New Program Brings Character, Physical Activity to Kids

The initiative pairs together Texas Tech and elementary students for a unique mentorship.

Jeff Key co-created and directs the Active Character Program.

Jeff Key co-created and directs the Active Character Program.

Who knew that staying after school could be fun and beneficial. Students from Texas Tech and McWhorter Elementary, are proving that concept with a new after-school initiative called the Active Character Program.

The program acts as a mentorship for underprivileged youths in the area, and is designed to teach character through discussion, mentoring and playing various sports. It also keeps students active and helps them become lifelong exercisers in an attempt to reduce obesity.

The program pairs up one to two fourth and fifth-grade elementary school students with a college student throughout the semester as they participate in various after school drills and activities. More than 50 elementary school students already have participated during the program’s two semesters of existence.

“One of our main goals was to create a successful mentoring program,” said Jeff Key, an instructor and personal fitness and wellness coordinator at Texas Tech, who co-created and directs the program. “Each Tech student is assigned a group of kids and they stick with them the whole semester. This program is so great because these kids get to see these college students take a vested interest in them. A lot of times they don’t get that experience.”

Early Impact

Key said the program, which also was the idea of Marc Lochbaum, an associate professor in exercise and sport psychology, already has seen an early success.

“This is one of those things where you dream of it, write it out on paper, talk to other people and ask what they think,” Key said. “And honestly, it came out perfectly.”

The after-school program takes place every Tuesday and Thursday during the semester. Students get to play sports such as hockey and lacrosse, sports not typically provided to them in the elementary school’s athletic curriculum.

Key said he hopes to get children involved in doing something positive early in their life and hopefully, it will light a fire that will help them stay active throughout their lives.

Texas Tech students in the program gain much more than three hours of course credit. Because many of the students in the program are planning to be coaches and educators, the hands-on experiences are great learning tools.

“It  is more worthwhile than anything I could ever teach them in a classroom,” Key said.

Great Experience

Jeffrey Rosales, a health, exercise and sports sciences major from Vernon, said he truly enjoys the program because he gets to know the students on a personal level and becomes friends with them.

Rosales said he has wanted to be a coach from the beginning, and this experience has only solidified the idea he wants to teach and coach at the elementary level.

“You honestly learn from them. You learn how to be a better teacher,” Rosales said. “You develop friendships with the people you work with.”

Texas Tech students not only help the elementary students with physical activities, they also serve as mentors throughout the semester.

Texas Tech students not only help the elementary students with physical activities, they also serve as mentors throughout the semester.

There also is a research aspect to the program. Key, along with Luis Cardenas, the principal at McWhorter, are hoping to see if the program has a positive effect outside the program and in the classroom. They will look to see if the participants are better behaved than non-participants.

Cardenas wants students to see the program as an incentive to do better in class. He said he thinks overall the program has helped because the kids look up to the college students and pay attention to the way they carry themselves.

“It’s nothing but positives all the way around,” Cardenas said, “from improved self esteem to being exposed to kids who are at Texas Tech to even giving them something to do after school.”

Cardenas anticipates the program continuing as long as resources remain, he has kids who can benefit from the program and Texas Tech is there to help. He said Texas Tech is a gold mine for his school because of all the resources that are available for his kids.

“Texas Tech reaching out to the community is tremendous. I have been here 13 years and we have had a very close relationship with the various professors and people at the university at all levels, from supervising to student teaching,” said Cardenas.