Students coach, teach “Pitt’s Kids” through outreach program


Sydni Foshee | Staff Photographer

Pitt’s Kids is a Pitt-run youth outreach program where children from local communities learn new skills through sports and other activities.

By Charlotte Pearse, For The Pitt News

Susanne Kushnerick leads a double life. During the week, she’s a nursing student. But on Saturday mornings, she teaches preschool-aged kids how to swim in Trees Hall.

“It’s a fun job since you’re with kids that are younger,” Kushnerick, a junior, said. “That’s very refreshing, given all the schoolwork I have to do and everything.”

Kushnerick works at Pitt’s Kids, a Pitt-run youth outreach program where children from local communities learn new skills through sports and other activities.

According to Kyle Kenia, the director of the program, about 100 children aged 3 to 13 participate in Pitt’s Kids during the fall and spring sessions and more than 200 enroll each summer. More than 30 Pitt students work with Kenia and his staff to teach the kids swimming, rock climbing, martial arts and a number of other activities.

Kenia said that one of the other important aspects of his job is getting to work with undergraduate students, graduate students and professional individuals. Kenia himself started working for the Pitt’s Kids program when he was a graduate student at Pitt. Now, years after graduating with his master’s degree in health and physical activity, he enjoys teaching others how to teach, he said.

“That’s my other favorite part of my job — really teaching and mentoring them on how to do different things with kids,” Kenia said. “How to write a lesson plan, how to implement things, what are strategies to doing it, what works, what doesn’t work, everything in between.”

Kushnerick teaches swimming to 3- and 4-year-olds, the youngest age group for Pitt’s Kids. She said that she hasn’t found it difficult to balance Pitt’s Kids with her classwork and that she believes it is a good way to make money on campus.

“But the advice I’d give people? Just have fun with it. Be confident. If you’re confident, then the kids are confident in their abilities,” Kushnerick said.

Although Kushnerick is building skills for her future career — she’s considering going into pediatrics — Kenia said the program is also open to students with completely unrelated majors and who don’t have prior experience teaching kids. They just have to be interested.

“I’m looking for students that are, when they come to Pitt, interested in working with kids,” Kenia said. “They might want to be working in the school of education where they want to be some kind of teacher, therapist, social worker, etc. They want to have an outcome of working with Pitt’s Kids, so I’m kind of looking for those types of backgrounds.”

Curtis Smith, a former Pitt police officer who teaches physical education classes for Pitt’s Kids, said that he thinks working at Pitt’s Kids is a great experience for students and a good way to make summer money.

“They have a chance to really have a learning experience dealing with the youth, at all different types of ages,” Smith said. “And [they learn] that art form of how to teach. Teaching is an art form. Sometimes people don’t realize that. That learning experience is worth its weight in gold.”

Enrollment in one of the program’s spring, summer or fall sessions costs $225 for a family’s first child and $200 for each additional child.

Pitt’s Kids is a part of the Community Leisure Learn department, which is the oldest outreach programs on campus. Through the program, Kenia said he hopes to provide kids with lifelong motor development and moderate to vigorous physical activity at an affordable rate.

“I don’t believe that a kid should not get a program because of money,” Kenia said. “And along with that just goes kids being kids.”

Kenia added that he feels that teaching kids to swim, specifically, is very important and so it’s a very large part of the program.

“I’m a big believer in swimming. I swam throughout college and grew up around the pool, so I just couldn’t believe that there were people that didn’t know how to swim, and I was young and naive to that,” Kenia said. “Now, I’m here and I’m in a program teaching people how to swim.”

According to Kushnerick, Pitt’s Kids is more than just a learning experience. It’s a program she’s passionate about and that improves her days off.

“We’re all here to have fun,” Kushnerick said. “It’s a good way to start your day.”

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