Panther Tutoring Program Off To Huge Success
Panther head coach Pete Corfeld

Panther head coach Pete Corfeld

Dec. 19, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - This past summer, Pete Corfeld had an idea.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee head cross country/track & field coach wanted a way for his student-athletes to give back to the Milwaukee community that they represent. So, he contacted former Panther standout Tim Kenney.

At the time, Kenney was the principal of Atwater Elementary School just down the road from UWM in Shorewood. The two came up with a way to involve Milwaukee's current track & field and cross country student-athletes in the grade school.

"He (Corfeld) and I started talking about opportunities for UWM student-athletes to become active in the community around them," Kenney said. "We had talked last year about setting up a tutoring program where a group of UWM student-athletes would come to Atwater and work with kids on a weekly basis, and it would be just kind of a short-term, maybe 6-8 weeks, give a try and see how it goes. We figured we could expand the program from there."

Added Corfeld, "The whole idea of doing the mentoring program is to give back to society and the community. What better way to help young people? I came up with the idea of having our student-athletes going up to Atwater grade school and help their program."

With that idea in mind, both Corfeld and Kenney spearheaded the project right into action.

This past fall, Milwaukee cross country and track & field student-athletes started taking time during the day to go to Atwater to work with students there. Once a week, for between 45 minutes to an hour, these student-athletes have spent time in the classroom. They've helped in both in group settings and one-on-one, helping students in whatever way possible.

So far, the reviews have been nothing but positive for the Panther Tutoring Program.

"I've been getting feedback from some of the teachers at Atwater and I've been getting two thumbs up," Kenney said. "Generally speaking in education, if it wasn't going well, I'd be hearing about it. But, I'm actually hearing quite the opposite. And, having met the student-athletes for a short amount of time and having been part of the program from 1991-96, I know the type of athletes that Pete Corfeld recruits. So, I'm not surprised that this is a group that's going to come in and our students at Atwater are going to respond favorably to them."

The program did almost have to be put on hold as Kenney accepted the job as the interim principal at Shorewood High School. With one of the original leaders of the idea moving down the road to a different school, it would have been understandable for things to progress less quickly in his absence. Kayla Russick made sure that didn't happen.

Russick, a former teacher with Milwaukee Public Schools, was hired to be the interim principal at Atwater Elementary and stepped right in to help make sure the Panther Reading Program would still take place in her school.

"It's a great opportunity for our students and for them," Russick said. "The teachers have said it's been really nice. They feel like their mentor really gets involved and really wants to work with the groups. Anytime there are adults in the building that show a genuine interest in our students, the kids respond, so I know it is working well."

You might understand if the student-athletes were a little skeptical about adding to their already busy schedule. But, plenty of Panthers immediately jumped on board and have thoroughly enjoyed their time spent with the students at Atwater.

"When coach Corfeld mentioned the program, I was really excited," sophomore runner Gerrit Bruni said. "Although I have never been interested in becoming a teacher, I have always enjoyed working with younger kids and this was a great opportunity to do that. I am very glad he got us involved with tutoring at Atwater."

Added senior runner Carissa Schneiter, "I really look forward to next semester when I will be returning to the same classroom, hopefully to continue working on math. The student I spent the most time with is in her first year of school here after moving from Saudi Arabia. I was astonished at the transformation that occurred in the two months that we volunteered at the school. She learned to add, subtract, tell time and count money in the time I was there. "

With the first few months such a smash success, the Panthers are taking a break from tutoring to work on final exams and for the holiday break, but plan to not only continue their tutoring work, but plans to add to it are already in the works.

"Now we're going to add on a new layer," Kenney said. "This is something that is very new to the district. Mentoring is not a new concept in education but typically mentoring occurs at a peer-mentoring level.

"We're talking about some adult student-athletes from UWM coming in and working with some students at Atwater who may benefit from having something like a big brother or big sister kind of person to work with. So it's not just helping them get their homework done. It's actually taking a look at things like continuing to promote our character education program that we have. It may include some tutoring, but also just a little bit about `How do you get by? What are some strategies you can use when you're angry?' Those really important things that can be learned and reinforced at a young age because, if they get it at a young age, they're going to be served so much better in the long run."

Added Russick, "I've talked with some of the teachers and I would love to see this program grow... we could have a plethora of mentors in the building working once a week with our students, which would be fantastic because many of them need that connection.

"In Shorewood, we do have a strong view of the total child. So, the fact that we have these athletes that are also college students or pursuing a college career, they're sticking with their athletics, their being able to work with our students is a great role model for our students as far as their health and wellness, so I think it is really kind of a win-win situation for everybody."

For Corfeld and his student-athletes, the program has been even more rewarding than anticipated.

"In the beginning, you think you're just going to help the kids and they're going to be thankful, which they are, but I've noticed that our athletes are really getting a lot out of it - a lot of reward out of helping the youngsters," Corfeld said. "We plan on continuing the program through semesters and over the years that it becomes the norm."



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