A group of about 40 low-income high school students from the Compton area got their first taste of college instruction from some Santa Monica College (SMC) professors and counselors this summer, in addition to learning about baseball from former professional players.
The students, primarily African American and Latino boys aged 14 to 17, received the unique experience as part of a new Major League Baseball (MLB) recreational and educational program at the Urban Youth Academy, a $10 million, ten-acre baseball complex at Compton College.
After beginning the free five-week program June 26th, the students, who almost all live within ten miles of the Urban Youth Academy, graduated Monday, July 31st.
During the program, the students were taught college-level courses by two professors and two counselors from Santa Monica College in the morning, and then played baseball and softball with some former major league players in the afternoon.
Among the academy coaches were former California Angels player and academy director Darrell Miller and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bruce Hurst.
MLB Urban Youth Academy officials, who organized the program to “develop both baseball and academic skills” for low-income students, approached Santa Monica College to help with the academic component, said Bruce Smith, SMC public information officer.
The academy worked with the college to allow the students the opportunity to earn both high school and college credit in topics “they typically struggle with,” Miller said.
“We wanted to supplement education in addition to helping the kids in baseball skill development,” he said.
While some of the high school baseball players may eventually be recruited by major league programs, many will not, so a main focus of the program is to encourage the students to go to college or pursue non-playing baseball-related professions, Smith said. Such professions include sports journalism, turf management and umpiring.
The students were divided into two classes four days a week — interpersonal communication, taught by SMC professor Nancy Grass Hemmert, and writing, taught by SMC professor Melody Nightingale.
Three days a week, all of the students took part in study skills classes taught by SMC counselors Patricia Ramos and Leigie Henderson.
“The kids were eager to learn,” Smith said. “They were thrilled to have college-level courses and get the exposure they don’t normally get.”
Grass Hemmert, who teaches various speech courses in the college Communication Department, had a classroom of 18 students during the Urban Youth Academy program.
“The students were amazing,” Grass Hemmert said. “They were so excited and passionate about everything.”
Grass Hemmert said that after five weeks in the program many of her students told her they felt more confident and self-assured in communicating with others, and that the experience even helped in the relationship with their parents.
“They had a tremendous impact on me,” she said. “I’ve never worked with teenagers in this capacity.”
Miller said that while the professors may not have been accustomed to teaching high school students, “they really got it.”
The students are now excited about learning and interpersonal relationships, he said.
“It was quite amazing how everyone grew together,” Miller said. “It was a really rewarding experience, not only for us and the kids, but for the professors as well.”
Once the students finished their morning classes and had a lunch break, it was off to the baseball fields, where they participated in intense baseball and softball training, including workouts outdoors and in a weight room in the academy clubhouse.
The students were taught baseball fundamentals and strength and conditioning and also played in games during their time with the program.
The academy is operating a variety of free baseball, academic and vocational programs year-round for youths ages eight to 17.
Academy officials said the program is thriving in many ways, such as having games organized between talented academy players and members of the Houston Astros scout team. The Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) World Series is scheduled Thursday, August 3rd, through Thursday, August 10th, at the academy.