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An After-School Program Combines Tennis and Tutoring

Photo: Linda Cicero

COURTS AND COMPUTERS: Head tennis coach Diana Sumner works with ninth-grader Destiny Williams on her forehand.

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As Patrick Johnson dispatches an opponent on a back court in Taube Family Tennis Stadium, his mom is pulling a huge pan of spaghetti and meatballs out of an oven in a nearby building.

Veronica Johnson slathers garlic butter on toasted bread and hurries to fill some 20 paper plates and get them on the tables. She knows the high school students will have only 15 minutes to eat dinner between the end of their tennis matches and the start of their one-on-one tutoring.

The nonprofit East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring (EPATT) program enrolls about 100 mostly Latino students from more than 30 local elementary, middle and high schools. There are another 100 on the waiting list. Most of the kids participate four afternoons a week, spending one hour on the court and at least 1 1/2 hours in tutoring. EPATT also expects parents to become involved with the program, often by regularly making dinner for the group.

Some of the teens in the college-prep program remain on campus as late as 8:30 p.m. for help with homework assignments or preparation for SAT tests. They all hear about the graduates who are studying at Stanford, Sonoma State, Cal Poly and Pomona College, and they know what the possibilities are. “Not all of them go to college, but some do,” says Kesha Weekes, EPATT’s academic director. “And we’re proud of all of them, no matter what they end up doing.”

Weekes has been serving balls and collecting progress reports at EPATT for six years. She helps students conduct debates on pressing California political issues and hands out a Jamba Juice certificate to each one who finishes reading an entire book. She also recruits many of the undergraduates who assist with the program. “It’s challenging work,” says Weekes, ’97. “They didn’t prepare me for this at Stanford.”

Launched by former Cardinal tennis player Jeff Arons, ’83, EPATT began as a summer program at Ravenswood Middle School in 1988. Area donors helped build eight tennis courts on the campus, and EPATT became an after-school program in 1991, using three classrooms after hours. But in 1997, the Ravenswood school district erected portable classrooms on the courts and EPATT had to find new quarters.

Head men’s tennis coach Dick Gould brokered an agreement with the Stanford athletics department for EPATT to use 3,500 square feet of then-bare, unheated space in the new Taube facility. Four classrooms and a long connecting hallway that overlooks an indoor court now hum with Macintosh iBooks, running feet and constant chatter.

“Are you gonna marry Kobe Bryant?” a fourth-grader asks Weekes as she stops to read his latest report card.

“He has enough problems, honey,” she replies, then jogs to the next student’s desk.

Most of EPATT’s $450,000 budget is supplied by local donors. Bay Area clubs provide racquets, balls, wrist bands and T-shirts to the program, which is a division of San Francisco-based Youth Tennis Advantage.

EPATT’s emphasis on improving both athletic and academic skills seems to be working. Dozens of participants compete in USTA Junior League competitions with players from the Alpine Hills Tennis and Swim Club. EPATT provides scholarships that enable seven teens to attend private schools, including Menlo School, Pinewood and Sacred Heart. “Some of these schools have become tennis powers because of these kids,” says Gould, ’59, MA ’60, noting that in 2002 EPATT was named the third-best community tennis program in the country by Tennis Week magazine. And there’s a certain serendipity in housing the program on the Stanford campus. “These kids get to watch the best college teams in the country play,” says executive director Dave Higaki. “Before, college might not have had much meaning. Now it’s a place they come to every day.”

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