December 6, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘The Other Serena’

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “The Other Serena” by Matthew Futterman and Alana Holmberg

Have you ever watched a professional tennis tournament and noticed young people in uniform chasing down balls between points? Those people are ball kids, preteens and teenagers who are passionate about the game and who help make tournaments run smoothly by retrieving stray balls and passing them to the players.

In this lesson, you will learn about 14-year-old Serena Aponso, named after the tennis great Serena Williams, who worked as a ball kid at the Australian Open this year for a second time. Then, you will write a letter to a hero you dream of collaborating with or working alongside.

What do you think it would be like to be a ball kid? What kinds of skills do you think you would need to have?

Watch this 45-second video that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the jobs of ball kids at the Australian Open in 2019. Then respond to the questions below.

  • What do you notice about the work that ball kids do in the video?

  • What kinds of roles and responsibilities do they have? What skills do they need to do their job well?

Now, listen to this three-minute interview with two teenagers, Cameron and Jenna, who were ball kids at the 2019 Australian Open and answer the following questions:

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Do you play any sports or are you part of any extracurricular activities that require a lot of preparation and focus? Does any part of Serena Aponso’s daily schedule or responsibilities remind you of an activity that you participate in?

2. What is one thing that surprised you about the schedule or responsibilities of ball kids?

3. Choose one photograph that you found interesting. What do you notice and wonder about who is in the photograph and what they are doing?

4. Based on the article, what is one lesson you imagine Serena might learn from her experience as a ball kid?

5. If you were a ball kid, what would you most want to do or experience? Would it be the reality of being out on the court? Or getting a glimpse of a famous tennis player? Or hanging with other ball kids behind the scenes?

6. Pretend you’re the journalist: What is one question you would like to ask Serena about being a ball kid?

7. Media literacy. This story is told through a visual slide show. Why do you think the writers and editors decided to tell Serena’s story in this way? How would it be different if it were written as a traditional article? Which medium do you think would be more effective and why?

Serena Aponso gets to watch the athlete she was named after, Serena Williams, play tennis up close. Think about something that you are very passionate about. It could be a sport, or maybe it’s theater, chess, an instrument, a profession (like a medicine or journalism) or a favorite book series.

Once you’ve landed on a passion, consider this question: Who would you want to shadow or work alongside in that field? Is there someone who is very skilled or talented at something that you love? Is there someone you consider a role model or inspiration?

Now, spend some time daydreaming — you can just close your eyes and think or free write in your journal — about what it would be like to meet this person and watch them work up close.

Next, write a letter to this person telling them about why you are inspired by them and how you would hope to collaborate with them in some way. Maybe you would take on a role like a ball kid — supporting their work — or maybe it’s another kind of collaboration. What about their work is particularly powerful or inspiring to you? How could you learn from their skill set and expertise? What do you think you would gain from seeing them work up close? What do you think you could offer them?

You can share your letter with a classmate or post the first paragraph of it in the comment section.

About Lesson of the Day

Find all our Lessons of the Day in this column.
Teachers, watch our on-demand webinar to learn how to use this feature in your classroom.

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