Every Child

Every child has a dream.

Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation
GR8 Sports, Great Kids Data System

2018 ANNUAL REPORT FEATURE STORY | Kathleen O’Brien

If you could offer a way to help students improve their grades, attendance, self-discipline, citizenship, sportsmanship, physical health, and emotional well-being, you’d jump at the chance, right?

Those are precisely the benefits that school sports offer tens of millions of students across the country. Yet far too many kids sit on the sidelines either because cash-strapped schools can’t afford to offer sports programming; the cost of “pay to play” programs is prohibitive, or the value of athletics simply isn’t understood or encouraged at home or in school.

Families with disposable income spend an average of $8,000 annually on kids’ athletics— an investment that’s way out of reach for most families in Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). But GR8 Sports, Great Kids is working to level the playing field. An outgrowth of the Student Advancement Foundation, the program provides funding to ensure that every student in grades K-8 has access, regardless of ability to pay.

Making school sports available to elementary and middle-school students just makes sense, according to GR8 Sports, Great Kids director Cara Jones. Sports help stave off health issues like childhood obesity and diabetes. Student athletes typically have higher GPAs, better school attendance, and are more likely to stay in school and graduate on time. Being on a team improves social skills, fosters leadership, teaches collaboration, builds confidence, and cultivates grit. And these programs provide positive, supervised, technology-free time after-school time for grade-schoolers who might otherwise be home alone.

A decade ago, there were no interscholastic sports in GRPS elementary and middle schools. Today, thanks to GR8 Sports, Great Kids, 20+ GRPS elementary and middle schools are now fielding teams in soccer, volleyball, basketball, cross country, football, softball, golf, track, swimming, and competitive cheer. With 6,000 athletes now involved in K-8 sports, the program promises to pay off in the district’s future, too. Ottawa Hills varsity girls volleyball team won its first match in 10 years, and other GRPS athletes and teams have now qualified for district- and state-level competition.

This year, GR8 Sports is launching a data collection system to look at the relationship between interscholastic sports and academic achievement at GRPS, funded by a $25,000 grant from the Steelcase Foundation.

The new system will track athletic participation in grades K-8. And that information will be woven into GRPS’ Early Warning System, which tracks grades, attendance, conduct and more. The goal is to identify kids who aren’t on track for graduation and bring early intervention. Looping athletics in allows coaches to be a part of that support system.

The data will also be used to track how participation in K-8 sports affects overall student achievement and graduation rates in GRPS. And good, local data will support the program’s outreach and advocacy with schools, families, and funders.

By fostering sports programming, tracking its impact, and building awareness of the value sports offer students in struggling districts GR8 Sports, Great Kids is ensuring that every child has the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams—on and off the field.

View Program Page

By fostering sports programming, tracking its impact, and building awareness of the value sports offer students in struggling districts GR8 Sports, Great Kids is ensuring that every child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams—on and off the field.

“Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

– KOFI ANNAN