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TNT Reboot is Underway

“I came to school today to play tennis!” one of our new first graders told me as they headed into our after-school classroom this week. It was music to my ears.

This fall has been a whirlwind of activity at ICTC. We have been busy getting ready and launching our new Tennis and Tutoring (TNT) after-school program at Mary B. Martin Elementary School in the Hough neighborhood. The best part of TNT has been meeting and getting to know our new students who like this first grader, are just as excited to get to know us.

As a part of our strategic plan, ICTC decided after nine years of providing an educational and tennis camp in the summer, to move to a year-round program. Our vision is to reach students at local schools and support them in both the development of their tennis skills, as well as in their academic pursuits. Because of this, we decided to start with young students- in grades 1-3 and focus on emerging reading skills. This way, we can stay with these kids for years to come, supporting them along the way, developing relationships with the families, and tracking their success as they reach their full potential.

Why start with a literacy intervention as a part of our tennis program? That decision was easy. Studies show that if children are not reading at grade-level by third grade, they can easily go down a different path in their education- because at that critical age, they stop learning to read, and start reading to learn. Therefore, if they aren’t reading at grade level, then they struggle with learning material in other subjects like science and math, social studies and just about everything else. Therefore, schools have focused their intervention efforts in the earliest grades to try to get students ready for this pivotal year- and we decided to support them in their efforts.

So with a partnership with Mary B. Martin, a Cleveland Metropolitan (CMSD) school that did not have any after-school programming at the present time, we began with a small group of twenty five 7-10 year-olds, and have established a program that focuses heavily on literacy. With a great staff of tutors, and a few amazing volunteers, the TNT after-school program is underway. Our best decision so far has been to hire Ruth Mardell, a twenty-year veteran teacher out of the Shaker school district, as our lead teacher for this program. With her expertise in early reading and first-grade classroom skills, we are in good hands and are confident that this program will be successful.

When the children arrive at the TNT after-school program at 2:30, they receive a snack, play an interactive game, change into their tennis clothes, and hear a story

read by Ruth. They then transition to the reading session in which they get one-on-one or small group reading instruction from one of our staff members or volunteers based on their reading level. They then get split into two groups- with one group heading to tennis and the other who stay for “stations”- either educational games or homework help. Eventually, we will include our other unique programming during this time- wellness, STEM activities, and poetry.

In all, our aim is to support the efforts of the teachers and literacy specialists in the school and help the children increase their reading abilities (no matter where they start), while providing a fun and safe environment for them to learn tennis. We have met extensively with the teachers and literacy interventionist to make sure we are on the right track. We have included a literacy program that is proven effective by the Literacy Cooperative in Cleveland. And most importantly, we have included an amazing staff of mentors- two of whom were students at that elementary school themselves, which is meaningful for both the students and the staff.

Best of all, the students are already motivated to attend school because they love the program. They want to see the young high school and college staff members, and they have already picked their favorites. They ask to sit next to them, or want them to be a reading tutor that day, or challenge them to various games in tennis. Having young mentors who share similar experiences is powerful, and we hope to hire more Cleveland area students as we grow and expand to other schools in the future.

Thank you for your support in our efforts to launch this initiative. Please know that your contributions go a long way in helping us provide the necessary materials and staff needed for a program of this magnitude. And we hope you consider visiting or even volunteering with us if you have the time. Please contact me at if you would be interested.

On behalf of our board of directors at ICTC, thank you.

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