WPI's Hoop Dreams Aims to Make College a Reality for Local Youngsters

Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - Forming connections between schoolchildren and college students has been the goal of a program called Hoop Dreams for four years. This year, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute community-outreach program received a new vote of confidence. The Massachusetts Service Alliance donated a $1,200 Massachusetts Promise Mini-Grant to help underwrite Hoop Dream activities. The money adds to the support from another key financial contributor, the Worcester Rotary Club.

The current program kicked off in November, and since then, WPI student volunteers have met with 20 youngsters from Worcester's Friendly House Monday and Thursday evenings. The WPI volunteers, from the academic-oriented Excellence in Mathematics, Science and Engineering Program (EMSEP) and fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha, donate their time and talents to Hoop Dreams, organized by WPI's Minority Affairs and Outreach Programs and Humanities and Arts Professor William Baller. Hoop Dreams helps inner-city kids become interested in higher education by emphasizing health and fitness as well as academic help.

The WPI students meet with the Friendly House youngsters, ages 10 through 13, in WPI's Kaven Hall to tutor them in math and science. The tutoring is followed by a variety of activities, sports and special events in WPI's Harrington Auditorium. The youngsters have enjoyed a robotics demonstration, a Native American drumming program, a Lego building competition, swimming and basketball games in WPI's athletic facilities and a holiday pizza party. Hoop Dreams events are on-going through April.

"Every Monday and Thursday, we work with the kids and mentor them," said WPI sophomore and EMSEP member Kelly Jaramillo of Belen, N.M. "I've taught several kids their multiplication tables, for example. We've had spelling bees and math contests. We also want to document this to see if we do improve their test scores specifically in math and science. But overall we just want to see an improvement in these kids' attitudes toward school and to help them reach beyond the limitations they may impose upon themselves."

Lambda Chi Alpha's Matt Hodson, a WPI sophomore from Attleboro, Mass., works with Hoop Dreams each week. "The main thing is to be their role model so that they know what they can achieve in life," he said. "They can't have the presumption that they are not going too far in life. By being around college students, it helps them become motivated to be all they can be."

Hodson has seen positive change already due to Hoop Dreams. "In the beginning none of them wanted to do their homework, they just wanted to jump on the computers or run around," he said. "Now they come in and start right in on the homework with their tutors. You can see how they've matured over the past four or five months. It's because there are 20 older people around them that care for them, that are there for them when they need help."

Hodson enjoys volunteering with the program, seeing his own reflection in the children he helps. "I grew up in the same circumstances as these kids," he said. "We were a low-income family. My mother raised me and my two brothers by herself. Without my teachers and other role models, I wouldn't be here right now."

On Tuesday, April 18, and Thursday, April 20, Hoop Dreams will conclude with a two-day campus visit by 60 Friendly House students who will participate in basketball clinics, complete a computer workshop and enjoy a robotics demonstration. The capstone is a student awards ceremony Thursday, April 20, from 3 to 4 p.m. in the lower Wedge in Daniels Hall on the WPI campus.

For more information about Hoop Dreams, please contact Professor William Baller at 508-831-5145, Dawn Johnson, director of Minority Affairs & Outreach Programs at 508-831-5796, or student volunteers Kelly Jaramillo at 508-831-6498 and Matt Hodson at 508-560-8445.