Northeastern hosts 1,000 Boston public school students and teachers for women’s basketball game

four students cheering loudly courtside at womens basketball game
Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

A tipoff of 11 a.m. was unusual. But then this was no ordinary women’s basketball game Wednesday morning as Northeastern prepared to take the court at Matthews Arena against Boston College.

“Here come your Huskies!” shouted the public address announcer, and the crowd response was ear-splitting.

One thousand students and teachers from eight Boston public schools filled buses provided by Northeastern to come to the game as part of an annual—and highly popular—community event.

The guests received a Huskies T-shirt and lunch as part of the field trip. It was a welcome getaway for many after two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

“The fact that there’s transportation and there’s food being given to them, I think all of these things just tell them that they matter,” said Jessie Des Forges, a sixth-grade teacher at Maurice J. Tobin K-8 School, one mile from Matthews Arena. “A lot of times they might not get that message. So to get the message that they matter and that people are looking out for them is really important.”

The students had been looking forward to the event for several weeks, the teachers said. 

“They’ve been super excited,” said Mary Phalante, who co-teaches the sixth grade with Sandra Munique at Charles H. Taylor Elementary School in Boston, five miles from Northeastern. “Knowing that this is right here in your city and that it is something to look forward to while you go to college—that is very important.”

The students’ enthusiasm brought life to the historic arena. They filled the courtside seats and cheered for every basket while providing the Huskies with a strong home-court advantage. 

The yearly event introduces schoolchildren to college in a fun way, said John Tobin, vice president for city and community engagement at Northeastern. 

“We’re in the middle of the city and we may take it for granted that kids have been on the campus before—but it’s not necessarily true,” Tobin said. “All kids, particularly younger kids, have been through a lot the last couple of years. There’s a whole bunch of good reasons for doing this, and one of them is giving them a chance to hang out with their friends at the game.”

Phalante and Munique were among the many teachers who had used the field trip to incentivize their students. 

“To earn their way onto this trip, they had to show the core values at our school, such as hard work and respect and achievement,” said Yasmine Haley, a fifth-grade teacher at Charles Taylor. “Their behavior leading up to the trip was much better.”

Teachers at the Tobin School took a different approach: They did not incentivize the Northeastern trip in recognition of its importance to the students—as well as the opportunity to turn the experience into a teachable moment.

“We have some students who have chronic absenteeism who are here today, which probably says something about this event,” Des Forges said. “But we felt as a community that this was, in a sense, an academic field trip. They’re on a college campus and they can learn from what they are experiencing.

“If you ask the kids, they wouldn’t necessarily think it was an academic trip,” Des Forges said. “When we talk about college, it makes them maybe think, ‘This could be my experience, perhaps.’”

For some students, the trip to Northeastern may help transform college from an abstract into a real-life experience, the teachers said.

“You talk about college, but it’s always about academics,” Haley said. “I think this shows another side of college. It’s a word that they hear, but I don’t think many times the kids have seen it in action.”

Students could be heard gasping at the size of Matthews as they entered the arena. Des Forges saw one of her fellow teachers, who also serves as a school basketball coach, instructing students to study the players of both teams as role models.

“To see women—and women of color—in this role is very inspiring,” Haley said.  

The tightly played game kept the guests involved. Chants of “Huskies, Huskies,” rose up as Northeastern seized the third-quarter lead.

The game turned in the final minute as the Huskies (1-2) lost, 64-59, to Boston College, which had agreed to the earlier start time to accommodate the Boston public schools.

“It’s great having them screaming, and they were cheering for us most of the time,” Northeastern coach Bridgette Mitchell said afterward. “There’s nothing like packing in a historic venue, and getting a chance to play in Matthews is really exciting for our team.”

The Taylor School took part on the advice of a new teacher who had participated in previous Northeastern basketball field trips while working at another Boston school, Haley said.

“I wish I’d had these opportunities when I was younger,” said David Isberg, Northeastern’s assistant vice president for city and community engagement and the driving force behind the annual event. “Hopefully it gets them to think about going to college. That’s what we try to promote in the community with our community partners.”

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