What do you do with mostly low-income students from single-parent families who need something constructive to keep them busy after school? If you’re Confluence Academy, a charter school in St. Louis, you create a table tennis team coached by a Chinese pro. Sheri Xu, a former junior champion from Shanghai, is the one who, during a dinner party, suggested forming the team to school founder Susan Uchitelle. Effusive in her praise, Uchitelle says of the sport, known more commonly as pingpong: “It ties in with achievement. [The students] have to concentrate, have agility ... practice for hours.” She’s not alone in her assessment. Although the Confluence team, made up of 30 kids in grades 3 to 8, is the first in St. Louis public schools, the American Youth Table Tennis Organization has been working with needy students in New York City and New England for years, tying the disciplinary and team-player aspects of the sport to academics. Already one formerly troubled 5th grader at Confluence has experienced a turnaround, thanks to Xu’s volunteer efforts. “I have never seen him so focused,” says one teacher.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.