Basketball Alumna Shares Love Of SHSU, Sports In Her Classroom
|Fourth grade teacher Miriam Udo incorporates her SHSU experiences into her teaching as part of "No Excuses University," a program that actively promotes college readiness. As a former college athlete, Udo stresses to her students the importance of being educated, even if their current dreams involve playing sports professionally. —Photos by Kim Morgan|
Nestled in the hallway at Patti Becker McFee Elementary School in Katy is a pack of baby Bearkats. They gather round their den mother, thirsting for knowledge on what it takes to become a big Bearkat.
Dedication and motivation, Miriam Udo tells them; she knows because she's been there.
Udo is a fourth-grade teacher. The baby Bearkats are her students. They're enrolled at Cy Fair ISD, but will soon officially be a part of “No Excuses University,” a network of elementary, middle and junior high schools across the nation that actively promotes college readiness.
At McFee Elementary, every teacher has "adopted" a college or university. Udo chose her alma mater, Sam Houston State University.
"It's incredibly close to my heart," said Udo, who graduated from the College of Education in 2010.
In her classroom, tables are named after dorms. Students go to Belvin-Buchanan Hall or Sam Houston Village, not Table One or Table Two. On Bearkat game days, Udo plans "academic" game days for her students. When they complete a quiz or read a book, they earn points on the “Climbing Kats” wall chart.
"We do all of these things so the kids can see that the work they are doing has meaning," Udo said. "That what they do today helps get them to college tomorrow."
Diana Nabors, SHSU early childhood professor and assistant chair in the department of language, literacy and special populations, said it's never too early to get kids thinking about college.
"College is a goal everyone can achieve," said Nabors, adding that the SHSU Junior Bearkats program—for kids ages 1 to 13—is thriving. "I taught Miriam when she was an undergrad, and she's a great example for her own students to follow the path she did."
When Beverly Irby at SHSU heard what was going on at McFee, she and the College of Education’s leadership team wanted to get involved. No Excuses University, she said, fits in with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's "P-16" initiative, a program within the state's "Closing the Gaps by 2015" objective to helps high school students successfully transition to college.
So SHSU adopted Udo's class right back, providing pencils, posters, pendants—anything Udo needs to whet the appetite of her "Eat 'em Up, ‘Kats."
Sammy Bearkat himself recently visited the kids.
Sammy Bearkat Visits McFee...
"He was a little crazy," said Vivian Gomez, 9. "He was acting funny. I loved it."
Sammy gave the kids "Future Bearkat" T-shirts, which they proudly wear every Wednesday on "College Day." It's quite a sight when orange-clad baby Bearkats mingle with University of North Texas's mini-Mean Greens or maroon-clad A&M Aggies.
But Udo's students have a little extra claim to fame. Their teacher was a team player not only in the classroom…but on the ball court.
A graduate of Cypress Springs High School, Udo played basketball her entire high school career. As her senior year got underway, she was approached by a handful of basketball coaches from universities both in and out of state. Udo ultimately decided on SHSU, she said, because the moment she arrived for a campus visit "it felt like home."
Udo's Bearkat practice jersey hangs on the wall in her classroom at McFee, and little traces of her signature sport are sprinkled throughout the room—a tiny stuffed basketball perched on her desk, for example, but she wants her students to know that academics and athletics go hand in hand.
"Some of them feel they don't need to go to college if their goal is the NFL or NBA," Udo said. "But I tell them they have to have something to fall back on. What if you get hurt? What are you going to do? They have to think beyond sports. I loved every minute of basketball, but I asked myself, what else do I love? The answer was teaching kids."
Udo's SHSU basketball coach Brenda Welch-Nichols said it was quite clear early on that Udo has a heart for kids—she even occasionally babysat Welch-Nichols’s own kids.
"We try to teach our players to be role models in the community," Welch-Nichols said. "We teach basketball, but there's so much more about life after the ball goes flat. It makes me feel good that one of my players is out there living life the way we want them to live life. It's an honor when they go on and have pride in what they're doing."
This spring, the lady Bearkats will visit Udo's class for a "Kat Chat" session, during which players will sit down and, well, chat.
Udo's kids get it.
"If we do sports, we can get scholarships," said Joshua Howard, 9. "I want to play basketball. Then I want to be a doctor."
"My teacher told me I have to get letters from them that prove I can go to college," said Pelumi Dunmoye, 9. "I want to be a veterinarian. And I'm going to be a cheerleader at Sam Houston."
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