After the last bell rings in June and Tafties disperse to all corners of the world for the summer, Kayla Robinson ’19 will be on campus and in the classroom, but not as a student. Kayla will be mentoring rising sixth- through-ninth graders enrolled in the Taft-Police Activity League (PAL) Summer Enrichment Academy, a program that is designed to close the summer learning gap for local students while preparing them for the rigors of the SSAT. It reflects a nearly decade-long partnership between Taft and the city of Waterbury, Kayla’s hometown.
Kayla grew up participating in athletic programs led by Waterbury PAL mentors. She played basketball, learned to twirl the baton, and jumped double-dutch. She also participated in the PAL track and field program, where she earned the right to compete in her first big track meet, the USA Track and Field Hershey Youth Outdoor Championships in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“I started training for track events when I was six years old,” says Kayla. “Waterbury didn’t have a big program for youth track, but my grandfather had done it in college, and wanted me to do it, too. He began coaching my brother and me in our basement. We ran up and down the stairs for speed and agility workouts, and learned shot put skills.”
From her parents, her grandfather, and her PAL coaches, Kayla came to understand the importance of mentors. She has found many in the Taft community, from teachers and coaches to her team captains and peers.
“Every Taft teacher fills multiple roles on campus, making it easier for them to really get to know you as a person, and to mentor you in meaningful ways,” explains Kayla. “My basketball coach, Ms. Valdez, is also my track coach. Ms. O’Shea is not only my volleyball coach, she works with me as a tour guide; Mr. Willson is my basketball coach and head of the Moorhead Academic Center, and Mr. McCabe was my math teacher as well as my track coach. All of it is so interconnected—teachers see you in a lot of different settings. They see you when you’re up and when you’re down, and they know you so they know how to help.”
Kayla is a three-sport varsity athlete at Taft, and will captain all three teams—volleyball, basketball, and track—in her senior year. Since her arrival at Taft as a freshman, Kayla says, her team captains have helped shape her experience both in the classroom and on the court, giving her the confidence she needed to fulfill her potential within the Taft community, and laying groundwork for what will surely be a successful run as a collegiate student-athlete.
“They showed me what good role models looked like,” says Kayla. “They were strong and smart and outgoing, and used their leadership skills to be important voices on campus. They helped me branch out and find my passions, and then how to balance them as both a student and an athlete.”
Those passions extend to areas Kayla had never before imagined might be open to her because, she says, she arrived at Taft shy, quiet, and just a tiny bit awkward. With support from captains, coaches, and teachers, Kayla has come into her own and is making her mark on the community. She is an honor student, a newly elected head of the tour guides’ Admission Council, a member of SHOUT and of the Step Team, and a powerful voice on the Day Student Council. From her mentors, Kayla has learned that she can do almost anything she puts her mind to, and do it well. Hard work and dedication pay dividends, Kayla says, a lesson that is continually reinforced at Taft, and one she will share not only with her PAL students this summer, but as a team captain in the fall.
“When you find your niche you will really thrive,” says Kayla. “I want to help people find their niche, the way people helped me.”