Learning with the Stars
Trailblazer points middle school kids to college success
As Executive Director of After School All Stars New York, Alan Fields is charged with creating programs that ensure hundreds of middle school children will have the kind of academic achievement that leads to successful college careers.
Which is a little ironic, because Fields, 64, never finished college - a fact that didn't stand in the way of his enjoying a professional career that would be the envy of any college graduate.
How else to describe parlaying a $72-a-week job as an NBC page into gigs that saw him help cable television become the juggernaut it is today. Or his sitting around a conference table explaining geosynchronous orbiting satellites to his bosses, who included industry giants such as Barry Diller, Michael Eisner and Alvin Cooperman.
Not to mention that Fields recalls working with Madison Square Garden executives to expand their programming to include scheduling basketball games at then-unusual times - such as the day after Thanksgiving.
After School All Stars is a national program created in the early 1990s by then action movie star and now California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. First called the Inner City Games Foundation, the program offers academic and athletic programs for middle school children to help them prepare for academic and career success.
Middle school students are targeted because "this is a critical time when those basic lessons are taught and retained, hopefully, to foster their development in high school and university," Fields said. "We want to help them have successful lives and relationships in school, in the community, in the world."
After School All Stars runs programs in 13 cities, including New York. There are 175 students in the program at Intermediate School 192, the Linden School, in St. Albans, Queens, and 125 enrolled at Middle School 217, the Robert Van Wyck School, in Jamaica, Queens.
Under the program, several dozen children at each school attend three-hour sessions. Half of the time is dedicated to homework help and the rest to athletics, Fields said.
Thanks to a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the 21st Century Community Learning Center - administered by St. John's University - that is used to run both programs, these students will attend a two-week-long Camp Us on the St. John's Jamaica campus.
They will join about 1,000 children from city Housing Authority projects who will be bused to and from St. John's for a similar Camp Us program during two separate, 500-member, two-week programs.
"All of the staff for the summer programs come from St. John's," Fields said. "Our certified reading teachers are from the School of Education, and all our athletic programs are run by either coaches or athletes from St. John's.
"The curriculum is devised and overseen by Dr. Richard Sinatra, associate dean of the St. John's Department of Education."
After School All Stars follows a New York State curriculum, and Fields said testing and assessment has shown that students in the course have improved academic performance.
In addition, each year St. John's offers 36 $1,000 scholarships, renewable for four years, to any After School All Stars alumni who attend the university.
TWO AFTER SCHOOL All Stars students won grants last year, Fields said.
Linden School Principal Harriet Diaz said she has noticed a marked improvement in her students participating in the program, which started there this year.
"I see a lot of development," she said. "They are forming better relationships, they get along better and they follow directions more easily."
Fields served as After School All Stars acting executive director in 2004, and was named to the top position last November.
Born in Manhattan, Fields grew up in Woodside, Queens - he attended Public School 151, like some of the children in the program - and Little Neck.
A Brooklyn Technical High School graduate, Fields went to the University of Buffalo in 1961 where, while an Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity pledgee, he learned the lesson - outside of class - that would shape his career.
"When you pledge a fraternity, you are required to go around and get signatures from all of the brothers," he said. "Someone wrote in my book that 'Friends need never demand justice of one another, for that and more is freely given without the asking.'
"That has always been the basis for a lot of things I have done, friendships and relationships."
He dropped out after his freshman year, Fields came home and attended Queens College for a time, then left for a job at the 1964 World's Fair. A friend from Queens College helped Fields land his NBC page gig in 1966, where he got noticed.
When Fields' bosses told him his career would be limited unless he got a college degree, he cut out and traveled around the country. When he returned to the city in 1968, his former NBC boss, Alvin Cooperman, was an executive vice president at Madison Square Garden. (Cooperman died in 2006 at 83.)
Cooperman hired Fields as his assistant. As youngest member of the executive staff, Fields learned about booking events at the then-new Garden on W. 34th St.
He remembers the day a letter arrived from one Charles Dolan suggesting they make a deal to put New York Knicks games on cable television.
"Everybody said, 'That's great,'" Fields said. "Then they said, 'What is cable television?'"
That deal helped change broadcast television and create the cable industry. It also launched Fields' careers in promotion and product and market development - he helped create the cable industry rate card - and lay the groundwork and associations for jobs he would later hold with Paramount Pictures and Gulf and Western, where he worked with Diller and Eisner.
"I realized early on that being on the cutting-edge, being out front, being a pioneer, was more exciting than doing things that had already been done," he said.