Rising Stars Youth Foundation Launches ‘Pandemic Learning Pod’ Teams to Engage Students and Promote Academics and Athletics

The Island Now

The Rising Stars Youth Foundation — the leading charitable program that builds character, promotes education, and reinforces important values through a unifying interest in basketball — launched its innovative Pandemic Learning Pods. The program helps students academically and athletically through the power of teams during the COVID-19 crisis.

The inaugural session kicked off last month, with the curriculum focusing on building social justice awareness. The goal is to empower students as leaders to make impacts in their communities.

“The Pandemic Learning Pods help students during an unprecedented time for our community and the nation,” said Dan Gimpel, Executive Director of the Rising Stars Youth Foundation. “With most schools teaching virtually at least partially, the pods allow students to learn and engage with one another, safely. These students come from diverse backgrounds, and having the ability to learn, socialize and get out of their homes and online classrooms has been beneficial.”

Rising Stars’ Director of Education Emily Ades added, “The Rising Stars Youth Foundation saw a pressing need and launched the Pandemic Learning Pods to provide supplemental academic support, a safe space for open dialogue and cooperative learning, and a powerful speaker series to promote youth empowerment.”

The program began in mid-September and will run throughout the year. There are six Pandemic Learning Pod teams reaching approximately 75 students.

• Queens has 28 students in grades 6 and 9 meeting on Mondays from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Forestdale, a child welfare agency.

• Roosevelt, Nassau County, has 34 students in grades 4, 6 and 7 meeting on Wednesdays from 6:30-8 p.m. or Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. at the PAL.

• Uniondale, Nassau County has 12 students in 8th grade meeting on Thursdays from 6-8:30 p.m. at Mitchel Gym.

Each session during this first semester includes an educational and social justice curriculum for the first half, followed by basketball for the second half. Everyone also meets for an additional hour a week for a speaker series via Zoom.

“While the concept of learning pods during the pandemic originated from wealthy families with friends coming together and hiring private teachers during the pandemic, families served by the Rising Stars Youth Foundation don’t have that same opportunity, furthering a social class opportunity gap,” said Heather Feshbach, Rising Stars’ Associate Director of Education. “Our students are diverse in their experiences, come from different schools, have varying family makeups, and face unique financial situations.”

The fall curriculum helps students understand social justice—especially in the wake of national protests in recent months—and empowers them to become leaders for change in their communities.

“The program began with reading articles about the recent NBA player protests to understand why boycotts matter, how it is important for professional athletes to take a stand, and how people can use whatever their platform is to make a difference,” said Gimpel. “The program will continue to build the students’ empowerment by involving them in community service and a social justice project at the end of the fall pods program.”

Throughout the program, culturally relevant speakers will have conversations with the students about social justice issues. The series began with Jay Williams, a product of the Rising Stars Youth Foundation since 5th grade. Williams played college basketball for the Duke Blue Devils at Duke University and in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls. He has been a full-time television analyst for EPSN since 2008.

About Rising Stars Youth Foundation

For over 20 years, the Rising Stars Youth Foundation has utilized basketball to build character, promote education, and reinforce important values children need to make correct decisions in life. Rising Stars is a 24/7-365 days a year support system. Rising Stars goes the extra mile to ensure the academic accomplishment and personal growth of each student-athlete. Rising Stars becomes a bridge between family, school and community for these children by providing access to competitive team sports, to keep them off the streets, and on the courts. The goal is to graduate every participant in the programs, issue free, college ready, and prepared to succeed in life. To learn more about the Rising Stars Youth Foundation, visit www.risingstarsyouthfoundation.com.

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