NCAA award winner expands summer learning

A former Duxbury resident and national education reformer has been selected as one of six recipients of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Silver Anniversary Award.

Earl Martin Phalen, 46, received a phone call last week informing him that, as a former varsity basketball player for Yale University, he had been selected as the recipient of the award, which recognizes former student athletes on the 25th anniversary of their graduation. To be eligible, the nominee must be a varsity letter winner at an NCAA member institution and achieved personal distinction since graduating. Previous recipients of the award include Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie, and Sally Ride.

“A few months ago, I was informed that I was going to be nominated for the award and I thought it was a long shot,” Phalen said. “I went down to talk to students about being a student athlete and the next thing I know I’m told I’ve won one of the six coveted spots as a recipient.”

Phalen received the Yale Scholarship in Duxbury and went on to play four years of basketball at the Ivy League university. Upon graduation, he decided to take a year to participate in the Lutheran Volunteer Corp, where he went to Washington, D.C., to work in homeless shelters. While working with the homeless and helping rebuild communities, Phalen decided to attend Harvard Law School. With his volunteer experience fresh in his mind, he focused on using his degree for direct service and social change.

“It was a powerful experience of introspection that I had not anticipated,” Phalen said. “I thought it would be a very tough experience to work with people who had struggled so hard, but it was one of the most loving communities I had ever experienced.”

After graduating from Harvard, Phalen founded a non-profit organization for after school and summer activities. Originally with 20 students and a $12 thousand budget, BELL, Building Educated Leaders for Life, now serves 15,000 students and has grown to have a $27.5 million budget. As he worked with BELL, Phalen realized his true passion lay in the summer program aspect. In 2009, he founded Summer Advantage USA, which provides rigorous academic programming during the summer months for primary and middle school students.

Due to the academic success of the summer scholars, the Indiana Charter School Board allowed 10 academies to open under the same rigorous academic schedule. The George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies, named in honor of Phalen’s parents, will serve over 10,000 children. The first school will be launched in just over a month.

“I have been in education for 25 years now and I think this is a wonderful chance to have kids for eight hours a day, 225 days a year to have a great potential impact on students,” he said.

Phalen will receive the award at a ceremony in San Diego on Jan. 17 as part of an NCAA convention.