Number of Participants: 2
Hours Donated: 1
Value of Time Served: $17
Event Type: Children & Youth
School: Ithaca Senior High School
Date: December 16, 2020
Ithaca High School
North Cayuga Street, Ithaca
Without any high school sports for at least a few more weeks, keeping athletes involved and engaged can be a challenge. Ithaca High School held small practices and workouts for student-athletes when possible, but with the school going to remote learning until early January, additional engagement is needed.
The latest program for athletes to be a part of is Little Red Readers, in which an Ithaca varsity athlete records themselves reading a book, which is then shown to elementary school students in the district. So far, varsity lacrosse and basketball player Nick Cartmill and varsity volleyball player and alpine skier Willow Lewis have taken part. Ithaca Athletic Director Samantha Little detailed how the idea came about.
“We are fortunate to have a coordinator of student wellness and athletics, Stephanie Valletta,” Little said. “She’s always raising the bar and pushing the envelope to find ways to keep kids engaged. I had talked about, in elementary, we do mystery readers, and she was like, ‘Let’s do this at the secondary level. Let’s have them be mentors.’ So, it’s kind of just a brainchild of teamwork and collaboration.”
Little added that with all the disappointment that has gone on this year, family and community is still the root of everything, and this program helps promote that.
Logistically speaking, the student-athletes record themselves reading the book, and then that video is distributed to the nine elementary schools in the district. From there, the schools decide how it will be shown.
“There are different ways that it’s being shared,” Little said. “Some are hearing it during morning meeting time. Some are sending it home so families can also partake in the experience with their students, in addition to the students having it at school. So, that’s what’s really nice about it. We’re sharing it and saying, ‘Just make sure your community gets it.’ And then individual principals and communities are being creative in how they implement that.”
With plenty of student-athletes to choose from at IHS, Little discussed how the selection process was handled.
“We asked coaches to give recommendations,” Little said. “And then from there, Ms. Valletta and I wanted to look at diversity from a gender and race standpoint to make sure every single team was represented. The selection process was input from coaches and reaching out to students. … We definitely wanted to make sure it was diverse and a good representation of our entire community.”
Lewis, who is this week’s reader, was happy to hear that she’d be one of the first students to represent varsity athletes as part of this program.
“It was exciting to be picked,” Lewis said. “After my volleyball coach reached out to me asking if I’d like to participate, I also had to pick someone else out from the team to do it. I love kids, and if we weren’t in a global pandemic, I’d gladly go read to them in person. Even if that isn’t an option now, I was really happy to be given the opportunity to be part of the program.”
The fact that varsity athletes are dedicating time to the community despite having so much taken away from them this year is special for Little.
“It’s just so powerful and it really speaks to who our student-athletes are and then some of the life skills that they’re learning,” Little said. “It’s about collaboration and teamwork, even in the midst of when things aren’t necessarily going your way or how you want them. So, it’s just such a selfless outpouring and demonstration of who our student-athletes are and how they care for their community and really take the role of being a role model and mentor to our elementary students and all students quite seriously.”
Lewis, who already reads to kids while babysitting outside of school and has a librarian mother, gave her student-athlete perspective on why programs that involve athletes in the community are important.
“Athletics in any community often act as both a system to bring people together and one that provides an outlet if for any reason you might need one,” she said. “I think that especially in high school, sports are central to a lot of people’s experience, and by continuing the athletics program through the lack of sports that comes with the pandemic, we are allowing students a pivotal part of school that, for me and others, acts as an escape from all the craziness of the world right now.”
Giving student-athletes the platform to stand out is incredibly meaningful to Little as the athletic director and this is another opportunity.
“This makes me just as happy as when we win a championship or when the students are getting National Honor Society recognition,” she said. “There are so many ways to shine. For some of our students who maybe don’t perform as well on the field or in the classroom, here’s yet another opportunity for them. I think that’s what this is about for us, just finding other ways for students to feel success, build self-esteem, on their pursuit of adulthood.”
Beyond the Little Red Readers program, Ithaca plans on continuing player-development sessions when possible and will hold a program on approach to performance with Dr. Megan Tifft. There has also been the Little Red Leadership Institute in which student-athletes from IHS are able to talk to Cornell University athletes. Community involvement is at the forefront of IHS athletics during this pandemic.