiful spring day and rooting for the home team was an amazing reward.
"I remember telling them that someone had graciously arranged for them to go, and they all were high-fiving and talking about how they had overcome 'just like Jackie,'" Kelley said. "I've never seen a bunch of teenage boys so puffed up with pride, all of which was well deserved. I think I cried most of the day watching these boys pat each other on the back and celebrate their success."
Kelley has since moved to another school, and the boys in her class are now juniors and seniors in high school. Many of them likely have fond memories of that baseball game and the major strides they achieved in Kelley's reading class, and Kelley herself will never forget how an old story of a sporting legend pushed her students to reach new heights.
Image source: Bigstock