Each year, prior to their playing season, the Hope College men's basketball team goes on a weekend retreat with Coach Glenn VanWieren to his northern Michigan cottage. Along with team building activities, the team also writes a mission statement which hangs on the wall in their locker room.
Part of this year's mission statement was for the team to serve in some volunteer capacity within the Holland community. It was the team's desire to work in an elementary school with a program that would enhance reading and promote positive individual values.
Subsequently, we met with Brian Davis, the superintendent of the Holland Public Schools system. Mr. Davis was very excited about the possibility and recommended that our players work with fourth and fifth graders at the Holland Heights Elementary School.
Rhonda Klomparens, principal at Holland Heights, was very excited about the partnership with Hope College men's basketball. She said, "Hope basketball players will be great role models for the Holland Heights students because the school is about 75 percent minority students, and 75 percent of them are on the free or reduced cost lunch program because they are at or below what is considered the poverty level."
Hope coach Glenn VanWieren was excited because his mother Wilma taught fourth grade at Holland Heights years ago. Also, Brian Davis expressed the school's need for role models such as the Hope men's basketball team.
In December 2008 the men's basketball team initiated the program by presenting a basketball clinic during an assembly with the fourth and fifth graders at Holland Heights. The elementary students were excited about watching and participating in the basketball activities. Principal Klomparens said, "There is definitely a need here because a lot of our fourth and fifth graders come from very disadvantaged homes, so a lot of the kids don't have the male role models they need."
Our players, for the first time, had a chance to meet the students they would be working with in the classrooms. The players introduced themselves, involved the students in drills, and then put on a basketball demonstration for the students to observe. It was amazing how attentive and excited the students were, knowing they would be working with these men in their classrooms.
There were four classrooms of fourth and fifth grade students taught by exceptional teachers (Shawnda Garcia, Ryan O'Connell, Todd McKay, and Dawn Davison). The 28 players compiling the men's varsity and junior varsity teams would be divided into four groups, each of which would be assigned a classroom to visit once per week.
Each Hope player would work with a small group of three or four students when they went to the classroom. Upon arrival the teachers would provide the players with reading material and a lesson plan with discussion questions relating to values enhancement. Each classroom also read articles about the men's team published in local newspapers and had autographed player and media pictures displayed.
Shawnda Garcia said of the Hope players, "I thank them so much for coming to our classroom. It is an honor to have them here and I know I am repeating myself, but I love these young men because they are such outstanding role models and the students have a great desire to learn and discuss when they are here. Thank you Hope College for sharing them with us."
For every week during the months of January, February, March, and part of April, 28 Hope College basketball players would visit Holland Heights Elementary School to work with kids. Hope senior Zach Osburn who is majoring in education said, "It is good for me as a future teacher and it is good for the kids because they get to see role models who are going to college and who have goals. We all had people we looked up to when we were growing up. We're trying to do the right things for ourselves but at the same time we want to do the right things for other people."
On Saturday, February 7, the Holland Heights Elementary School fourth and fifth graders were invited to attend a Hope College home basketball game in the DeVos Fieldhouse versus Kalamazoo College. One hundred and forty students along with Superintendent Brian Davis, Principal Rhonda Klomparens, teachers, chaperones, and parents attended the game and sat directly across from the home team. Prior to the game our players visited with students and had a group picture taken at mid-court.
At half-time the visitors were invited to a hospitality room filled with food and refreshments. During the game our guests were applauded by a capacity crowd and after the game there was more time for the students and our players to interact and complete a really wonderful experience.
At the conclusion of our program together at Holland Heights Elementary School we will have an assembly with students and the Hope men's basketball team. During that time we will visit, take comments from students and players about the experience, and present each student with a certificate of recognition for this year's program.
Many individuals from the Holland community have shared thoughts on what has been happening between Hope players and elementary students in our reading and values enhancement program.
One such person had this to say, "What a great thing for the Hope College players and assistants to do with the Holland Heights kids! The basketball players keep my faith in humanity alive. Well done." Our players know they have made a difference in the lives of these elementary students while gaining invaluable life experiences themselves.