Harlem Lacrosse was the brainchild of a special education math teacher, Simon Cataldo at Harlem’s Frederick Douglass Academy struggled as an educator in his first year. Desperate to connect, Cataldo introduced the historically White and elite sport of lacrosse in 2008 to “engage his most academically and behaviorally challenged students.”
And it worked. Now in its eighth year, Harlem Lacrosse operates 11 programs in New York, Baltimore and Boston, serving over 450 boys and girls—nearly one-third of whom are in Special Education.
The program says it actively recruits special education students and students identified by school administrators as most vulnerable to academic decline and school dropout. More than 90 percent identify as Black, Hispanic or multi-racial; 45 percent speak a language other than English at home and 96 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Since 2011, Harlem Lacrosse students have maintained a 100 percent on-time middle school graduation rate, and have earned over $15 million scholarship offers to private schools and colleges. But most uniquely, the program is split about 50/50 between boys and girls.
Twelve year old Kiera from the Sojourner Truth Tigers at P.S. 149 said,“Lacrosse helped me gain confidence. I go places I’ve never been before. I seen the White house, I didn’t see Obama, though. That’d be a dream come true.”