Mason student-athletes give back by working with the public schools

Student-athlete Harrison Shotwell of Mason's track and field team chats with Daniels Run Elementary School students during lunch. Photo by Ian Shiff/Creative Services.

On a crisp October morning, several George Mason University baseball players could be seen playing catch with a group of elementary schoolers during recess—although they were throwing more gently than they normally would on the baseball diamond. After recess, they returned to the classroom to help the students with their reading skills. This was a typical day of volunteering for Mason’s baseball players, a activity that they thoroughly enjoy.

Mason’s baseball team adopted Providence Elementary School in Fairfax in the spring of 2019 as part of Intercollegiate Athletics Adopt a School program. The baseball players visit the school as often as schedules allow—sometimes weekly—primarily during their off-season. Though different players visit different classes each time, the Mason student-athletes are able to create a sense of continuity by working with the same students throughout the school year.

Working with the Providence students is a welcome change of pace. The players look forward to their time with the students as a chance to escape their responsibilities on the field and in the classroom and focus their energy on helping others. They find that being able to help children is an enlightening experience.

“It slows life down,” said graduate student Bailey Klein, BS Economics ’18, who is a catcher on Mason’s team. “It’s great to see the future with these kids.”

Members of Mason's wrestling team sign posters for the Lanier Middle School students during one of their visits. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services.

Mason Athletics began working with area elementary schools in 2017. The women’s basketball team was the first to adopt a school—Matthew Maury Elementary in Alexandria. In the years since, four athletic teams have joined the program: baseball, wrestling, track and field, and women’s soccer.

When a Mason team adopts an area school, the relationship is customized to support the needs of the school. Each team volunteers in a different way. For example, Mason’s women’s soccer team volunteered to run a food truck at Braddock Elementary School’s Back to School Night.

“We try to accommodate both the team’s and the school’s goals,” said Dawn Hicks, director of community relations for Mason Athletics, who works to connect Mason’s many athletic teams with the different public schools in the area. “Service is our priority.”

Hicks sees firsthand the impact that volunteerism has on the student-athletes. “They get to participate in a child’s life in a very meaningful way,” she said. The student-athletes also get to practice a variety of skills that they can use in their careers, including mentoring and coaching.

Though Mason student-athletes may view their volunteerism as just a way to give back, those in the community see their impact. Providence Elementary principal Dan Phillips said that Mason student-athletes are becoming valued members of their community.

Mason alumna Laura May, BS Education ’83, MEd Curriculum and Instruction ’01, who teaches sixth grade at Providence, was thrilled when Mason student-athletes became involved with her school. May had invited Mason basketball players to her classroom before the official volunteer program was initiated. She sees the benefits of having Mason student-athletes visit her students and was glad to have them in her classroom on a regular basis.

Having visitors in the classroom acts as a catalyst for some students—the presence of the baseball players helps capture the students’ attention and gives them extra energy to complete their work, May said. It also gives her students something to look forward to throughout the week. When the baseball team visits her classroom every other Friday, they often spend time working with English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students on their reading skills. 

“It’s a great opportunity for these students,” May said.

The Adopt a School program is still growing with Mason’s wrestling team recently adopting Lanier Middle School and the track and field team adopting Daniels Run Elementary School, both in Fairfax.

The Daniels Run adoption is the program’s first student-led project. Senior thrower Sidney Yap of the track and field team approached Hicks about adopting a school, got his coach’s approval and completed the paperwork process for the team. Yap now helps coordinate the school visits with Hicks.

City of Fairfax Schools superintendent Phyllis Pajardo, MEd Administration and Supervision ’93, is a proponent of the program and is pleased with its continued growth.

“It’s a really great way to give back,” said the Mason alumna. “It’s just a delight.”