If you’re out exploring behind the baseball field in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, you might come across some shipping containers used for a much more educational purpose than transporting goods. That’s because those shipping containers are actually the home of Player Development SXM, an afterschool initiative for at-risk area children that mixes academic tutoring with baseball.

One container serves as classroom space, the other a gym. Donated picnic tables make up an outdoor classroom. And thanks to the efforts of some American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) students, the program has grown, increased its reach, and become a more comfortable space for the children it helps.

How the Students Got Involved

During their first semester in St. Maarten, two AUC students—Ben Goldsmith and Kyle Mihaylo, both baseball aficionados interested in giving back to the St. Maarten community through sports—ended up meeting a man named Tom Burnett, who founded this program with his wife, Lisa. After that fateful meeting, Ben and Kyle have not only volunteered with the program—they’ve spread the word around campus, weaved the program into the AUC’s Community Action Day, and raised funds to help the program grow.

This ended up qualifying both students—now in their fifth and final semester before moving on to clinicals in the US—for the Social Accountability Award, an AUC scholarship given to students who go above and beyond in making life better for citizens of St. Maarten.

AUC student Kyle Mihaylo (above, left) and one of the St. Maarten children he helps through the Player Development SXM afterschool initiative.

More Than Just Athletics

Working with kids in the program—usually aged 8 through 12—proved impactful for both students.

“Tom threw a book in our hands, and told us to help the kids learn,” says Kyle in the personal essay he submitted with his scholarship application. “I began to teach a child to read. Teaching this 14-year-old to read felt powerful and hopeless at the same time. I felt my heart tugging for this kid as he read ta-he for the.” For many children, Kyle notes, this will be their only exposure to reading and writing.

“Most of these kids come from unstable homes,” says Ben in his own essay, “and this humble clubhouse serves as a refuge to just come play ball. Baseball is not only meditative, but it’s also the vehicle to get these kids to do better in school.”

AUC student Ben Goldsmith (above, left) and Kyle Mihaylo (upper photo) earned AUC's Social Accountability Award for their support of Player Development SXM.

The program’s grown quite a bit since Ben and Kyle got involved. A new shipping container has been added, and serves as the kids’ science lab. Fifty-pound bags of goods from the United States have been toted over to the ball field to donate to the program. And when Kyle—a former collegiate baseball player—won the Student of the Semester award during his fourth semester, he immediately donated his $5,000 award to install a shaded patio area to give the kids a dry, mud-free area to learn.

Want to learn more or volunteer with Player Development SXM? Check out this Facebook page for more.

About the Social Accountability Award

The AUC Social Accountability Award recognizes students who have made contributions to the communities of St. Maarten during their medical sciences education. The award is given during the third, fourth, or fifth semester. In addition to their work on the Player Development Program, Ben and Kyle gave back to their campus and community in other ways, such as:

  • Kyle, a member of the AUC chapter of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, has helped provide recreational and educational activities for children at foster homes on the island. He also volunteered at an island health fair for children, giving kids eye exams and vision testing.

  • Ben has assisted with HIV screening events on the island, encouraging individuals to get tested and offering support. He also has served as a teaching assistant for AUC’s anatomy classes.

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Kristin Baresich

Posted April 21, 2016 12:44 PM

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