The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Teacher Jon Kitamura with members of the College of San Mateo football team.

Teacher Jon Kitamura with members of the College of San Mateo football team.

Four English instructors and the football coaches at the College of San Mateo have invested in student-athletes through a unique program called Writing in the End Zone that links composition and the gridiron.

Writing in the End Zone was initiated in 2003 to facilitate success of the lowest achieving students at CSM. African-Americans and Pacific Islanders were the lowest achieving students, according to a study conducted by John Sewart, dean of research. The groups were well represented on the football team, so Teeka James and James Carranza of the English Department developed the two-semester English curriculum that links composition and football.

“It seems like common sense,” said Football Coach Bret Pollack. “It’s specific to football players.

“The key is taking the material and making it of interest to the students. Let’s focus on the skills, something they’re interested in, something they have a passion for and something they will gravitate to. The skills are more important than the topic matter.”

Success rates of WEZ student-athletes rival success rates of the general student population and WEZ student-athletes substantially outperform their peers not participating in WEZ.

The program is driven by investment in the players’ success by faculty and coaches. The objective of the program is to aid the transition from athlete-student to student-athlete by encouraging students to recognize that they belong in college, giving them a voice in the classroom and developing students’ pride in their work.

“I want you to succeed and here’s how you do it,” James tells students. “They start seeing us not so much as the evaluators, but as the coaches.”

The viability of the program depends on collaboration of the students, faculty and coaches, said Carranza. Attempts to emulate the program at other colleges have failed because not all three spheres of influence were included, he added.

Since 2003, the WEZ team has grown from James, Carranza and Pollack to include English faculty Jon Kitamura and Anne Stafford, occasionally Rob Komas from the math department and Assistant Football Coach Tim Tulloch.

In the 2009-10 academic year, 26 of the 30 football student-athletes transferred to a four-year institution with scholarships, according to program data.

“School hasn’t always been easy,” said Rahsaan Vaughn, All-American wide-receiver, “but the academic support I received at CSM helped me to develop the skills needed to earn my degree and move on to University of Oregon.”