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Q&A: Bradley University and Peoria Public Schools partner to put athletes in the classroom

Bradley University's Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Chris Reynolds.
Bradley University's Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Chris Reynolds.

A new partnership between Bradley University and Peoria Public Schools will put student-athletes in the classroom.

Athletes will work in whatever capacity teachers need to assist and mentor students.

PPS students will be able to earn free tickets to Bradley sports games, including men's basketball. Graduates of the program also will be brought to the campus to tour and meet with Bradley students.

WCBU's Camryn Cutinello spoke with Craig Reynolds, Bradley's vice president for intercollegiate athletics, and Peoria High School graduate Chris Reynolds about the program.

What is this new partnership?

Chris Reynolds: It's the only one of its kind, that I'm aware of in the country, that includes and involves every single student-athlete in its athletics department. They'll be partnering with the Peoria Public Schools, in grades three through six, to work with the principals and the teachers at these middle and primary schools, to help with tutoring, mentorship, [and] assist the teachers in any way possible as teachers aides. To really help these young people in these schools, develop into terrific citizens, terrific students, help expose them to college, and hopefully careers beyond college.

What's the timeline? When will all this be getting started?

Reynolds: The goal is to start Oct. 1. And so what we plan to do is divide our student-athlete population of over 200 student athletes, into 20 teams have at least 10 student-athletes. And so each team will be responsible for one of the schools in Peoria Public Schools. And this will take place throughout the entire school year. So it's not going to be something where we're in there for one month, and not for the rest of the time. But we'll be in there throughout the entirety of the school year. And we'll meet with the principals and the teachers at these middle schools to really tailor what we provide, as a service to what their needs are. So it won't be a cookie cutter approach.

With staffing shortages in Peoria Public Schools, with the need for teachers, can you talk about how this kind of program can sort of help be a backbone to help uplift the classrooms?

Reynolds: Yeah, the goal really, and hopefully, I think in this program, there's going to be a lot of unintended consequences, things that we haven't even thought about, that'll be helpful to Peoria Public Schools. Certainly, I think that one thing we can provide is another voice. I think many times with students, they hear their teachers so many times saying the same thing. Well, if you can have somebody else who might be younger, be able to provide that same message in a different way. We think that can really supplement what's being done in the Peoria Public Schools. And also, another component of the program is we plan to provide free passes to each of the students that are involved with this program at the Peoria Public Schools, to allow them to come to Bradley athletic events.

Can you elaborate on how students will earn those passes?

Reynolds: I'm calling it the ACE program. A-C-E. First, academics, "C" conduct. And "E", I think it's important that they give a great effort. And so the teachers, they'll determine who qualifies and who doesn't qualify. And this will, hopefully provide something in the hands of the teacher, as a bar. But not only that, an incentive for the young people to behave properly, to give effort, and also be mindful of their grades, and help the young people that are in Peoria Public Schools to recognize that they will get what they earn. And so they'll earn a T-shirt to be able to come to our athletic events. And then what we plan to do is those that quote unquote, graduate from the program, so they've been involved in the program on third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade. We want to provide an opportunity for these young people to come to campus and get an additional exposure.

Logistically speaking, is there an idea yet how often the athletes will be in the classroom?

Reynolds: As often as possible. And so what we'll plan to do is when we divide our student-athletes into 20 teams of approximately 10 persons, then what we'll plan to do is with each team, we'll put them in teams intentionally based upon class schedules, when they're in their competitive season. So for example, we won't put all soccer players on one team. Because the Fall is their heavy and busiest time of the year, we'll mix up the sport programs and student-athletes by their time availability. So we might have soccer players with golf student-athletes, because during the fall, the soccer players may not be able to be participating as often as they like but you know what the golfers they have more time to be able to be involved in the program. And so we'll get a sense of what the teachers need. Again, this will be driven by them. We don't want to come in and dictate anything. But then we'll look at our student athletes schedule and we'll find out what works best for everybody.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.