Reflecting on his own upbringing with a mother who was a teacher, he knew he was capable of building a strong rapport with his students, but he wanted to connect with them on a deeper level outside the classroom. Dan knew he could do this on the playing field.
“At Highbridge, there was only one sports team, a basketball team, for 12 boys,” said Dan. So, to be able to fulfill his mission of connecting with the students on a deeper level, he took it upon himself to launch the school’s first ever after-school lacrosse program. “We opened the program up to boys and girls, and there was an immediate and dramatic impact on the students’ behavior and academic performance.”
This was the beginning of Bronx Lacrosse, which has now expanded to three schools in the area: two middle schools and one high school.
Unlike many schools in adjacent Westchester County, schools in the South Bronx struggle with just getting students to show up on a regular basis. “Every morning our students wake up they are dealing with overcoming many struggles, including food insecurity, especially since the pandemic,” explained Dan. “The South Bronx has been hit disproportionally hard by COVID, and the switch to online learning is extremely challenging, as many of these students do not have the technology available in their homes to attend school virtually.”
Not just about lacrosse
The Bronx Lacrosse program is no longer just an after-school program. It has evolved into a full-day, year-round academic and sports-based youth development program that empowers children on the field and in the classroom. Lacrosse is the motivator and the glue to build community, improve academic engagement and performance, and develop leadership and social-emotional skills.
Students must apply in order to be admitted to the program. Selection is based on the student’s commitment to the school and interest in learning how to play lacrosse. They know that if they miss school, or miss a lacrosse session without a legitimate reason, they cannot attend the next lacrosse session.
Whereas other schools in the South Bronx struggle to get students just to show up, those enrolled in the Bronx Lacrosse program have an average 90% attendance rate. Also, 100% of eighth-grade program participants passed all four major core classes (ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies) and graduated middle school on time. Overall, 95% of the students passed all four core classes with an average GPA of 81%.
This year marks the first time a graduate of the program completed high school and was recruited to play lacrosse. John Peña has signed his commitment to play for St. Thomas Aquinas College and is the first person from his family to attend college. “He has set the pathway for others to follow his lead,” expressed Dan. “This is so exciting, as we are such a young organization.”
Partnerships make it possible
Students in the Bronx Lacrosse program are supported both on and off the field, which is only made possible through outstanding partnerships. Volunteers from leading institutions such as the Fordham Graduate School of Education provide mentorship, team building exercises, academic support and tutoring, and behavioral monitoring and intervention.
Jess Westermann, Chief Program Officer for Bronx Lacrosse, explains that they currently have about 70 volunteers in the program, seven of which are tutors from Fordham GSE. “The tutors from Fordham GSE have been terrific! They are reliable, professional, great at breaking down concepts, and excellent at building rapport with the students,” noted Westermann. “As a former teacher myself, I love seeing great people getting ready to enter the profession. We hope to keep partnering with Fordham GSE for years to come.”
“Our students absolutely love meeting new people from different backgrounds. They ask the volunteers/mentors a ton of questions,” said Dan. “We are so grateful to them for taking time out of their day to work with our students.”
Importance of fieldwork
Arlene Moliterno, Ph.D., clinical professor of education in the Division of Curriculum and Teaching at Fordham University Graduate School of Education, oversees the GSE student volunteers. “Fieldwork is a pre-program experience that allows students to try out teaching as a profession,” she explained. “It helps solidify for students that teaching is what they want to do. Today, there is a teacher shortage, especially in inner city schools and in the Bronx. Through partnerships such as Bronx Lacrosse, our students experience what a passionate and rewarding profession teaching can be.”
“Being a tutor at Bronx Lacrosse has been a delightful experience. While learning has most definitely changed, these students never fail to bring their best attitude with them. Knowing I am just a small part of an organization that is there to help members of my own community is beyond rewarding,” said Galilea Morocho, GSE student and volunteer.
Kristen Myllek, also a GSE student and volunteer said, “It has been so gratifying to be part of the Bronx Lacrosse program. The community is so welcoming and works relentlessly to ensure all of the students receive help and support throughout the year. The students have taught me valuable skills to bring to my future endeavors as an educator, and they provide me with joy, knowing I am helping them along their educational journey.”
Both Galilea and Kristen are part of the GSE 5-year teaching program. This program enables Fordham undergraduate students to receive their Master’s in Teaching in one year immediately after completing their undergraduate work.
More on Dan Leventhal
Dan Leventhal is the Founder and President of Bronx Lacrosse. Dan was a member of the Men’s Lacrosse Team at Tufts (‘14), which won the 2014 DIII National Championship. There, he worked with Team Impact, a non-profit that connects children facing serious illnesses with college athletic teams. He remains an active member of the organization. He received his Master’s in Education from Fordham University (’17) and currently resides in Manhattan. To learn more about Bronx Lacrosse, visit https://bronxlacrosse.org/.