This summer, Kalvin, a fifth-grader at Pecan Springs Elementary, made a solar car and learned about the history of Oreos. Fifth-grade student Mia spent spring break kayaking and gazing at the stars. Rosa, a third-grader, built leadership skills that she can use when she becomes a teacher one day.
Kalvin, Mia and Rosa are just a few of the children of the Andy Roddick Foundation (ARF). ARF is a foundation started by Andy Roddick that offers after-school programs and summer camps for underserved Austin kids, to give them the chance to find their passion, which more important than most would realize.
The way Kalvin, Mia, Rosa and their classmates spend their time outside of school can dictate how successful they’ll be in school and in life. Over summer break, for example, students’ achievement scores decline by a month’s worth of school-year learning, with low-income students having the sharpest decline in reading skills. This is called summer learning loss, and the kids who suffer the most are the ones whose families don’t have the resources to remedy the situation.
During the school year, low-income families often have to work shorter hours, forgoing valuable income in order to be home to care for their children.
Surprisingly, Texas uses fourth-grade reading scores to determine how many prison cells the state will require in a decade. After discovering this sobering fact, former pro tennis player Andy Roddick who started ARF in 2000, the year he turned 18, saw an opportunity to raise money to affect change in the city where he grew up.
The foundation has come a long way since that first fundraising event where Roddick and his friends offered tennis clinics in a parking lot. In its first year, the foundation raised about two thousand dollars. This fall, the 13th annual Andy Roddick Foundation Gala brought in $1.3 million for the various programs offered at the three Austin elementary schools that help kids find their passion and begin to thrive.
However, it’s not math, reading or science classes that Kindergarten through fifth-grade students can participate in at Hart, Harrison and Pecan Springs Elementary schools. Rather, ARF’s mission is to focus on social and emotional learning and create new chances for children to grow in literacy, STEM, art and sports during months and times of day when statistics show they’re typically most at risk of falling behind. Subjects include tech and financial literacy, growing sustainable foods, sushi-making and rugby keep kids interested and occupied.
“My concern isn’t even that they’re into tennis, but that they have any interest,” Roddick says.
Roddick feels excelling is not just about education, but about finding a passion, like he did with tennis. Once children find something they enjoy and are good at, their confidence blossoms and they thrive in their social circles. But children from lower-income families often never get that chance.
“We like to say talent is universal—opportunity is not,” Roddick says.
Roddick is hoping to change that. Because in addition to thriving emotionally and socially, kids also tend to excel educationally when they find their niche, whether they are making robots or shooting a silent film.
According to a study done on the impact of after-school programs, participating students outperformed their peers on standardized testing, maintained or improved their reading skills over the summer and had a higher attendance level. Parents are also more involved, and it also gives them the ability to work a few extra hours a day.
“As a result, the course of their life is forever changed, as is the future of Austin,” ARF CEO, Richard Tagle, says. “Our children don’t just learn how to do better in school, they find new ways to ignite their passion.”
Whether it’s learning pottery basics from Keith Keegan, music theory from Saul Paul or fitness in the park, ARF gives kids real-world insights into exciting fields they may never have considered — as well as the chance to blossom and succeed.