Track & field program active participant in Rowdy Readers program
by Pat Turner, goUTSA.com contributing writer
SAN ANTONIO — Braun Station Elementary School assistant principal Veronica Segovia-Cadena and UTSA assistant track & field coach LaVera Morris never talked about it, but much to their surprise, the two were thinking on the same wavelength.
Segovia-Cadena was looking for a way to connect the school’s students with UTSA student-athletes. At the same time, Morris was looking for a way for Roadrunners track & field athletes to give back to the community.
Thanks to a little hard work and the UTSA Rowdy Readers program, their paths crossed and a solid relationship developed.
Since the beginning of the fall semester, Morris and a group of UTSA track & field athletes have been going to Braun Station every other Tuesday to meet with approximately 30 students.
Joining Morris for the sessions are Isabel Balbontin, Ryan Elizalde, Brady Hand, Adrienne Mosby, Kourt’ney Payne, Kyndall Snider and Sarah Wedgeworth.
The meetings will continue until the end of the school year.
“When UTSA called us to ask what they could do, we were excited,” Segovia-Cadena said. “LaVera wanted her student-athletes to get involved with the kids and what better way to do it than academically? We have a need. We have some children who may not have a lot of support at home. They may not get read to and some might be struggling with reading. Here, the student-athletes are serving as mentors and also big brothers and sisters. These kids really look up to them and it has been great.”
UTSA head coach Aaron Fox sees the benefits for the Roadrunners as well.
“LaVera has done an outstanding job putting this together,” Fox said. “This is something we try to do as much as possible, definitely with the younger kids. Sometimes, it’s tough for our student-athletes with their classes and practice schedules, but they’ve made it work and they really enjoy it.”
They’ve also developed a fan base. When the UTSA student-athletes gathered at the school at the start of the new year for a photo session, they found Christmas cards waiting for them.
“We have enjoyed having them here,” Braun Station Principal Jack Funkhouser said. “A lot of people don’t realize these kids learn so much from visiting and talking to the student-athletes, but these connections are important to the kids. It is really good for everyone involved and we hope to keep the partnership going.”
The Roadrunners, who work with pre-K and kindergarten students, usually read to the students. Those involved with first through fifth grades help the students with their reading skills. Whatever their role is for the session, they also make it a point to get to know the kids.
Seeing the track & field athletes and elementary students connecting is special for Morris.
“I am really big in getting our athletes involved in community service,” she said. “I really want them to do something hands-on while they’re here. We help the kids with their reading, but we also ask how their day is going. My initial goal was for our athletes to see how they can give back to the community and how they will value this.”
The value has been priceless for all involved, as Brady Hand exemplifies.
The senior, who works mostly with second graders, became good friends with one student who transferred to another school before the beginning of the semester, but Hand hopes to re-connect somewhere down the road.
“He was a real cool kid,” he said. “I saw it as an opportunity to have an impact on his life and we really bonded. I even came up and had lunch with him a couple times, and we talked about whatever he wanted to talk about. I love kids and this is my chance to have an impact on them and represent UTSA well. It might be good for them to meet someone from UTSA. They might get to thinking they want to do the same thing someday. Thinking about the future is good for them.”
The project also has encouraged Hand to think of his own future. He was planning to become a coach and teacher after graduating from UTSA. He was looking at coaching in high school or college, but the recent project has him leaning toward a new direction.
“I’ve been looking at becoming an elementary physical education coach ever since I have been here,” Hand said. “I realized I could do this. I enjoy working with the kids at this age. This will give me a chance to have another impact on them.”