A preview of Brandan’s interview that gives us a glimpse of his passion towards youth development.
This post is part of an on-going series called Beyond VISTA, where we highlight the work that our Maker VISTA members and subsite supervisors are doing within the Maker VISTA community and beyond. We focus in on their personal interests to show the wide range of perspectives and passions that the Maker VISTA community brings.
In this post, Karim Willens, Project Coordinator for the Maker VISTA project and located in the Maker Ed office, had a chance to catch up with Brandan Alridge, the Subsite Supervisor at San Fernando Middle School near Los Angeles, CA, who hosts Maker VISTA member Matt Moor. Karim spoke with Brandan about the non-profit that he has been organizing as well as his work with the Maker VISTA project.
Karim: Where did you grow up and where were you raised?
Brandan: I was born, raised and still reside in Inglewood. I’m the third of three sons- all college educated. I’m married and have three beautiful children. My son is 9 and my daughters are 5 and 2.
Karim: What was your favorite grade and why?
Brandan: I don’t think I have a favorite grade because they all had their highs and lows. My most memorable grade is definitely my 6th grade year. The L.A. riots began in 1992. My classmates and I were glued to the window of our 2nd story classroom watching 100’s of police cars zoom up and down the street and a furniture store a block away from our campus collapsed from being engulfed in flames. Our 6th grade also went on a trip went to Washington D.C. and New York, an experience that was only topped by the trip to the inauguration of President Obama in 2008 that I was able to take the 8th grade class to at my former school.
Karim: How did you get to your current role as a supervisor?
Brandan: After spending almost 10 years reshaping after school programs throughout L.A. county and throughout California, I was looking for a new challenge that would offer me insight and experience working with the core school day program. Working as a Community School Coordinator with LAEP(Los Angeles Education Partnership) has offered me insight, experience and much more.
Karim: What do you love about Maker VISTA?
Brandan: I love the fact that Maker VISTA is transforming the depth and breadth the teachers at SFMS [San Fernando Middle School] are able to reach with their instruction. I also love the excitement and engagement levels of the students who have taken part in the maker ed lessons and activities thus far. Students who typically are disengaged in the traditional learning process are fully engaged in maker ed and anxious for more!
Maker VISTA Questions
Karim: So you’ve been working as a sub-site supervisor, How did you first get involved with Maker VISTA?
Brandan: So in my capacity as community school coordinator and working with LAEP, I saw the success of other Maker VISTA [projects] at other partner schools and made the request to get VISTA [members] at our site because our teachers are doing amazing things and I felt like having someone to support them with the capacity that Matt [the Maker VISTA member at San Fernando Middle School] is at will take it to the next level.
Karim: What is your involvement with the maker space and what gave rise to its promise and fruition?
It’s a collaborative effort, [in which] all the stakeholders are involved. A lot of credit to goes to Kathy [a former Maker VISTA member at San Fernando]. She did a lot of grassroots work with the teachers. All of our science teachers have gotten together to build the space and get the students fired up and motivated. She was able to establish relationships. She took meticulous notes and was able to pass them on to Matt. Most importantly our principal Mr. Ortiz has bought into the maker vision and what maker ed is and its impact on student learning. On her last day she presented a powerpoint to Mr. Ortiz and he totally bought into the maker vision. When Matt came he was able to look back at Kathy’s notes and see what she had done to keep the ball rolling and understand what her vision was going forward.
Karim: What are you looking to dive into for the future with Maker VISTA?
Brandan: So with maker ed,- I really want to get this maker ed space up and going you know. I think with the momentum we have now it will. I like to be a trendsetter, do things differently, that is the vision of our principal here. He wants San Fernando middle school to be the hub of the community. So if we can get this maker ed space running for our students and as well as for the outside community to come in and utilize it and bring their expertise and talent. You know in the end the students are winning.
Beyond VISTA Questions
Karim: So you have been running a basketball program. What type of basketball program?
Brandan: We are actually a high level elite basketball program. We compete in AU tournaments at the highest level. The basketball program is the South Bay Mambas. So the Southbay section of L.A. encompases Inglewood, Hawthorne, Gardena and all the beach cities Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach…… We have a broad range of participants from those cities. We practice and are based out of Inglewood.
Karim: What got you motivated to run this basketball program?
Brandan: I have a passion for youth and their development but also have a passion for basketball. I have had a vision since I was young to give back to my community. I grew up in the local YMCA and when I was in high school they closed down the YMCA. I was real disappointed because the YMCA was an outlet for me that kept me out of trouble and the streets. So I founded a basketball program that engages kids with something they’re interested in, but 6 months after I began the steps to establish a non-profit, which is the youth development arm of the organization.
Karim: What is the youth development part of your program all about?
It’s called READY Inc. which is an acronym for reaching, engaging, and developing youth. The “R” is reaching the kids and I felt the best way to reach the kids especially a large number of kids is reach them where they’re at, which was basketball. Kids love basketball. We use basketball as the carrot to get the kids in and engage them, and then we backfield with the youth development and opportunities to get them prepared for success and their transition from middle school, high school and college. If I said I have a program and we’re doing homework assistance and tutoring and mentoring and community service I wouldn’t have any kids.
Karim: What is the greatest strength of your program?
Brandan: I think that the magic of the program is the correlations that we draw between the skill set necessary for high level basketball and the skill set necessary to be a successful student and citizen. You know you have to be able to work as a group, you have to perceiver, you have to communicate, you have to work hard, you know you have to stay focused, and so those are the correlations on the court and off the court.
Karim: What does READY Inc. offer?
Brandan: We have parent meetings, we offer free tutoring at every practice and we do grade checks. Those grade checks are followed up with a course of action on how to get the kids back on track [if they are off track]. One of my parents is a teacher at LAUSD and he heads that spectrum of the program. We’re also able to offer free tutoring and take our kids on field trips and college visits and everything else.
Karim: How has your program grown?
Brandan: The biggest thing, the thing I’m most proud of, which is why our program has grown: We have grown through word of mouth. We had our very first meeting at a McDonald’s. We had 5 people there and it has grown up to 60 participants. And I think it’s because we only charge $35 a month which is pretty laughable because our counter parts and other programs charge up to $150 to $200 a month. They charge that because the coaches and administrators use that as a salary. I don’t believe in taking advantage of the families for your own personal gain. So we’re doing just fine with $35 a month and it tells you what $100 is to another program and where it is really going.
Karim: How do you decide who gets to participate in your program?
Brandan: We don’t do tryouts, and we don’t recruit, and we accept every kid regardless of skill level because as coaches that’s our job you know–we have to instill that work effort. If the kid wants to be good at basketball he is going to have to work at it.
Karim: What are the difficulties you face with READY Inc. going forward?
Brandan: I speak more about the off the court stuff than the on the court stuff because the reality is [possibly] none of these kids are going pro. The reality that these kids face is a majority of them may lose their passion for basketball before high school and a lot of them won’t even make the varsity team, but that doesn’t mean their experience with our time can’t be valuable and can’t help them develop the skill sets necessary, to put in their tool belts to be successful. Now if they can use basketball as a springboard for a college education then that is awesome. You know I tell Matt, [the Maker VISTA member at San Fernando Middle School], all the time. Everything I know about being a leader, communicator I learned through playing sports. Majority of the CEOs and Fortune 500 companies played youth sports so I want to make sure the next wave of CEOs could possibly be some of my mambas.
Karim: So here is a fun question- who are your top three favorite basketball players?
Brandan: So you know we are the mambas, so my #1 is Kobe. I was talking to my son this morning and he was like “Is Kobe the only NBA player to play 20 NBA seasons?” No he is not, but Kobe is the only player to play 20 seasons for one team which says a lot especially in today’s day and age. He stuck around when times were tough, so Kobe is number 1. Magic Johnson is number 2. Magic Johnson is my hero, my role model, my inspiration for growing up with basketball as a kid, but now as a businessman and community activist. And third is Kareem Abdul Jabar probably for the same reasons as Magic. Who he is off the court is awesome to me. I have had the luxury of meeting him. I just love him as a person and as a basketball player. I quote John Wooden with my kids all the time…who you are as a person is far more important than who you are as a basketball player.
Karim: What’s next for READY Inc.?
Brandan: With READY Inc. my dream since I have been little is to open up a facility, so I would love to do that in the city of Inglewood, something along the lines of the YMCA. I want to have a youth center where kids can be engaged you know, be productive and off the street.