On a recent Thursday morning, fifth-graders at Walter Hays Elementary School flocked to the sports field to try their hand at cricket. For many, this was the first time they had played the English bat-and-ball game that spread to India and has gained popularity around the world in recent years.
The game is both familiar and foreign enough to be engaging. Some students commented that cricket was "like baseball" in one way or another.
"I don't really play sports, but I like that (in cricket) everyone gets to do everything," said Catherine Funtu, a student in Jennifer Ford's fifth-grade class.
Catherine and her classmates are among the first students in the Palo Alto Unified School District who have been given the opportunity to try the game during P.E. class after the district officially adopted a cricket program at its elementary schools at the start of this school year.
Ken Bunton, a P.E teacher at Walter Hays Elementary School, said the program has translated surprisingly well to his fifth-grade students. Everything about the curriculum and equipment is designed for younger learners. The equipment is specifically designed for children with regard to size and safety. The bats are smaller and made out of plastic, not wood, and the balls are softer.
"Overall this curriculum has been amazing," Bunton said. "It's really included (all of) them."
Bunton said many of his students of East Indian heritage feel "so validated" and excited to demonstrate their cricket skills to their classmates. Students of all backgrounds and skill levels already have expressed love for the sport, he added.
The push to introduce cricket to Palo Alto schools came from parent Vineet Kataria, whose 10th-grade son at Palo Alto High School plays cricket through the Bay Area Cricket Alliance, where he has become a nationally ranked player. Kataria said his son has been playing for eight years even though the sport never made it into his high school curriculum. He wanted his daughter, Aavriti, who is a fifth-grader in the district, to benefit from a school program.
Kataria teamed up with Suraj Viswanathan, president of the Bay Area Cricket Alliance, to bring the sport to Palo Alto after hearing about the group's efforts to introduce cricket to other school districts.
On Aug. 10, using curriculum provided by the International Cricket Council, Viswanathan trained district gym teachers and community members on how to introduce their elementary students to cricket, a sport similar to American baseball.
The district program, though still in its teetering first steps, has been met with excitement.
"Since we teach such a diversified student population, it is nice to also offer culturally diverse activities to our curriculum," said Liz Pounders, a team leader of elementary physical education for the district who has worked at Fairmeadow Elementary for the past six years.
Pounders explained that this curriculum is particularly exciting because of the way it is broken down by fundamental skills appropriate for each grade bracket. She said the fundamentals — bowling, throwing, catching and fielding a ball — allows it to build upon itself.
The Cricket Alliance donated basic equipment to the district, which was then divided among the schools to run drills.
With nine basic sets, Bunton explained, he has enough equipment to break his students up into small groups to increase their practice and play time.
Pounders said she hopes that by the time her students have learned enough of the fundamentals to play a full game, each school will have its own set of equipment. Until then, they'll practice the stepping stones of skills and drills.