Reflections: Coach PJ and Coach Jason

By Mallory Stellato

As the school year draws to a close, we say goodbye to another class of Adelphi University Fellows and prepare to welcome a new cohort of students. It is a unique partnership: candidates pursuing masters degrees in physical education and sports management at Adelphi University have the opportunity to serve as WITS Coaches for two years in exchange for full tuition coverage. Last year the first class of Adelphi Fellows graduated, and this year we thank Peter “PJ” Cody, Albert Gonzalez, and Steven Putkowski for their contributions to the schools where they have worked, and to their fellow coaches, wishing them the best in their future endeavors.

Below you will find lightly-edited reflections from Coach PJ, who graduated with a Masters in Sports-Based Youth Development on May 18, and from Coach Jason, who is finishing his first year in the program. Both agree that the program is an excellent opportunity to receive real life training and experience with children in public schools, while simultaneously learning the latest research and best practice in their graduate classrooms.

Coach PJ enrolled in the Adelphi program after teaching Physical Education in a charter school. Seeking the requisite masters degree to become a P.E. teacher in public schools, the Adelphi/WITS program was the perfect combination to move his career forward.

“Growing up on Long Island, it was the norm to have space to move around and play. Coming to the city as a teacher and coach, it was eye-opening to realize the lack of space and equipment in so many school buildings. In my WITS schools, P.S. 295BK, 108BK, and 160Q, I had to be creative coming up with games and activities that would be appropriate in the limited space.

“One of my schools does not have a gymnasium or auditorium for indoor recess. One day when it snowed, I took the kids to the cafeteria, then realized it was picture day and the only space available for kids to play was set up with photography equipment. On the fly, I set the kids up around the cafeteria tables and we did table aerobics. I led the kids in table push ups and dips, knowing that they were sitting for most of the day and there was a limited window to get their heart rates up. This, and many other examples, taught me how important it is to get kids moving, no matter what else is going on in the school day, and to be adaptable.

“My two years as a WITS Coach were different in that last year I worked in one school five days a week, and this year I work in three schools throughout the week, spending 1-2 days with each school. I’ve learned time management and prioritization skills, running from Brooklyn to Queens and juggling three different school administrations. With less time spent in each school, it was that much more necessary to develop positive relationships so that the time could be spent effectively and in the best interests of the students and school community.

“I’ve realized that whatever is bothering me and whatever is going on in the school day should not stand in the way of making sure kids have a healthy and nurturing environment in school. It’s important to build the trust of the students so you can be there in different ways for them. There are a lot of women in schools, so I understand the need to be there especially for the boys, who may need a male role model. Being a coach and giving boys that opportunity to let out their energy, and to confide in me, is a very rewarding aspect of being in this field.

“Now that I’ve graduated, I will be moving to Florida, where most of my family is. From my experience in New York, I know that every school building is different, but I have the skills and the tools in classroom management and fitness techniques to apply anywhere I go. My goal is to teach Phys. Ed. in Florida schools, and I know that having so much experience working with children in public schools under all sorts of constraints makes me more marketable in that I can bring more variety and richness to a school than someone who did not have this kind of training.

“Although two years is a short time to see long term change, I have really noticed some differences in the attitudes and actions of kids, parents, and teachers. I see kids at least thinking about what they’re putting in their bodies at lunch and being more aware of health than they would be otherwise. I’ve been thrilled to see parents coming to workshops and Family Fitness Fun Nights, learning about healthy recipes and active ways to have fun with their kids. My schools are also beginning to implement snack policies and educating parents on what can and cannot be brought into schools. There are so many different pieces that come together to support community-wide change, and I love being part of that change.”

Coach Jason Hadley comes to WITS from Ipswich, England with a lifelong passion for soccer and many years of experience as a youth coach.

“My first year as a WITS Coach and Adelphi Fellow has taught me the broader impact sports-based youth development programs can have on the health and wellness of the entire community. Being integrated in NYC public schools to assist with establishing a wellness and fitness culture, I have developed a deeper understanding of best practices that can reach the parents and families, teachers, and other school staff, and how we can adapt the delivery to best suit the communities and participants involved.

“Moving into my second year, my goals are to build and bridge relationships with communities and schools to develop and to set up a school based program that focuses on getting children to walk, run, or skip a mile a day and improve their physical and mental health! Using my expertise and experience from both in-school coaching and my graduate studies, I want to focus on sustainably training teachers to use fitness activities for the benefit of their students.

“In the future, I plan to continue to be involved with sport not-for-profits and develop sport programs free of charge to enable all children the opportunity to play and be involved in recreation and competitive sports. Having gained knowledge of how to do this through the Adelphi program, and understanding the value of partnerships as a WITS Coach, I envision a  body of partners working together to make these programs more widely accessible and more of a priority in the mainstream.”

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