Watch CBS News

A school driven by phys ed

One school going against the grain 07:01

(CBS News) School is back in session around the country, and starts tomorrow at the Urban Dove Team Charter School here in New York City. It's a school that goes against the grain. Instead of cutting back on phys ed classes, it's actually using sports as a hook to draw in at-risk students. Our Jeff Glor paid a visit to ask its founder just how he does it, and why:

When Jai Nanda first told people he wanted to start a school based around sports and physical activity, the reaction, he says, was, "You're crazy. What are you doing? Why would you do that?"

Starting a school is an extremely difficult proposition -- perhaps even more difficult because Nanda decided to launch his new school last year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, one of the neediest communities in New York City.

"We see a lot of families living low income," Nanda told Glor. "We see a lot of obesity. We see a lot of high school dropouts. So we've created a school that attacks the education issue, attacks the health issue in a community where both are critical."

The lab for Nanda's experimental school is in two floors of a Pentacostal church, which he's renting until he finds a permanent home.

The kids come here from all over the city.

Ninety-three percent live below the poverty line; many never showed up for class at their old schools.

But Nanda actively recruits kids that other schools have given up on.

Glor asked, "So, when you go to these schools and say, 'Give me your worst students,' their reaction is?"

"'Woohoo! Awesome! Great!' " laughed Nanda. "And not from a 'We don't like them' [attitude], but 'Someone else can educate them, and get them to be successful? Great! We can't do it, You want them, you got them.' It's a win for everybody."

Nanda's daring approach was to flip the whole idea of school on its head. At a time when only six states require phys ed in every grade, and nine states require recess, he decided to make sports the cornerstone of this program.

When students arrive at Urban Dove, they don't sit behind a desk. They spend the first three hours of every day with their team and coaches.

They play basketball, lift weights, jump rope, use punching bags, ride bikes, and do yoga. Students rotate sports depending on the season.

"Physical education, sports, athletics, I think it's being dismissed," Nanda said. "We need to recognize that a full education requires that kids are active."

What is it about sports? "It's fun; kids enjoy doing it," replied Nanda. "I think there's something special about being on a team."

Nanda also said that children look at a coach differently: "They're willing to share. They're willing to listen."

And that may be what's most unique about the program. When kids go to Social Studies, English and Math, their coaches go with them . . . sitting in class, helping with homework, and sorting out problems.

"We see them bright and early in the morning, and then we're the last people to see them at the end of the day," said coach Alana Arthurs.

Arthurs, who sees students in gym, in the classroom, in the hallway, laughed: "I follow them, it's weird!"

Why? "As soon as they walk out that classroom, I'm behind them, trying to find out, 'Why did you walk out? What's wrong?' I feel the need, personally to find out what's going on, how can I help, how can I fix it, and how can I get you back in the classroom so you can continue to learn."

When we visited last spring, two of the school's star students were Miaklya Hall and Chaneil Thomas.

Miakyla said there were many reasons why she rarely showed up at her old school: "You could cut class, leave. Here I don't feel like leaving because, I don't know, it's fun."

Does the three hours of sports in the morning tire Chaneil out? "I'm ready for class after that," she replied. "I have more energy. I'm just sweaty, but I'm not tired."

It was Jai Nanda's experience as a coach that first led him to create an afterschool program for inner city kids in 1998. His idea was to reach at-risk students by challenging them to lead younger children.

"It's all about empowerment," he said. "Giving them the responsibility to deliver the lesson, to be the mentor, to be the role model. And once you've got that as a foundation, then they're willing to transform all kinds of things in their lives."

Over the past 15 years, hundreds of teens have gone through the afterschool program. And Nanda says the results speak for themselves: Over 98 percent graduate from high school, and college attendance rates are at 95 percent.

Based on that success, and a federal grant, Nanda was able to start his charter school. But not everything has been easy.

"You've lost some kids, you've had to kick some kids out," said Glor. "Realistically, how many of these kids can you keep, can you succeed with?"

"We started with about 108 kids; right now we're at about 95," Nanda responded. "So we've lost about 10 percent of our kids over the first year. That's not bad."

One of the true believers is Deron Rippey, head coach and guidance counselor. He is constantly in motion -- herding kids into class, and intervening when there is a problem.

Rippey keeps families on speed-dial and spends a lot of his time disciplining kids, including 15-year-old Gillet Hood, who is battling anger issues. We were there when Gillet returned to school with his grandma after a week's suspension.

She was furious.

"You are not that guy that you are trying to be. You are perpetrating a fraud," she told her grandson.

Rippey told the youth, "You have to make sure you're helping the situation instead of hurting it, correct?"

"Yeah," Hood replied.

"So when you get ready to get angry and stuff like that, I just want you to picture ME in your face, OK?" his grandmother said. "Picture grandma. What I'M gonna give you when you get back home. If you'd had been in another school, the police would have been involved."

"I promise to do better, I guess," he said. "I mean, I know."

Lots of students at Urban Dove are still struggling, like Gillet. But he's grateful to have a second chance, and he is trying to turn things around.

He's also lost 65 pounds since he's been here.

"You feel better about yourself?" Glor asked.

"Of course I do, I feel perfect about myself," he replied.

With so much stacked against these students, small victories are worth celebrating. And they are part of the reason why Nanda is already looking ahead.

"There's too many kids that need something to help them," he told Glor. "And if we figured out a way to help a group of kids do it, then we've got to help more kids do it."

"If we come back in a few years, where will these kids be?" asked Glor.

"On their way to graduating high school, going on to college, with all the skills and all the tools they need, with no obstacles in their mind as to what their future can be," Nanda replied.

Year 2 at Urban Dove starts tomorrow. While Miakyla Hall won't be there -- her family is moving to New Jersey -- most of the students will return, along with 85 new classmates, nearly doubling the school in size.

For more info:

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.