“Empowered to Make Change”: George Washington University Brother Creates Program That Uses Basketball as Tool for Learning for Children in Need
Featured photo courtesy of Rob Hammer
A painful sting sharply drew Shaun Jayachandran back to consciousness. He rolled over on the old sofa, one that belonged to his extended family whom he and two other colleagues were staying with in India.
Though the couch was not an ideal place to be, the George Washington University alum was ready for what this trip had to offer. This was no ordinary trip to India, however. It was one that would change the lives of children across the country.
Jayachandran is the son of two immigrants who came from India to Canada. He moved to the United States when he was 16. After realizing that many of the Lambda Chi brothers on George Washington’s campus were the same men who attended church with him every Sunday night, Jayachandran knew this was an organization where his morals would be respected and upheld.
“They [Lambda Chi members] gave me a good sense of who they were and that they would be guys that I would want to have as mentors, as brothers, and people I could connect with,” said Jayachandran.
Following his undergraduate career at George Washington, Jayachandran worked in the educational field for many years, but there was still something missing.
As he began to think about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, the key aspects of what shaped him as a person started to swirl around in his mind: his mother coming from an orphanage in India and being given a scholarship so that she may attend high school and college, his passion for educating others, and his high school basketball coach who had played for the legendary John Wooden at UCLA.
He knew there must be a way to connect the dots, and there was: Crossover Academy.
The program would teach children across India through the means of basketball crucial life lessons: teamwork skills, leadership, and many others .
With his vision in mind, Jayachandran put together the program’s first curriculum, ran it over social media, and started a year and a half of research. It then came time to fly to India to put the program’s philosophy to the test.
Only two volunteers accompanied Jayachandran on his first trip to India and helped introduce Crossover Academy at a high school in Chennai where they had just 50 participants, an even split between boys and girls. But that was all it took.
The program ran for two weeks at the school, children learning through play, while also exploring such topics as gender equity in classroom settings.
The success of the program soon became so apparent that people around Jayachandran started to take notice. One of his board members suggested that Jayachandran take his vision to the American International School, also located in the city of Chennai. So he did, and watched as the numbers began to grow over the next few years.
Jayachandran and his growing staff started to bring kids in from all over Chennai and hosted separate classes for volunteers to allow them to learn about Indian culture. During the past year, Jayachandran and his team have partnered with local schools to use their facilities and continue to explore how they can expand the program.
Though Crossover Academy has grown in size, the core of it remains the same: a two-week kickoff where the kids are introduced to the concepts of the academy, while working with teachers to create a curriculum once the program concludes.
For Jayachandran, the reward comes in the form of a child’s face lighting up with recognition when the team returns to a school.
“Kids are willing to do more, so they are excited to see you, they remember everybody, but they have also taken the lessons to heart,” said Jayachandran.
These lessons have allowed many children around the Chennai area to realize that everyone is capable of spreading good, no matter the background you may come from. Jayachandran remembers one such instance where a classroom of children coming from families who made no more than three dollars a day showed him a project they had started to help the homeless transgender community in Chennai.
“They honestly look for people who are even further marginalized than themselves,” marveled Jayachandran. “Moments like that make you super proud because the change didn’t stop with them, but they also saw that they were empowered to make change themselves.”
Crossover Academy certainly has proven its success over the years, with 87 percent of children staying in school after participating in the program. Now, Jayachandran affirms, the academy is ready to pilot in other cities.
In addition to expanding to new cities, the Crossover Academy team is eager to start a new program which would take a select number of boys and girls to the United States from India where they could visit college campuses and see where education could lead them.
To this day, Jayachandran credits Lambda Chi Alpha as a place where his need to give back to his community could flourish.
“Being a part of a fraternity of brothers who trusted you and said, ‘That’s a cool idea, let’s go make that happen,’ was special,” said Jayachandran. “I think being able to grow and experience that, being able to open your mind to people from all different backgrounds and ethnic groups and parts of the world was a really important bonding experience.”
Jayachandran says that he still has fraternity brothers supporting him in his mission to better the lives of kids from around the world, because in the end, empowering a child is as easy as dribbling a basketball.
“If we can empower those 20 children to then go back to their communities, that message again shares that idea that when you give a person educational opportunities, how much the doors can actually be blown open.”
To learn more about Crossover Academy, click here.
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