The mark of a great educator is the ability to make each student feel cared for and loved. All children have beauty and worth, but for too many young people, adolescence is a period of insecurity and self-doubt. For students of color living in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty like Southeast DC, those feelings are heightened and the need to feel appreciated and valued is even more important.
By this standard, the Washington Commanders demonstrated they are an organization that cares about the well-being of DC’s young people. At a season practice, on an unbearably hot and humid day on August 14th, they made two dozen DPA varsity football teammates feel like they were VIPs.
In 2018, Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA), a tuition-free public charter school, was founded to teach DC middle and high school students coding, computer science, and problem-solving skills. We also believe students learn valuable skills of teamwork and persistence through sports. That is why we are launching a football team this fall. Commanders’ head coach Ron Rivera came out to mid-field to personally greet our DPA athletic director Robert Harris. He was joined by Commanders’ President Jason Wright. It was Jason’s vision that has made the Commanders’ support for DPA a reality-including a $75,000 grant to launch our inaugural DPA football program this fall.
From the moment we walked off the bus, we were greeted not as simple fans or visitors but as special guests. We were escorted past the normal spectator section and directly to a tented area with a perfect view of the field and refuge from the sun. Some young fans actually asked our players for autographs because they looked so awesome in their uniforms that the kids assumed they were professional players.
It wasn’t the practice that was so special but what came next. After a grueling practice in the heat, we expected the players to maybe sign a few autographs for the eager fans in the bleachers and then hit the showers. Instead, many of the players came right to our area.
And they didn’t just sign autographs. They spoke to our players. They connected with them on a personal and profound level, sharing wisdom and offering advice on how to persevere through hardships.
And when some of our brash students – Khamel Williams – started playfully boasting that they could keep up with Washington Commanders’ cornerback Darrick Forrest one-on-one, he accepted the young man’s challenge. Forrest had already visited our DPA campus this past June when the Commanders announced their donation to the DPA football team. Needless to say, Khamel Williams had trouble matching Forrest’s NFL speed, but he was all smiles in his inevitable defeat.
It was a day our DPA students and coaches will never forget. Our football players were so bursting with pride that they all looked like they stood four inches taller.
I’m hopeful that this level of energy and excitement carries over into the start of the school year. To Saddiq Charles, Kamren Curl, Darrick Forrest, Jarret Patterson, Ron Rivera, Jason Wright, and the Commanders’ organization, thank you for making our young people feel so respected. To our DPA players, I can’t wait to see you have success on the field and in the classroom this year.