Lacrosse fuels summer learning, opportunities at Mildred Avenue

Jeffrey and Jayden Joseph, twin brothers who attend the Mildred Avenue School in Mattapan. Seth Daniel photo

Lacrosse is often seen locally as a sport exclusive to elite private schools and suburban enclaves, with most young people in the neighborhood found on the football field at Franklin Field or Almont Park, or basketball and tennis courts at Norfolk Park.

But increasingly, twin brothers Jayden and Jeffrey Joseph are among the boys and girls at the Mildred Avenue School who have found a new sport to excel in that also has become a platform to keep kids learning through the summer – what is known at Boston Public Schools (BPS) now as the “Fifth Quarter of Learning.”

“I love lacrosse, and it’s my dream,” said Jayden, 14, outside the school last Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of the day’s program. “I want to become a lacrosse player when I get older. I want to go to college and play lacrosse there. The one thing I want Mayor Wu to do is have lacrosse in all BPS schools that don’t already have it so that other kids can have experience with what it’s like…Sticking to football and basketball is all right, but you really need a sport that’s not as popular that can get out there.”

Jayden and Jeffrey both learned about lacrosse at the Mildred Avenue School while in the fourth grade as part of a year-round program there. The Mildred and four other BPS sites participate in a year-round lacrosse and learning program, and then they are all are brought together at the Mildred for the summer program each year. The Mildred was also the setting on Wed., Aug. 3, for a major press conference by Mayor Wu and incoming BPS superintendent Mary Skipper to discuss the city and BPS’s increased summer programming.

At the Mildred, a long-standing partnership with Harlem Lacrosse has introduced the game to students who might not hear about it otherwise. At the same time, the excitement of the game has been used to get young people in the neighborhood interested in reducing “summer learning loss” and even to get them opportunities at elite schools in the Independent School League (ISL).

“The schools get an amazing kid, a kid from a diverse background and probably a three-sport athlete,” said Patrick Cronin, interim executive director of Harlem Lacrosse. “We look at it as a way for our kids to get fully funded scholarships to a school or college that costs more than $70,000 a year, playing a sport they love and getting a life-changing education.”

Cronin said they place about 10 to 12 kids from the neighborhood per year in ISL schools for lacrosse and academics – some going as far as Tennessee and New Jersey. Closer to home, Harlem Lacrosse has established a similar program at TechBoston Academy (formerly Dorchester High School) and the Joseph Lee Middle School on Talbot Avenue. This September, the organization has committed to starting a boys and girls high school lacrosse team at TechBoston.

“We will be hiring a male and female program director this September and we’ll use our middle school lacrosse program at TechBoston and the Lee School as a pipeline to the high school program,” Cronin said. “TechBoston will be the first non-exam school in BPS to offer lacrosse as a varsity sport.”

In front of the Mildred Avenue School, Wu and Skipper praised the program and said they have seen high attendance rates — 87 percent — across the city since summer programming started five weeks ago. “We were talking to the kids upstairs and asked them in one word to describe their summer and they said words like ‘spectacular’ and ‘friendship,’” said Skipper. “Those are the words of our children unscripted and from the heart.”

Added Wu: “Programs like these, blending enrichment and education, are proven to boost student outcomes throughout the year and throughout our young peoples’ lives.” She added that in talking with young people in 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th grades, the excitement was evident. This was the “largest summer learning effort ever” by the city and BPS – even using some federal Covid funding to get the ball rolling, Wu said.

After-school programming will wrap up at most sites in the next few weeks, with the first day of school for grades 1-12 at most locations coming on Sept. 8.

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