Academics and Squash Give Charter Students a New Choice for College

Exterior of KIPP:Adelente building

Photo Courtesy: Carlos Castillo KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy is a charter public school in Southeast San Diego serving middle school students, January 26, 2022.

By: M.G. Perez / Education Reporter & Contributor: Carlos Castillo / Video Journalist

On most weekday afternoons, the Access Youth Academy has students studying on the second floor. Downstairs, there is plenty of noise coming from the squash courts. The state-of-the-art facility on Euclid Avenue in Southeast San Diego opened just six months ago, offering free after-school academic tutoring and lessons in the old English sport of squash.

“Why is it called squash? Because the ball is squashy,” said Deon Saffery, the Academy’s squash manager. She was recruited from the United Kingdom to come to San Diego and teach children as young as 10 how to play the centuries-old game. She continued, “If you’re a good player, it’s mental. It’s the experience of having to think your way around the court and use those tactics to be able to win.”

Even if you’re not a great player, there are benefits. Theresa Joy, 11-year-old KIPPster, admitted she’s not a great player but really enjoys the game. She said, “It’s a really safe place where everyone can help and it just gets your mind off things when you’re in the court.

Theresa is a 6th-grade student at the nearby KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy. KIPP Adelante is a tuition-free, [college preparatory] charter public middle school [founded in 2003] that opened about a year ago at its new, [permanent home] near the MTS Euclid Avenue trolley station. As a charter public school, there is an extended school day, allowing students more time for study and extracurricular activities. Many of the students are learning squash and taking advantage of tutoring through the Access Youth program.

Adelante is a Spanish word that means “ahead” or “making progress.” The charter is also about choice. School Leader Roxanne Cowperthwaite told KPBS News, “We want it to be a choice for them. Let them say, ‘Ok, I want to go to college because this is the pathway that will open [opportunities] for me,’ or they have a choice to maybe not pursue college, however  pursue a path that is best for me.”

Students in the Classroom

The Adelante School currently has 370 students who live in the neighborhood or commute from ... Barrio Logan and downtown San Diego. There is room for almost a hundred more students in the program offering strong academics, social-emotional learning, and a physical and mental health curriculum.

The game of squash is intentional to the combination of academics and athletics. Squash is not played widely at many colleges and is not as competitive for scholarships as other sports. The idea is to give as many students another option as possible and highlight their college applications.

“Access Youth Academy is about having the highest standards for our youth,” said Tim Wyant, the Executive Director of the National Urban Squash and Education Association. He continued, “The organization encourages its team members to be the best students, athletes, and people they can be, and they meet that challenge. In urban squash, Access's results are second to none.”

The Access Youth Academy for tutoring and squash lessons and [KIPP] Adelante are part of a master plan to redevelop and infuse resources into a 60-acre area of Southeast San Diego. The plan is partially funded by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. The non-profit organization works closely with area residents to build the community they have envisioned.

Reginald Jones is the Jacobs Center President and CEO. He said, “We hope within that to demonstrate a way of community building that can be modeled in other areas to build out the entirety of Southeast San Diego and create a more vibrant place."

More than 100,000 residents are impacted by the center’s economic development and community outreach programs.

For now, [KIPP] Adelante and Academic Youth Academy continue recruiting for more students. Theresa Joy is happy with her choice to be a member of both. “I do want to be a pro squash player,” the 6th grader said, “but if it comes to a job, maybe I’ll be a nurse or a dentist.”

This story was originally published on KPBS

About the Author: M.G. Perez covers stories on education systems in the San Diego region, from Pre-K to college. In addition to a background in journalism, M.G. spent seven years as a teacher with San Diego Unified School District, in classrooms supporting students with mild to severe special needs. Prior to becoming a teacher, M.G.’s extensive career in broadcast journalism included general assignment reporting at KFMB-TV in San Diego, KPRC-TV in Houston, KGO-TV in San Francisco, and WNBC-TV in New York. M.G. is also an advocate for and active member of the local arts community.