Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Enrique Lucha
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University’s newest Learning Lounge is all about creating new fans -- of education, mainly, but of baseball, too. The GCU students working there are wearing it on their sleeve.
That was the location of the Milwaukee Brewers’ logo on the new polo shirts donned by learning advocates (LEADs) Monday for the grand opening for the Lounge inside the baseball team’s recently completed Maryvale training complex.
Equally evident was the impact this free academic assistance will have on K-12 students in a village where 42% of the 270,000 people are younger than 18 years old, according to Jeff Armor, Executive Director of the Maryvale Revitalization Corporation (MRC).
Start with the 1,150 students at Borman Elementary School right next door. The new principal, Sierra McAllister, is so excited about the new facility, she plans to walk students over there herself.
“This is really an incredible opportunity for us, just our proximity,” said McAllister, who officially moves up from assistant principal on May 1. “We literally share a fence. We get to see the players when they’re out at spring training. It couldn’t be coming to a better spot.”
All of Borman’s students live within 1 mile of the school, McAllister added, and transportation is an issue – most of them walk. It’s not uncommon to have multiple children from the same family.
Now big brother and little sis can walk over to the Learning Lounge together, no appointment necessary, from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday virtually year-round. (It will be housed in a local school during spring training.)
“That means that an eighth-grader could come get help with algebra and a second-grader could come get help with reading, all at the same time right after school,” she said.
It has all the amenities of the Learning Lounge on the GCU campus -- LEADs ready to help, snacks and balanced meals from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance ready to nourish.
“It will be run very much like we run the Learning Lounge on campus. The LEADs will run it,” said Shari Stagner, Program Manager for the Learning Lounge.
Said Dr. Joe Veres, GCU’s Director for Student Success, “This is a dream come true for any school, to be this close to our greatest resource, which is our students, who are there to provide academic support. But we know it goes beyond that. It’s academic support. It’s social support. It’s emotional support. Not only do they become an academic tutor, they also become a mentor, a guide, somebody to look up to.”
One of those mentors is sophomore Jose Monarrez, a Students Inspiring Students scholarship recipient who will be working at the Brewers Lounge five days a week. The mechanical engineering major has a heart for helping the community and has a simple reason for wanting to be at this location.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity because we’re going to be within the community,” he said. “It’s a closer interaction.”
Children who come to the facility also will get to interact with Brewers players who are there to rehabilitate injuries. Monday, pitcher Corey Knebel walked around talking to students even though his right arm is in a brace after reconstructive elbow surgery.
Other players have expressed interest in coming by as well, said Thad McGrew, the Brewers’ Senior Manager of Multicultural Marketing: “Those guys are community guys. They want to get involved.”
It’s part of the Brewers’ desire for extensive community involvement.
“Having the ability to showcase this venue for other reasons and opportunities, it does a lot more toward helping establish an awareness of who we are,” McGrew said. “A lot of kids who come through here aren’t going to understand that we’re in the baseball business, but it gives us an opportunity to educate them along the way.
“They’ll understand the importance of education because that will be the primary attraction, but they’ll pick up on the other stuff that’s around it.”
And there will be a lot of other stuff around the facility. MRC’s Armor said there are plans for carnivals, food trucks and jump houses, but his organization is even more ecstatic about the Learning Lounge. He brought with him Monday a check for $20,000, gathered from 50/50 raffles during the Brewers’ spring training games.
“When GCU decided they wanted to open a Learning Lounge here, it was a really big deal for us,” he said. “So in that journey, we wanted to make sure we were doing what we could to bring that collaboration together.”
The collaboration between GCU and the Brewers also was smooth. “It was an easy process,” Stagner said. “They were 100% supportive of this program and what it was going to take to get it going.”
Now all it will take is for schools to start sending their students there, and that shouldn’t be a problem. Stagner and Veres both talked Monday about how only three local students came to the Learning Lounge on its first day in 2013. Now it regularly serves 50 to 100 students a day.
There were 16 students in the Brewers Lounge in its first hour, and McAllister plans to add to that number significantly.
“You can already see the gears turning, right?” she said. “We were just talking about just making sure we get this message out to our kids, having some of the (GCU) students come in and speak to our students about what’s available.
“All of our eighth-graders take algebra, which is a big push for them, a big stretch – it’s really something ninth-graders get. So having this kind of support for them is just out-of-control amazing.”
McGrew and Veres both talked about the lure of being around baseball, and Veres plans to take the students out to the ballgame.
“We have two beautiful rooms in this complex, but the end goal is to be in stadium seating, filled with kids, and our LEADs walking up and down the aisles,” he said.
And so it went Monday, another full-circle moment for the Learning Lounge. It has become such a big part of GCU life in a little more than five years, and now Maryvale will get to experience it.
“It was something that we knew would work, but we knew that we had to make something actionable,” Veres said. “To see the Brewers Learning Lounge open up, that just forwards the success that we’ve had, and now we get to expand. For us, truly, this is opening day. The season has begun.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].