ARISTA Partners with Olympian Nzingha Prescod’s “Fencing in the Park” Program

ARISTA recently partnered with Stuyvesant alumna Nzingha Prescod to organize Fencing in the Park, a program to provide tutoring services to students in underprivileged areas.

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ARISTA recently launched a tutoring initiative in partnership with the Prescod Institute for Sport, Teamwork, and Education (PISTE), a nonprofit fencing academy founded by two-time Olympian fencer and Stuyvesant alumna Nzingha Prescod (’10). ARISTA will assist students in PISTE’s “Fencing in the Park” program––which provides both academic and fencing instruction at no cost to participating families––in SHSAT test prep, homework help, and academic enrichment.

Fencing in the Park originated as a summer project for Prescod, who noticed the lack of access to sports in her neighborhood, East Flatbush, and understood the positive impact fencing could have. “When I started Fencing in the Park, [...] it was a situational opportunity. With COVID, I just retired from fencing, I had access to equipment, and I had this dream I’ve always had of bringing fencing to my neighborhood,” Prescod said. “Not only does [fencing] have a lot of character building qualities, [...] but there [are also] a lot of problem-solving benefits to it: strategic thinking [and] being intentional and purposeful, [...] so there [are] so many layers of why fencing makes sense to use as a vehicle for youth development.”

What was initially a small-scale summer program has grown into an academy that offers academic enrichment, fencing, and other extracurricular opportunities such as chess and music classes. Specifically, the academic component of the curriculum is devised to complement the character-building qualities of fencing. “I didn’t want it to be singularly fencing, because the mission is largely beyond fencing. It’s to provide a youth development experience that can untap and unlock all of their potential,” Prescod said. “I think [it] maximizes your opportunities when you have both [academic and enrichment] strengths, so I wanted to be able to provide them with an opportunity to enhance their educational and academic side too.”

Members of the ARISTA Executive Council (EC) agree with Fencing in the Park’s emphasis on growing both sportsmanship and scholarship. “Offering this sort of high-performance athletic practice or ability while also encouraging a sort of academic rigor on the side is super important and I think goes to show how comparable athletics and academic achievement are,” senior and ARISTA Vice President of Events and Service Ashley Choi said.

ARISTA’s tutoring initiative, in collaboration with Fencing in the Park, which currently pairs around 15 tutors with 19 students, is working toward this goal of academic enhancement through a major focus on SHSAT preparedness. “We start with going over any homework [or] topics they’re having trouble with at school before doing either state exam or SHSAT prep,” junior and ARISTA tutor Iris Chan said. “The opportunity to help [students] with homework or prepare for the SHSAT [has been] incredibly rewarding.”

Prescod expresses hopes that the collaboration with ARISTA will allow for greater accessibility in her community. “A lot of the students [at Fencing in the Park] don’t even know that there’s an option [for tutoring], and they don’t know about the test. They haven’t been oriented to prepare for the [SHSAT],” Prescod said. “One of my short-term goals for the program is to be kind of a pipeline for specialized high schools. [...] If I have this access to Stuyvesant, the premier students in the city who tackled this test, have been successful at the test, and are really smart and want to give back, [...] it just makes so much sense to collaborate in this capacity.”

Prescod also emphasizes that the smaller age gap ARISTA tutors have with the program’s students, compared to Fencing in the Park’s academic and extracurricular instructors, can cultivate greater understanding between tutors and students. “[Stuyvesant students] are high school students, so you’re not so far removed from the curriculum of middle school and late elementary school,” she said.

ARISTA leadership noted hurdles in organizing program formatting before tutoring sessions began. Although the original plan was to meet every Monday and Wednesday in the Flatbush area, the in-person quota was modified in favor of a virtual format of the program, with it now being hosted online instead. After much deliberation, partnership tutoring began on December 6 and will tentatively run virtually every Monday and Wednesday.

ARISTA and Fencing in the Park organizers anticipate some challenges and technical difficulties as a result of the virtual format. “It’s going to be much easier both in terms of commute and [the] length of the sessions. There [are] technical difficulties and glitches that we’re worried about, [but] on Fencing in the Park’s side, they do have coordinators [...] that are going to help the kids with any technical issues that come up,” senior and ARISTA President Leah D’Silva said. The ARISTA EC believes that this shift to a virtual program will allow students who would otherwise have transportation or scheduling conflicts to attend meetings. “Moving to a Zoom format makes the tutoring much more accessible [...] for the students [and] tutees,” Choi said.

Fencing in the Park aims to eventually hold the partnership face-to-face. “It’ll definitely take some time to streamline the tutoring component, and I hope eventually it’ll be in-person,” Prescod said. “It’s a difficult commute for a lot of the students because it’s in deep Brooklyn.” Other factors, especially issues with revenue and staffing, also played a role in the decision to teach remotely.

As the program continues to be streamlined, ARISTA leadership expressed similar hopes of aiding Fencing in the Park students beyond academics and working toward long-term impact. “We obviously want [tutors] to have a positive impact [...] the academic sense, [...] but also in personality and helping them grow as a person,” D’Silva said. “Building study skills and [confidence] is something that we really want to help students at Fencing in the Park with [...] to make sure they are really set up for a life of success after this point.”