Harsh weather may have caused delays at yesterday's practice rounds of the 2013 U.S. Open, but not even the rain could dampen Travonne Williams' excitement for seeing his golf idols in action.
"It felt so good to be able to be there because I know a lot of children don't get to have the experiences we have," Williams said. "It was a great experience, even with the rain."
Williams, 15, is one of four students from the Memphis Street Academy Charter School in Philadelphia who got the chance to see professional golfers tee off on the green at Merion Golf Club.
Memphis Street Academy is an American Paradigm School, a national nonprofit educational management organization whose goal is to use its learning model to improve struggling public schools. In April 2012, American Paradigm Schools joined with Philadelphia's Renaissance Initiative turnaround program and members of the Port Richmond community to reform John Paul Jones Middle School which officially became Memphis Street Academy Charter last year.
The trip to the U.S. Open was sponsored through a partnership between American Paradigm Schools and First Tee of Greater Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to teaching life skills through golf. Nine other students from affiliated American Paradigm Schools also attended.
Memphis Street Academy principal Naimah Holliday says this is just one of many partnerships the school uses to ensure its students have a well-rounded learning experience.
"I think that that's always our goal when thinking about educating our scholars, is to expose them to as many different opportunities and different things that they wouldn't necessarily have an innate interest in or things that they don't see people in our communities participating in so that they can tap in to those talents and those interests that they may have had no idea that they actually had," she said.
"We want our children to be global learners and leaders. This was another opportunity for them to think globally."
Memphis Street Academy athletic director and activities coordinator Brandon Lee chaperoned the students on the trip.
"This is our first year as a renaissance school. Last year we didn't really have a lot of afterschool activities but with the charter, one of the ways to help with the turnaround was to have more afterschool activities. There are, at any given time, about 18 afterschool programs going on but First Tee is probably the largest, most popular partnership that we have," Lee said.
This year alone 5,300 elementary schools across 50 U.S. states participated in First Tee National School programs.
Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia chapter of First Tee, John MacDonald, says the quality of the program will keep participation numbers growing.
"Our goal at First Tee is to assemble a high quality staff that has the kids best interest at heart and do everything necessary to expand the program and reach as many kids as we possibly can. Our chapter just celebrated its tenth anniversary and we hope to reach 10,000 students this year," MacDonald said. "It’s really more about life and teaching them how to conduct themselves in a way that's going to advantage them as they move forward."
MacDonald said its particularly important for urban youth to participate in the sport of golf.
"Its unbelievably important because they don't get as much exposure to the core goals that make up the First Tee program. It really is a great program that teaches kids to respect others, and to understand that if you work hard you can accomplish things like mastering the science of making the ball go where you want it to go," he said.
The official start of the U.S. Open is this Thursday. Williams says he'll be rooting for his favorite player, Tiger Woods.
"I didn't get to see him during the practice rounds but I hope he wins it all," Williams said.