A Home for Squash
SL Green StreetSquash Center in New York City
By Dawn Klingensmith
espite its name, the after-school program StreetSquash has never been out on the streets. But until last fall, StreetSquash never had a place to call home.
StreetSquash is a free, New York City-based youth-enrichment program that combines academic tutoring, squash instruction, college preparation, community service and one-on-one mentoring. It serves low-income public-school students in the Harlem neighborhood. The program previously took place in YMCA and other host organizations' facilities.
As of September 2008, the nonprofit program has a permanent new home—the 18,000-square-foot SL Green StreetSquash Center, named for StreetSquash board member Steven L. Green. Housed in a mixed-use (primarily residential) building, the $9 million facility features eight international squash courts, four classrooms, a library and locker rooms.
"Now we have a place of our own where we're not worried about getting kicked off the courts to make room for others, or where we're studying in hallways and getting disrupted," said George Polsky, executive director.
Despite any such disruptions, StreetSquash has been remarkably successful from its inception in 1999. One hundred percent of participants graduate from high school. By comparison, the NYC Department of Education places the overall percentage at less than 60 percent. Eighty-three percent of StreetSquash graduates go to college.
StreetSquash is a long-term, intensive program. Students sign up in sixth grade and commit to seven years of involvement. "Making the team depends on commitment and attendance, not grades or athletic ability," Polsky said.
Participants meet four days per week (three school days plus Saturday) for three hours. They spend half the time playing squash and the other half on homework and academics with help from professional and volunteer tutors.
Polsky founded StreetSquash with 24 kids, modeling it after the SquashBusters program in Boston. He wanted to help at-risk children succeed academically and thought that squash, a racquet sport he grew up playing, would be an interesting way to reach them.
"A lot of kids aren't familiar with it, and kids like trying something new and different," he said.
The opening of the SL Green StreetSquash Center not only makes StreetSquash's the largest squash facility in New York, but it also enables the organization to implement new programs and expand its existing ones to include more students. For example, the launch of StreetSquash's new P.E. for Public Schools program coincided with the center's opening. This program brings Harlem school children to the center during the school day for squash instruction, aerobic drills and basic nutrition education.