Bridge players often thank me for my work with youth bridge, and while I’m grateful, it feels wrong that I get so much credit, while others who have done at least as much get little or no recognition. Please help me change that this Thanksgiving. Many folks have made vast contributions to SiVY (Silicon Valley Youth Bridge). While I probably won’t succeed at mentioning them all, I’d like to try.
In Part 2, I plan to discuss how SiVY got started, give an overview of each of the programs that SiVY offers, provide some data, and share my personal thoughts on the highs and lows. Not everything has been a success, and I will try to offer some of the advice that people have sought in considering starting their own youth programs.
First and foremost, however, allow me to feature a few of the fantastic folks who have done as much or more for SiVY as I have. Most of them are currently doing more.
Please thank these people when you see them! I expect that they will all be at the San Francisco NABC.
Following up on my recent Thanksgiving Day article, which focused on recognizing the people behind the program, here is more information about Silicon Valley Youth Bridge (SiVY).
There is much to say, and it is difficult to know what folks are most interested in. I will try to answer all questions in the comments section, and encourage other SiVY board members and volunteers to contribute as well!
The year 2013 was a whirlwind of activity, and it would take many pages to cover all the details from those first few months. I will try to give a relatively concise overview; some is based purely on memory, so I must apologize for errors and omissions.
When Mukund Thapa and I met that winter to discuss starting a youth bridge program, our initial dream was marketing bridge as a family activity. We weren’t sure quite how that would work, and whatever we did we we knew it would require lots of help, so our first step was to explore the level of interest in the local bridge community. It quickly became clear that Unit 503 of the ACBL, at that time presided over by Brian Samuels, was extremely interested! We arranged to give out flyers and a short talk at the next Unit Game, and that is how we began to recruit volunteers.
Also in Winter of 2013, Kevin and I visited Stanford Bridge Club and learned about Stanford Splash, a “weekend learning extravaganza” for 7th-12th graders. We were asked to help Stanford students Ted Sanders and Emily Kelly offer a bridge class at Splash that April, and happily agreed. Thirty-five students registered (maximum enrollment) and 24 showed up for the three hour class. We worked on developing a curriculum for that sort of crash course, and in early April, we did a practice run with two tables of Stanford students. I think it worked pretty well at Splash, and that curriculum became the basis for teaching beginners at summer camp. Splash motivated us to get that first pizza party planned quickly, so that we’d have an event to invite all those students to.
While we were planning for Splash, things were taking off big time elsewhere. As I mentioned above, Unit 503 was tremendously supportive of starting a youth program. Webmaster Alan Templeton posted on the Unit 503 website seeking volunteers, and announcements were made at games and classes. An advantage was that I was personally teaching a couple of large classes at the time, and was able to recruit quite a few volunteers through those, including the magnificent Cheryl Haines. Always the professional, Cheryl Haines got us organized from the start, quickly drafting a program description and sending out volunteer assignments.
After a few discussions with core founders, it was determined that our dreams of family bridge would be put on the back burner, and we would begin with a more tried-and-true after-school program. We had the experience of Atlanta Junior bridge and other successful programs to guide us, rather than heading straight into uncharted waters. The ACBL had a structured after-school program available for us to implement.
“Critical mass” was my buzz phrase. We didn’t want to get a handful of programs going, without any plan for the kids to meet others their age who played bridge. I wanted something bigger, and my partners were with me. Our ambitious goal was to get ten after-school programs going all at once that fall, along with monthly pizza parties at the bridge center for the students to attend.
Side note: One of the many advantages we have in Silicon Valley is a beautiful and centrally located bridge center. While traffic can be bad at rush hour, it isn’t always bad, and there are many school districts that can reach the Palo Alto Bridge Center (in Mountain View) by car in 20 minutes or less. Many more can get there in 30 minutes or less, especially on a weekend. I’ve heard from people organizing school bridge programs in other areas of North America that the situation is rather different, making it much harder to get kids to events outside of school.
We knew we’d need lots of bridge teachers to meet our goals, and Valerie Baldwin, the Unit 503 Education Chair, got busy trying to organize a TAP (ACBL Teacher Accreditation Program). A problem was that we had not done any significant fund-raising yet, as we wanted to wait until donations were tax deductible. We had only a bit of seed money provided by Unit 503, plus small donations in a jar from unit members. In the end, we lucked out, and the ACBL provided a special TAP for us at no charge that July. It happened that the Education chair at that time, Bryan Delfs, was scheduled to be in SF on other ACBL business, and they added this to his trip. We accredited about 35 teachers, with the agreement that they would each commit to at least one semester of teaching in an after-school program.
Cheryl Haines got busy with marketing, partnering with graphic artist Chris Bunz to develop the organization’s visual identity. A name and logo were chosen. Cheryl, Alan, and Mukund worked feverishly on the website, and launched it in May, before the first pizza party.
On April 30, we had a meeting with Lauren Friedman from Center for Bridge Education. This was one of the many ways in which we were blessed. CBE offered to take us on as a “DBA”, giving us 501(c)3 status with minimal effort, and no lawyers, as far as I recall. A professional accountant and bridge aficionado, Lauren continued to handle for SiVY all things related to the 501(c)3 (IRS filing, donor acknowledgments, etc.) through 2016, working with our treasurer Mukund. (In early 2017 we moved our non-profit sponsorship from CBE to the Peninsula Bridge Education Foundation (PBEF) of Unit 503. I believe that Alan Templeton and Sue Griswold now handle much of what Lauren did before, with Mukund still acting treasurer.)
While all the rest was happening, all hands were on deck planning the first pizza party. We were determined to have great attendance, and I twisted arms as needed to extract a promise to attend from every junior bridge player I knew within driving distance, plus begging them to bring friends. There were many pleas to unit members to bring their children and grandchildren. That first pizza party on May 19 attracted 38 young people with at least some interest in card games. Helen Chang took awesome photos and these became the face of the program.
After the pizza party, the main focus was on getting after-school programs in place. The relatively easy part proved to be recruiting and training teachers. Actually getting the programs into the schools, and kids signed up for them was definitely the harder part. Many volunteers were active in this endeavor. Helen Chang compiled a long list of area schools with contact information, and Lori Spaeth headed up the school outreach effort. A big score was Lynn Shannon’s successfully persuading Boys & Girls clubs to give bridge a try, and we ended up with programs at three locations. This was extremely exciting to me, and I had visions of bridge becoming a staple Boys & Girls club activity around the country, the way basketball already was.
The question I am probably asked most often is how we got the schools on board. This requires getting the administration to agree, having a specific teacher (or other staff member) commit to hosting, and then finally signing up enough kids. Cheryl Haines created a PowerPoint presentation of the program we were offering to send to interested administrators. We had brochures and posters ready to be personalized for each school, once a day and time was set up. While the posters and brochures were a professional touch, we no longer use them. The key to recruiting is an insider’s personalized outreach. Ideal is a popular student and/or popular teacher who is actively recommending the class. Also highly effective, in some cases, can be a parent contacting other parents directly. Yet even when you have one or more of those inside recruiters, it is hit or miss whether enough kids will sign up. There were situations which seemed perfect, where we had two or three insiders energetically recruiting, and still could not get enough kids for a class (we started out requiring a minimum of 12 students, hoping to keep at least 8, though we did make exceptions and held classes for some smaller groups). There were at least a couple of cases where we didn’t seem to have much going for us and still somehow enough kids signed up.
We were lucky to have many schools to reach out to within our radius. I’d guess in order to get 10 programs started, we worked with at least 30 schools. In most cases we had introductions, though I believe there was at least one success story through cold calling. Many local bridge players responded to our calls for introductions. Some introductions were to schools their own children or grandchildren attended. Some people knew a staff member. A handful of local bridge players were parents or teachers themselves! That is the ideal scenario, in my opinion. One especially successful and long-running program was started by Leila Sink at her daughter’s middle school. Leila, a high level tournament player, was the head bridge teacher and also had direct contact with many parents. She and her daughter Kyra were great recruiters.
Meanwhile, as we worked to get the after-school programs and pizza parties going, there was much administrative work to be done. Bob Horowitz and his committee conducted an organized fund-raising campaign once our tax deductible status was set. We needed to establish a Board of Directors, start having meetings, taking minutes, and all that jazz. This was all stuff I knew next to nothing about, yet my partners insisted that I be “President.” They assured me that the Vice President does all the work, and while they were probably joking, Sue Griswold did not disappoint. We needed a project manager, and Michael Bodell joined in that role. By August, we were poised for success, with a dedicated board of directors, strong support from the local ACBL Unit, thirty-five accredited teachers, and numerous other energized, competent volunteers.
That’s my overview of how we got it all started. Read on for more about SiVY programs through the years.
After School Programs: Plans and reality
Our ambitious goal was to start 10 programs in the fall of 2013, and we did! Nine got underway in August and September, and another was added before the end of the year.
We felt that having younger people teach would be a major asset, and decided that while most of our teachers would be unpaid volunteers, we would offer to pay any college students we could get to teach. We tried to recruit Stanford students, since they were local, and a few were clearly qualified. I believe two Stanford students attended the TAP. In the end we had only one college student teach, and for only one semester. We also had a recent college graduate, Ryan Wessels, teach as a volunteer that first year in a Boys and Girls club, which I think was awesome. The students loved him, and I wish we could have managed to have more of that.
We set out to implement a highly structured support network, where all of our teachers would be part of a team. The plan was to have two head teachers for each class, so that it was likely that at least one could always be there, irrespective of vacations and other conflicts. We also signed up many table helpers, who were not necessarily accredited teachers, and the plan was to have one adult volunteer per table. We inquired and kept records of everyone’s likely availability in order to have a structured substitute teacher process. In addition to the TAP, later in the summer of 2013, I offered a smaller teacher training session focused just on the Kitty Cooper Lesson series we were planning to use in the schools. We had a curriculum committee and monthly teacher meetings scheduled so we could share what we were learning about how to best implement this program. Elianna Meyerson, an experienced high school math teacher, offered training on dealing with teenage students.
Peggy Sprague made a six-month commitment as chair of After-School Programs Operations and compiled loads of information for teachers. She was determined to document clear and consistent processes. As Peggy discovered, the lack of uniformity among various schools and school districts created challenges. Some schools require extensive background checks, including fingerprinting, while others are much looser about who can volunteer. If a teacher has already gone through a background check process for one school, it usually won’t be accepted by another school. At that time, California law required that everyone working in schools – students, staff and volunteers alike – needed to have a negative TB test. While we found that not all the schools we were dealing with would ask for proof, we requested that all of our volunteers get this done. Since then I believe the law has changed, and in any case we are not as structured in our approach, so I believe that our volunteers now get TB tests only if requested.
Betty DePaola took charge of the substitute teacher process. She was quite methodical about it, and worked to set up a system that would be sustainable, though she herself did not intend to continue in that role indefinitely. At the end of 2013, Elinor Tanck took over as essentially a one woman after-school program operations committee. She handled supplies, teacher assignments and more. Sadly, Elinor passed away suddenly in October 2014. Ivy Cheuh then took over, primarily working on supplies.
Gradually, much of the structure loosened, and the program has morphed into one where SiVY provides supplies and guidance to teachers, while they each manage their individual after-school programs largely on their own.
People usually seem skeptical when I tell them that I personally don’t actually have much experience with after-school programs, yet there is good reason. While I was heavily involved in planning curriculum, etc in that first year, I have never taught regularly in a school. The one program for which I was head teacher fell apart after just two sessions when we couldn’t get enough kids to commit!
I did do some subbing and visiting classes in those first couple of years, but I never did the heavy lifting of being in charge every week for an entire semester or school year. I’m hopeful that others who have done this heavy lifting will be willing to answer relevant questions readers may have.
The first pizza party, which laid the groundwork for the whole program, was a huge success. Much work went into ensuring great attendance, and then a fun time for the guests. The marketing materials said “PartyPizzaPlay and much more“, and I was determined to deliver on that promise.
At that inaugural party, some form of social bridge or whist was played at every table, with mentors helping. Frank Smoot asked bridge trivia questions and tossed prizes, sporting event style, to those who shouted out the answer. We took advantage of the bridge center’s excellent AV system, showing a short fun bridge video complied by Vinita Gupta, and giving a BBO demonstration on the big screen. There was a bridge Word Scramble which was completed to enter a drawing for more prizes.
Many great photos were taken. While aspects of pizza parties have changed over the years, the great photos have been a staple, as have been the pizza, cake, and prizes.
Starting with the second pizza party, we introduced some form of optional duplicate at each party. As students were learning mini-bridge in the after school programs, for a short time we had a separate mini-bridge section. That didn’t last long, however, in part because some teachers weren’t even introducing mini-bridge, and even where they were, the classes were not all up to the same lesson. There was one special pizza party and mini-bridge tournament held at a Boys and Girls club in November of 2013, and another Boys and Girls club party in Spring of 2014. For the latter, a nearby elementary school brought the bridge class over on a school bus, and this was the only official bridge field trip I know of. I wish there had been more!
For most pizza parties through the years, there has been a section A and section B. Most recently, attendance from experienced players has been down, and more kids are opting to just play social bridge, so there is usually just one small section of duplicate. There are nearly always at least a couple of brand new players, and there have been two or three tables of such kids at times. Some come not even knowing what a trick is. We have had volunteers who are especially skilled at working with this level, getting them playing some sort of trick-taking card game within a couple of hours; some even get to bidding in that crash course. Bill Bailey, Margot Livenspargar, Leila Sink, and Randy Ryals all stand out in my mind for having frequently worked effectively with the beginners tables at pizza parties. Joni Smith has often introduced the game Handz to younger kids at the parties, and I’ve enjoyed observing how engaged those tables are.
Above: Joni Smith helps kids play Handz at a 2017 Pizza Party
While somehow we manage to have a pizza party consistently (almost) every month, scheduling is erratic. Stephanie Youngquist and her team do work hard to set dates in time to give at least a couple of months notice. Still, perhaps attendance would be better if we could always do the same time on, say, the 4th Sunday of the month. However, that is not possible because we must work around the availability of the bridge center and the core volunteers. Also, some pizza parties are held at other locations, in conjunction with sectionals.
Pizza parties were primarily intended as a way for the kids learning bridge in after-school programs to get together at least once a month with young people from other schools. We were eager for them to know they were not the only young folks around playing bridge! To some extent, pizza parties have indeed served that purpose. However, the majority of the attendees at pizza parties have never been from the after-school programs. They are tournament playing youth and their friends, kids who attended summer bridge camp, children and grandchildren of older bridge players, and others who hear about the program via word of mouth. Regular Bridge Winners contributor Michael Xu is a heartwarming example of the seed that can be planted just by offering these pizza parties. See his description in this article.
There are detailed reports of each event available here, most with photos.
Other Programs and Events:
SiVY’s first Parent-Child game was held in June of 2013, with 4 tables, and the second in January of 2014 with 5 tables. Parent-Child games continued as a special event, not held on any regular basis. We started out aiming for about every other month, and did manage to hold six events in 2014. Attendance grew steadily for quite a while until it reached a peak of 12 tables. Since then, frequency of events has dwindled, though attendance hasn’t.
We were able to get Parent-Child games started, even before any other programs were up and running, due to a handful of kids in the area who already played a bit of bridge. Kevin and Isha were regulars, though they were deemed Not Eligible for masterpoint purposes (we used the objective criteria that when both parent and child were both life masters, they could play for fun, but wouldn’t be eligible for masterpoints). This has changed since we are now able to include a separate section for less experienced players, and a handful of “SiVY kids” have became life masters. Also, more recently, when Kevin has played it has been with his grandmother, Judy Zuckerberg, who is not a life master.
It was extremely helpful to have a core dedicated group of parents and grandparents, so that we were always sure of enough tables for an event. It’s much easier to grow the event from there than to start from scratch. Soon we were able to have separate sections for more and less experienced players (self selected). The P-C game has welcomed quite a few first-time duplicate players, both parents and children. It has been especially thrilling and rewarding when a parent has learned to play bridge specifically so that they could partner their child in one of these games.
One event which has been consistently on the schedule for years in a row a special Parent-Child game on Father’s Day for five years in a row. The twist on Fathers Day is that the “child” need not be a junior, and along with the usual crowd we do get several adult “children” partnering a parent. This event has been especially well attended and enjoyable.
These events fill me with joy, and I wish we could manage them more often. Will Watson is always happy to direct, but it’s amazingly difficult to find a free weekend afternoon, with no Unit games, local sectionals or other conflicts such as our own monthly Pizza Party. Our next P-C game is scheduled for 12PM-3PM Feb 2, 2020, Super Bowl Sunday.
Patty Tucker of Atlanta Junior Bridge offered a great deal of useful advice overall, and she emphasized the advantages of summer camp. We were determined to get one going, and to get great attendance. We succeeded in doing this for the first time in 2014, with forty-five campers attending the one-week program, including twenty-two in the beginners group.
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