In past summers, National Youth Sports Program campers learned about … chemistry …

UST hosts free summer programs for at-risk kids

Nearly 400 children – many students of color from low-income families in St. Paul and Minneapolis – are discovering how academics, athletics and innovation intersect in two day-camp programs: the 19th annual National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) and the Cultural, Academic and Athletic Program (CAAP) at the University of St. Thomas.

NYSP, which began June 22 and runs through July 23, serves 10- to 16-year-olds by blending sports activities – such as learning to play soccer, bocce ball, golf, volleyball and racquetball – with academics. This year students will spend plenty of classroom time working on basic skills such as math and language arts, but they’ll also stretch their cultural awareness, consider postsecondary education and career development and more.

… athletics …

The program’s guiding principle is that health and fitness and academic achievement go hand in hand, helping youngsters to reach beyond challenges to grasp opportunities. NYSP emphasizes good physical health, academic performance and individual development. Kids interact with adult role models, make new friends and develop new social skills.

Older, repeat NYSP campers often help manage the needs of younger participants, said Dr. Robert Brown, a St. Thomas professor emeritus of education who initiated UST’s program in 1991. He also credits an enthusiastic and experienced staff, including more than 20 teachers and coaches, and campus volunteers such as UST carpenter Rod Kirkwold, who is teaching groups of NYSP-ers how to play racquetball.

NYSP’s director is Aaron Koski, who manages the program with administrative assistance from graduate student Laura Haubrich. The program also has relied on consultant Mark Ahrens, a member of the Normandale Community College faculty who was a longtime director of NYSP at St. Thomas; Deane Brown, a Brooklyn Park teacher in his 17th year as an NYSP staffer; Interdistrict Partnership classroom coach Steve Severance; and Ed Michaels, a St. Paul Public Schools behavior specialist.

… art …

Although NYSP used to receive  federal funding for its operations, those resources are no longer available, Brown said. Today the program is supported by the St. Thomas School of Education and the generosity of sponsors, including the E.J. Henderson Foundation, General Mills Foundation, Life Time Fitness Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association and individuals. Professional athletes, such as members of the Minnesota Swarm lacrosse team, have come forward to introduce NYSP kids to their sports. And, for the second year in a row, Life Time Fitness employees are volunteering their time to conduct a fitness "boot camp" and leading dance, yoga and kickboxing activities at NYSP.

… fun and friendship.

The Cultural, Academic and Athletic Program (CAAP) began June 22 and runs in three sessions until Aug. 7. This partnership between the St. Paul Public Schools and St. Thomas serves suburban youngsters from the East Metropolitan Integration districts. CAAP offers programming similar to NYSP, bringing together inner-city and suburban youngsters, grades 5 through 11.

NYSP and CAAP celebrate their shared history of programs for at-risk youth with a special event the evening of Wednesday, July 8, in the third-floor lounge of Murray-Herrick Campus Center. It begins with a reception and silent auction at 5:30 p.m., followed by a dinner keynoted by Twin Cities sports media personality Larry Fitzgerald Sr. His son Larry Jr. – a celebrated Arizona Cardinals wide receiver – was an NYSP participant in his youth.

The event is free and open to the public. For information, e-mail studycelebration@gmail.com.