FLINT, Michigan — Like many schools across the nation, students at Flint Southwestern Classical Academy suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic. From navigating instructional challenges to missing out on in-person social interaction to extracurricular programs being shut down, students were greatly impacted.
“Seeing the kids return after about a year and a half of being at home, I could tell Covid-19 had a big impact on them,” said Danielle Parks, former head cheer coach at Flint Southwestern Classical Academy. “The halls were quieter and the morale was noticeably lower. Everything was essentially on hold for a large chunk of time which I believe hindered many kids emotionally.”
This challenging reality needed an even more incredible solution to get kids engaged, socializing, and contributing to the school spirit again. Parks, a lifelong child advocate who had been involved with the Flint YMCA, and Flint Community Schools, was compelled to act.
“The Athletic Director Mr. Foster and the Community School Director Mr. Aboutawila brought me on board in August when they were searching for a new cheer coach,” shared Parks. “They thought I had the right attributes that they were looking for, so we got started.” shared Parks.
Understanding the significant impact of the pandemic on students, Parks knew she would need to use her role as the 2022-2023 Southwestern Jaquar cheer coach to create a safe place for students to feel a new sense of normalcy that had been missing. Parks wanted to model this new and improved program after a cheerleading team she participated in as a child.
Danielle Parks poses with members of the cheer squad of Flint Southwestern Classical Academy.
“I was lucky to have a very good coach my first couple of years and I think about her often,” said Parks. “Her patience, kindness, and empathy made me buy into the sport and develop the confidence to stick with it until college. That is the approach I took in coaching.”
Parks’ cheer program allowed student-athletes to perform at major high school sporting events to gain exposure and engage with the community. During practice, she was intentional about having meaningful conversations with her team about the importance of building community and supporting one another.
She empowered them to be fearless and confident because “character will keep you in rooms that skills [and] education alone cannot.” Parks also worked to instill the values of hard work and resilience — all skills that she believes contribute to success.
“I wanted the way that I ran my program to be beyond just cheering,” said Parks. “I wanted to connect with the kids, teach life skills, and create a non-judgmental environment for them in hopes of preparing them for graduation.”
To create that environment for students, Parks modeled transparency and honesty. She led by example, sharing her experience as a first-generation college student navigating life’s challenges alone. She shares this to show students that they have the power to accomplish anything they set their minds to.
Parks’ efforts as a cheer coach contribute to her life’s mission of providing students with the tools to thrive in life. This is especially important because many of Flint’s children do not have strong leaders and role models to look up to because, according to Parks, “many people who have faced challenges or have not had a lot of opportunities do not talk about it loud enough.”
Though Parks has since stepped away from her role as head cheer coach at Flint Southwestern Classical Academy, she encourages the local community to continue to support student extracurricular activities by contributing financially to the athletic department and regularly attending sporting events.