Former local athletes inspire YMCA Power Scholar Academy participants

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By Melanie Schumilas

Four former local athletes gathered to speak to scholars from Bedford Elementary School and Montvale Elementary School.


The scholars were part of the five-week long YMCA Power Scholar Academy, a summer learning loss prevention iniative run by Bedford Area Family YMCA with support from the YMCA of the USA.

The scholars are recommended by teachers who identify the children as at risk for taking a “couple steps back” during the summer, explained Mary Jo Boone, the CEO of Bedford Area Family YMCA.

There are a total of 100 scholars; 70 from Bedford Elementary and Montvale Elementary. The cost per scholar is $1300, but the entire fee has been fundraised through generous donors from the Virginia Department of Education, Centra Health Foundation, YMCA of the USA and Bedford County Public Schools.                 

The cost covers the academic program of the academy. The curriculum used for the daily 90 minutes of reading and 90 minutes of math led by a certified teacher cost $180 per student. The curriculum was purchased through Bell Educated Leaders for Life, and is a consumable curriculum, which means the scholars can take some of the books homes and there is learning materials accessible online for out-of-school use. The scholars are tested at the beginning and the end of the program to demonstrate their improvements.

Despite the large amount of scholars, they still are able to benefit from one-on-one interactions with the teachers. According to Boone, the teacher to student ratio is about 1:12, and with the help of teacher’s assistants, that narrows it down to approximately 1:6.

“The teachers really love this program because they’re really able to get to know the kids out of the classroom and impact them,” said Boone.

The scholars are also transported by bus to their designated schools and fed breakfast (courtesy of the USDA Summer Food Service program) and lunch as well.

After lunch, the scholars participate in the “enrichment” aspect. One piece of enrichment is weekly hour and a half swimming lessons at the Bedford Area Family YMCA.

“It may surprise you, but a good 80 percent of the children in the program cannot swim,” said Boone. “They cannot even survive in the water or pass a basic swim test. A lot of them are still in life jackets. We’re teaching them how to stay safe in the water.”

Other enrichment activities included making paper, HEXBUG farms and bouncy balls. Boone pointed out there is a great emphasis on STEM projects during the enrichment period.

On Fridays, the two elementary schools join to take a field trip. The scholars have enjoyed field trips to the Transportation Museum, Poplar Forest and the Danville Science Museum.

Another aspect of the enrichment portion is having the scholars listen to guest speakers.

Boone explained that the speakers help enforce the overarching lesson of respecting others.

“A lot of what we’re trying to teach the kids is respect. It’s huge,” said Boone. “We’re working on things like leadership, respect, honesty and caring. Any time we can call out our kids for being leaders, we do. It’s really positive behavior management.”

On June 29, scholars from both elementary schools received inspirational talks from four former local athletes; Jake Grove, Damon Williams, Kayla McKee and Kim Jones.

“We really just want the kids to hear their stories and know that you may have skills in a sport, but that’s not all you need to survive,” said Boone. “You always need a plan B, even if you’re an incredible athlete, there’s still other things that you need to have. I have some really athletic kids in this program and hopefully there will be some impression made on them about the bigger picture of life.”

Grove, Williams, McKee and Jones all gave inspirational speeches about hard work, good choices, and believing in oneself.

Grove, a former standout football player from Jefferson Forest who later was drafted in the second round of 2004 NFL Draft, spoke on the importance of relentlessly working toward your goals.

“For me, when I was young, I was always one of the smallest kids. People would always tell me I wasn’t big enough, good enough, fast enough or strong enough but I never listened to that,” said Grove, who spent five years with the Oakland Raiders and two with the Miami Dolphins before retiring in 2010. “My goal was always to be the best and not let other people define my career. Don’t let other people tell you that you can’t do something. There’s no reason that you can’t be successful.”

Williams, who with twin brother Ramon Williams were the NCAA most infamous twin scoring duo, spoke about the importance of good character.

“The main thing is to try to be a good person. Kindness and your character speak a lot about who you are and what you do,” said Williams, who now runs Twin Hoops Basketball Camp in Roanoke with twin brother Ramon. “At (the scholars’) age, it’s kind of tough because they’re transitioning and meeting different people. Hopefully they’ll surround themselves with good, positive people. I hopefully can influence or inspire somebody to think different and realize that they’re somebody special.”

McKee, a former varsity basketball player from Staunton River who now coaches the Eagles’ girls JV team, discussed how vital it is to give your best effort.

“I just wanted (the scholars) to know that no matter what anybody says about you, whether people believe in you or not, if you have the heart to do it, then you can go places,” said McKee. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be the NBA or the MLB... I love what I do now and that passion started at five years old when I was learning and working on the game. Now being a coach, it brings it all full circle for me.”

All the speakers unanimously expressed their happiness and honor for being chosen to speak to the scholars. Boone shared similar sentiments, expressing great pride and joy for being involved the life-changing program.

“The cool thing about this is that we’re really loving on these kids,” said Boone. “Everyday we have stories about what these kids’ lives are like and what they’re going through. I keep saying to the staff, ‘The kids that need our love the most will show it in the worst way and those are the kids that we need to keep loving on,’ and that’s what we’re doing. The academics are a big piece but what we see everyday and the impact we’re making on these kids, that’s immeasurable.”