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Bridging sports and academics

Written on January 29th, 2018

Burlington Christian Academy (BCA) Grade 8 student Emma appreciates being part of the school’s specialized sports program that hones her basketball skills and provides her with the opportunity to try different sports.

Emma is one of 17 students enrolled in BCA’s Advanced Level Programming in Athletics (ALPA) program, which runs for the last two periods of the school day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“ALPA allows you to take a step back and enjoy multiple sports for fun,” she says. Emma plays on a rep basketball team, and since playing volleyball with the BCA program has decided to join a volleyball league as well. She says the program gives her something to look forward to during her classes.

“You’re not just going to school for education, you’re also going for sports and having the privilege of trying new things and learning how to interact with everyone in a different way,” Emma says.

JD Collier is BCA’s director of senior programming, ALPA coordinator, and Grade 7 homeroom teacher. “[ALPA] is geared to students that love sports, it is not necessarily just high-end athletes,” he says. Adding the program is based on an individual skill development model so athletes of all abilities enhance their skills.

“If they love sports they come to school, they do their academics and they also get to do what they love in school as well,” Mr. Collier says.

ALPA is one of BCA’s three specialized programs for Grade 6-8 students. Curtain Call, a musical theatre program, and EdVenture, an experiential learning program, are the other two options. There is an additional fee above base tuition for these programs.

Principal Heather Crossing says the senior students look forward to their specialized programs. “They know that school ends in a way at 2:00 and the fun begins on those three days,” she says.

The programs provide differentiated instruction with an interdisciplinary and cross-grade approach. Expectations are well-defined and include leadership and mentorship components. Because three grades are involved, students can expand their friendships as they interact with people older or younger than themselves.

BCA introduced ALPA in 2007 through the vision of the principal at the time, Gord McNeice. The desire was to find a way to allow more time for sports and developing athletic skills in the students.

“A lot of it was based on research that students that are active and engaged, not just sitting at their desk, tend to do better academically as well,” says Mrs. Crossing. The program was also aimed to boost enrolment, and as the word spread in the broader community it did affect the school’s growth.

The sports available depend on enrolment – this year hockey or basketball and volleyball are offered. Students have a schedule of two weeks on their sport of choice and one week off when they are introduced to various recreational sports and activities. BCA engages high-level instructors from the community to work with the students, such as former professional hockey player Kelly Reed and Ryerson University volleyball coach Carol Onate. Some former ALPA students continued their sports, played in the OHL and received scholarships to post-secondary institutions.

Grade 6 student Jack says he chose ALPA because he likes sports and he enjoys having fun with his friends, playing games and working on improving his skills. Jack’s favourite sport is basketball, and he notes that teamwork is an important part of the game.

Linda Hatcher has three children; Emma is her youngest. Four years ago, when Mrs. Hatcher was looking to find a different school for her second child, she enrolled him at BCA in Grade 5. It was such an “overwhelmingly positive” experience that Emma enrolled the following year.

“Learning different sports was not only a lot of fun for them, but as an athlete, it also allows you to use different parts of your body and learn different skills, making you a stronger athlete overall,” she says.

Mrs. Hatcher notes there is a lot to be learned through sports—how to fail and lose, and how to win. The ALPA program allows for learning outside of the formal class environment. Her children both “blossomed” at BCA, she says, noting that the environment, teachers and ALPA all contributed to the positive experience.

ALPA provides students with the opportunity to develop their passion for sports in a way that focuses on their own achievements and builds leadership qualities.

Mr. Collier knows that to be a leader today requires character and he aims to develop that within this program. “I tell them, ‘No one will remember who won this game, but they will remember if you were awarded best sportsman,’” says Mr. Collier. He also instills that since they are playing sports for God’s glory, that needs to be remembered all the time — on and off the sports field.

While there are many stories about how students have excelled or changed during the ALPA program, Mr. Collier shares a recent example of a student who came to the school in Grade 6 with the label of a bully. The student was playing Single A rep hockey and by the end of the year was at the Triple A level. But it was more than his hockey skills that had changed—by halfway through Grade 7 he was taking on leadership roles and showing kindness to others.

“When he came to the Christian School Tournament, he was still a great hockey player but his mentality [shifted to] this is a game, this is about fun, this is about God, this is not about winning at all costs,” Mr. Collier says. “You could see it in his attitude, helping kids up and making sure if there was a dangerous play he would avoid it to not hurt anyone.”

ALPA students have an intrinsic motivation with their love of sports which also motivates them academically and within leadership. A student who excels at sports but struggles academically can use the confidence they build in their sport and translate it into other areas of their lives, Mr. Collier says.

Sports-minded students tend to improve academically because they have time for activity during the day. Mrs. Hatcher notes her son went from struggling in French immersion at his previous school to making the honour roll and winning the Grade 8 leadership award at BCA.

“I have the ALPA program, the mentorship provided by BCA teachers and an amazing school to thank. The balance of programming and class time is perfect,” she adds. For more information on BCA’s ALPA program visit