ATLANTIC CITY — Student athletes at Atlantic City High School are already in training, but not on the field.
They are sitting in classrooms practicing for the standardized tests that will determine if their academic prowess, matched with their athletic skills, will get them into college and maybe earn a scholarship to help pay for it.
“Most people have it backwards,” said Robert Glanville, 17, of Brigantine. “They think the athletics is enough. But the first thing recruiters ask is what your grades are like. Then you see kids struggling to find a place to go (to college) because they don’t have the grades.”
A senior and 2011 Cape-Atlantic All-Star linebacker, Glanville already took the SAT once. He said he is grateful for the opportunity to attend the free program at the high school.
The new Summer Institute for Student Athletes is a collaboration between the athletic department and academic staff to make sure all student athletes understand the National Collegiate Athletic Association requirements for college and can meet them.
“We want to build a program through academics before they even get out on the field or the court,” said teacher and football coach Thomas Kelly, a 1992 graduate of Atlantic City High School who went on to play football at Rutgers University. “We’ve been preaching the importance of academics. Now we are putting it into practice.”
The program developed out of the frustration staff would feel when a talented athlete couldn’t attend college or get scholarships because of poor grades or SAT scores.
“Recruiters come look, then can’t offer them anything because they aren’t academically eligible,” said Don “Dr. Don” Coleman, a math teacher at the high school and coordinator of the academic portion of the program.
“We’ve always had some great athletes,” basketball coach Eugene Allen said. “But now we have to work more on the academic component, and we want to start stressing it earlier.”
The new program is open to all student athletes but so far has attracted mostly football and basketball players, whose coaches have actively encouraged participation. Some students work, but the goal is to have 50 students attend each day Monday through Thursday. About 40 attended Monday, ranging from freshmen through seniors.
The day starts at about 11:30 a.m with a bagged lunch in the school cafeteria provided by the school’s food service operator Sodexo. A little after noon the students head to classrooms or computer labs where they work with teachers on test-taking skills and the scores they will need to qualify to play in college.
“We are trying to prepare them for the next level,” said Coleman, “They can’t just wait until they are seniors to start thinking about college. You have to take the right courses and get the right grades starting as freshmen.”
In one SAT prep class students read an article from The Press of Atlantic City about college requirements for athletes and the importance of academics. English teacher Kerri Harvey had them write an essay about the article. Not all students thought they could get into college, but some are being recruited and are now scrambling to qualify.
Senior Jahleem Montague, 18, of Atlantic City, has been recruited to play basketball, but still hasn’t taken the SAT or even the practice PSAT.
“I was supposed to take the PSAT last year, but I just didn’t,” he said, shaking his head.
Montague’s situation is exactly what Coach Kelly hopes to avoid in the future.
“Now it’s the eleventh hourAP style for him,” Kelly said.
Sky Glenn, 16, a junior from Ventnor, wants to take the PSAT in the fall and had questions about how to sign up and where he would take it. Students wanted to know if the test really is three hours long.
“You are going to have to get used to sitting still for three hours,” Harvey said.
Glenn said even though the program is only in its second week, he’s feeling more confident about being prepared in the fall.
After the classes are over, students head to the gym to work out and do some pre-season training, sometimes for several hours.
“We try to keep them a good part of the day,” Kelly said. “It keeps them off the streets and away from the negative aspects of the city.”
Kelly said they also plan to add a study hall between the end of the school day and before practice to make sure athletes do their academic work during the school year.
“It will be built right into their schedules,” he said. Coaches are also reaching out to parents to make sure they understand the importance of grades as well as games to their children’s futures.
“It is a mountain to climb for some students,” Kelly said.
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