Since it’s baseball, call it that home run moment — the reaction you see when something finally clicks for a young student.
“They get really excited when they get an answer correct, because they know that they’re growing,” said Natalee Delgado, a freshman marketing major and Rudd Scholar at Wichita State University. “They’ll see that they got it correct and their little mouths just drop, and they get this big smile.”
That’s an experience 30 of Wichita State’s Rudd Scholars get often as they work with youngsters in the Bright Lights Educational Enrichment Program at the Leslie Rudd Learning Center at League 42’s McAdams Park baseball complex. Each afternoon, several of them work on math skills with students in fifth through eighth grade and literacy with students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
In 2021, the Rudd Foundation donated $1 million to fund construction of the learning center, which opened in April. Almost 600 children, ages 5-14, play baseball in League 42.
“One of the pillars of the Rudd Foundation is to give back to the community,” said Corri Roberts, program director for the Rudd Foundation. “We wanted to prioritize our donation to enhance the education side. We wanted to enhance their school programs to give them the opportunity to develop those skills.”
The program supplements what students are doing in the local public and private schools. Chitra Harris, education director at League 42, said the work is focused on math and literacy to help students rebound from learning lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She watches the students bond with their tutors during the sessions, which include snacks, warm-up exercises to get conversations flowing and tutoring.
The Rudd Scholars Program, started in 2018, provides a full scholarship for Kansans to attend Wichita State University and benefit from the program’s mentoring, personal and professional development, and community.
“They search for their scholar; they want their Rudd Scholar,” Harris said. “It’s so beautiful to see how Rudd Scholars influence the little kids. And I’ve seen the Rudd Scholars being influenced by the little kids.”
Liberty Gilkey, a freshman Rudd Scholar, is a psychology major who is considering changing to education because of her work with the League 42 students.
“The excitement they get coming to see us and getting to work with us, that sparked the idea of, ‘Wow, I think this is how I want to be able to help kids,’” she said.
Recently, she’s seen the rewards of working on ratios with some of the older students. She insists on high fives and smiles when a student accomplishes a goal.
“My favorite part is working with the junior high,” she said. “Math is hard. When they finally overcome that thing and are able to master it, I love how excited they get.”
Austin Rempel, a junior product design and manufacturing engineering major, enjoys looking at learning through the eyes of a young student. Tutoring at the learning center energizes him.
“The experience provided me with motivation to see these kids struggle to get some concepts,” he said. “When they did get it, to be able to celebrate that. Keep going. That helped me look at some of my own classes and say, ‘Hey, this is what I need to be doing.’”
Bob Lutz, a 1984 Wichita State graduate, started League 42 in 2013 and enrollment grew from 210 to its current size of nearly 600. He targeted the building across the street from the baseball complex as a place to start an after-school program. The 10,500-square-foot building also houses batting cages and an artificial turf field for baseball workouts and other activities.
Darrell Swank, Rudd Foundation president, played a significant role in pairing the two groups. He came to League 42 games unannounced, Lutz said, liked the mission and the relationship started.
“Through that Rudd Foundation donation, we were able to start to really put our dreams into action,” Lutz said. “The Rudd Scholars is an incredible partnership for us.”
Many of those dreams, to be sure, are about hitting and throwing. With the Rudd Scholars, those dreams can also include success in school.