Students learn responsibility on and off basketball court

Students learn responsibility on and off basketball court

For nearly 100 Mattawoman Middle School students, Tuesdays after school are the highlight of their week. Shortly after dismissal, these students head to the gymnasium and team up for friendly games of basketball. They are part of the first boys’ basketball league at Mattawoman called the “MBA.”  However, they cannot just join their peers for a game of fun; they have to earn it.

The league is part of a schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) program that ties personal responsibility and academic achievement to a school-based reward. The MBA league runs six weeks and participating students must manage a weekly commitment contract, a contract their teachers have to sign, to be able to participate week to week.

The idea originated from Maurice Smith, a second year Mattawoman mathematics teacher and proclaimed commissioner of the MBA. Each year, middle school boys and girls compete in regional basketball tournaments, but only a handful of students can represent their schools. Smith said in his first year as basketball coach at Mattawoman, nearly 150 boys showed up to try out for 12 spots on the school basketball team.  

“The idea comes from my experience with try outs. Last year we had about 150 boys show up for the basketball team. How do you keep the interests of those who don’t make the team? We tie the sport into weekly behavior contracts and they earn the chance to participate week to week. It is all about positive feedback and helps the kids refocus,” Smith said.

Even Mattawoman teachers and administrators are on board with the league, many of whom serve as coaches. Principal Sonia Jones coaches a team – the 76ers – and said she sees the positive impact the experience has on students. “The kids are always excited to play. They look forward to it and work hard to have that commitment contract signed. The students then hold each other accountable,” she said.

Each player manages his own commitment contract. Teachers sign them weekly for things such as improving grades, focusing in class, demonstrating personal responsibility and completing classwork and homework assignments. Students who do not receive signatures from all of their teachers have to sit out for the following week.

Eighth grader Jevon Simmons said he plays because he loves basketball and the contract is a bonus. “I love sports in general but basketball is my favorite. The commitment piece helps me to stay focused and keep my grades up,” Simmons said.

Seventh grader Randy Jimenez plays for the same reason – his enjoyment of basketball – and hopes the program returns next year. “This helps me focus in class. My team is the Washington Wizards and I hope we make the playoffs. I hope they bring this back next year. It has been fun,” Jimenez said.

Each practice session begins with a pep talk from Commissioner Smith, who congratulates players on their positive advances made during the week. “These kids know what to do to be successful. Most of them are trying to get ready for high school basketball. This is a great opportunity for our students,” Smith said.

Lo Wanda Buck is the Gateway to Technology teacher at Mattawoman. She, along with teacher Teonna Coleman, coaches the Miami Heat team. When the league was introduced to staff and a request was made for volunteer coaches, Buck was excited to jump on board. “What a wonderful opportunity this is for our students. I will do whatever I can to help with anything positive for our kids,” Buck said.

Buck has been teaching with CCPS for the past two years and previously taught in Prince George’s County. She said she never experienced such a family-like atmosphere before coming to Mattawoman to teach. “This is a great school. We and Principal Jones do so much for the students,” Buck said.

This week marks the semifinals for the league, with the championship game happening next week. Smith said he plans to continue the league and keep the students engaged. “This is a serious commitment. But the kids are ready for it,” Smith said. 

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event. 

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