LANSING — In the days after narrowly losing a primary election for the state House last August, Jon Horford received a call from Lansing School District Superintendent Ben Shuldiner, who wanted to see if Horford’s words were more than a campaign promise.
“You said you wanted to help Lansing kids. Is that true still?” Shuldiner inquired. “What’s your suggestion?”
Horford didn’t hesitate.
“I’d be hypocrite (if I said no),” Horford said. “I’m like, ‘Let’s do the work.’ I wanted that role (as a state representative) so I could have an impact and to be put in a position where I can improve people’s lives. And (Shuldiner) is basically like, ‘I’ll let you help do that right now. What do you want to do?’ ”
Horford had an idea ready to go — a development program at Don Johnson Fieldhouse, where kids could come for training in sports and fitness, for healthy meals and for tutoring.
And, thus, the Lansing School District Student Development Program was born, beginning last winter each day after school.
Now, the program’s first summer is under way, offering Lansing students entering grades 6 through 12 expert training in a variety of sports — basketball, volleyball and soccer, with tennis to come — along with strength and conditioning, speed and movement and, soon, yoga, while also providing tutoring and credit recovery, lunch and snacks, all free of charge.
Sessions run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with an 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. open gym on Fridays. Students can sign up for one or as many sports or activities as they’d like like at lansingschools.net/departments/student-development-program.
This program, paid for by a mix of general funds and grants, uses partnerships throughout the community for training — including Lansing Community College’s volleyball team, Lansing Common FC for soccer, the Todd Martin Youth Leadership program for tennis, Horford, his brother Josh and their long-time trainer for basketball, and, for strength and conditioning in the field house’s new weight room, trainer Alex Morse from IMPACT Sports Performance. Members of the Michigan State football team also helped out during the winter and spring months. The program partners with Sedexo Food Service for its meals and, for tutoring, the Eastside Community Action Center.
Lansing schools students go through volleyball drills during the Student Development Program's free summer sessions at Lansing's Don Johnson Fieldhouse.
“We know from lots of research that the earlier people engage in organized sports, whether you're actually on a team or you're just learning and participating in sports, the more that becomes a lifelong habit,” said Sue Wheeler, the director of health and wellness for Lansing schools, who helps to run the program. “So that was one of the branches — how can we engage all of our students in this opportunity for health, wellness, movement, agility, nutrition, that kind of thing? And at the same time, we're looking at our students that already identify as athletes, that our teams needed support. We would like to be in a place where our teams are highly competitive and well prepared, have good strength and conditioning.
“(We thought) rather than making this another athletic department initiative, let's make a district-wide health and wellness initiative. And we could reach both goals.”
Once school resumes in the fall, the program will return to being after school, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. five days a week. Some kids, Wheeler and Horford have noticed, simply come for the meal. That’s fine, too. Same for being there the entire time.
“If you only want to come in and do one offering, you can do one offering,” Horford said. “If you just want to do volleyball, that's fine. Just want to do basketball? That's fine. Just want to lift weights, that's completely fine, too. We have a kid that's in there today that is that signed up for basketball, speed and movement, and lifting, that's a lot. We're trying to educate them on this, too. You might need to build up your capacity for work, so you don't hurt yourself, so you don't burn out.”
“Kids love the program,” Wheeler said. “We're seeing lots of skill development, we're seeing kids that come every single day to the program. And of course, given that we have a certain percentage of our student base that are living in poverty, we have some kids that like to just come and have the dinner. That's a plus for them.”
lansingstatejournal/June 19, 2023