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District Is First to Employ Emotional Support Coaches

Paul Steinbach

The Peekskill (N.Y.) City School District has launched a pilot program to place school personnel on the bench and in the locker room at high school varsity football and girls' and boys' basketball games to act as coaches who help athletes calmly deal with adversity and anxiety.

As reported by Rockland/Westchester Journal News, the district has allocated $13,000 in grant money to pay for four emotional support coaches. The four, who are already district employees, are trained in what's called social emotional learning. The Board of Education unanimously approved the program's creation and allocation of funds earlier this month.

District officials said the program, which is believed to be the first of its kind nationally at the high school level, is an outgrowth of a State Department of Education directive for districts to focus on social emotional learning.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Mauricio indicated the coach additions further bolster existing district efforts to "supply emotional support throughout the day."

Athletic director Austin Goldberg told the Journal News that he predicts an emotional support coach will help reduce negative responses in athletes brought on by frustration, and that players will enjoy games more and perhaps even play better. 

Ellen Gerace, the district's director of special services, agrees. "Wins and losses are not the reason why we're implementing this," said Gerace, who helped develop the pilot program with Mauricio and Goldberg. "But I do think it will help performances. Some students take themselves out of a game mentally. [Now] they'll be better teammates."

"It's all about athletic character development," Mauricio said. "Students will be able to cool down and go back in the game without losing their cool and letting the community down.

"Every community wants a winning team and also wants a team that loses with dignity."

A representative of the National Federation of State High School Associations told the Journal News that he was unaware of any program like the one in Peekskill, which debuted with the high school's final home home game and may be expanded to teams beyond girls' and boys' basketball.

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