Call it an unbeatable bit of luck if you are pitching for a really great new job and you have Yogi Berra as the catcher sending you signals from behind home plate. My longtime colleague Jenny Pollack must have enacted that scene straight out of Field of Dreams when she auditioned with Executive Director Eve Schaenen for her new job consulting for the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center (YBMLC) on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, New Jersey.
And before we leave the world of “wouldn’t it be amazing” and move on to real life, I’ll speculate that Eve had Mel Allen whispering in her ear and saying, “sign her, she’s no rookie at making her bosses look good by doing really good work.” And so it began. Jenny first started working as a creative consultant for education programs which magnetically drew her.
Jenny Pollack, Educational Consultant, at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center
The magnetism was strong enough to lead her to work, first, with the Theater Development Fund (TDF), which provides educational programming to NYC schools and runs the TKTS booth in midtown and elsewhere. As a pathfinder for schoolchildren who had probably never seen a play on Broadway, Jenny brought them to performances and led them in discussions of what they had seen and heard that would motivate them to discover and develop a sense of wonder and a love for theater.
Now the consultant for the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center’s (YBMLC) education programs, Jenny’s assignment is to work with Eve to create programs that will appeal to young people and do the outreach that will draw school groups to the YBMLC this Fall. They said, “The extraordinary life of Yogi Berra is rich with educational opportunities for young people. Yogi Berra always meant for his museum and legacy to have an impact on kids, particularly those of under-served communities. The YBMLC is extending and refining its educational program content and increasing its outreach to low-income communities where middle and high school students rarely receive the same enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers.”
Jenny sees this outreach part as “the easiest sell because the plan is for the programs to be super fun, interactive and exciting!”
Summer Fun at YBMCL
Eve summarizes the mission this way, “Our education focus is to sustain Yogi Berra’s legacy through these three content areas:”
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)
Middle and high school students will come to YBMLC to learn about the physics of baseball and other sports, as well as how mathematics and statistics permeate the entire athletic experience. Through hands-on, interactive learning, students will explore Newton’s Law of Force and Gravity as it pertains to baseball, clock their own speeds as pitchers and batters, and document box scores and ratios for their favorite sports stars.
Literacy and the Arts
Yogi was, at one time, the most quoted American — famous for his Yogi-isms like, “It ain’t over til it’s over,” and “It’s deja vu all over again.” Literacy and English Language Arts class groups will try their hand at poetry writing, turned spoken word, inspired by Yogi’s playfulness with language as well as their own life experiences. Writing prompts will reference the poetry of artists like Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, and rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def, Sekou Sundiata, among others. The program will culminate in a student-performed spoken word show in the Museum’s 65-seat theater.
Character Building/Social Justice
As Jenny and Eve told me, “while Yogi’s tremendous athleticism and talent made him the ‘winningest’ player in baseball history, the values he stood for and practiced throughout his life are what elevated him to the status of national treasure. Students in the YBMLC education initiative will learn about ideals such as respect, sportsmanship, perseverance and excellence through the remarkable story of Yogi’s journey from sandlot player to all-time Yankee great. Through character-building, role-playing exercises, students will act out scenarios based on real-life situations they might encounter when trying to do the right thing.” The new educational outreach programs will begin this Fall.
A school visit to the YBMLC
More on its developing plans will appear at www.yogiberramuseum.org and like the life of its namesake, they will be practical and enjoyable ways aimed at not just admiring a hero but by working hard and working smart to become one. On Eve and Jenny’s wishlist is a documentary about Yogi that reveals the power of sports and spotlights the most upright and compelling players as sources of hope, integrity and commitment to teamwork for a generation in search of heroes.
Photos courtesy of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center