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Jacob Diwa, Chris Seisay and Jonathan Bade
From left to right American Canyon High football players Jacob Diwa, Chris Seisay and Jonathan Bade took turns reading to fifth graders at Canyon Oaks Elementary School as part of the Readers and Leaders program. Vince D'Adamo/Eagle

When American Canyon High football players Jacob Diwa, Chris Seisay and Jonathan Bade were sitting in their desks as fifth graders in April 2006, Measure G had not yet passed.

The bond passed to build American Canyon High six months later. Fast forward to April 7, 2011, all three American Canyon sophomores participated in the first “Athletes as Readers & Leaders” event in AmCan at Canyon Oaks Elementary School in Heather Feinberg’s fifth grade class. The program was founded by Kate MacMillan, who is the mother of Wolves head football coach Ian MacMillan and serves as the Napa Valley Unified School District’s coordinator of library services.

The program is designed so that after each high school athletic season ends, participating coaches and players visit their feeder elementary schools to read them picture books. The books usually relate to the players’ sport. Coach MacMillan and players talk about wellness, nutrition, academics, leadership and training.

MacMillan added that plans are in place to also visit Donaldson Way and Napa Junction Elementary Schools. MacMillan also indicated that other players besides the aforementioned Diwa, Bade and Seisay will be involved.

The program falls into the district’s wellness policy and is geared toward positive reinforcement pertaining to literacy, wellness and physical fitness.

“It’s a little nerve wracking for the kids,” MacMillan said. “Keep in mind, my kids are also young because we don’t have juniors and seniors.”

The junior class will be added next year and the senior class the following year.

For Diwa, Thursday’s trip to Canyon Oaks was a return to his roots. Feinberg showed the current fifth grade class a picture of Diwa as a fifth grader, which elicited “oohs, aahs” and assorted laughter. Bade attended Donaldson Way while Seisay attended Napa Junction. All three later went to American Canyon Middle School.

“It makes me feel like I am still part of the community,” Diwa said. “It feels great to give back to the little kids. I think it makes a big difference because we can be a good influence and the message we are trying to give them is good too. The whole day can be stressful but you get your break to read books the kids read. It’s fun to see the kids laugh and ask funny questions.”

The program was initially implemented in 2007-2008 with Napa High student/athletes. MacMillan coached and taught there from 2007-2010 before moving on to AmCan High. MacMillan said that despite what some people might think, athletics and academics are a package deal.

“Our kids have begun to figure that out,” MacMillan said. “That’s why you call it student-athlete with student being first. You can’t get a college scholarship unless you have grades. My kids are learning that I want a minimum 2.5 otherwise they are in my study hall with me. They need to put as much work into the classroom as well as sports.”

Feinberg was equally appreciative to have the high school students be given the opportunity to be positive role models for the elementary school students. Feinberg also believes such a role empowers the high school students to be in a position of being a peer teacher. For the elementary school students, it gives them a chance to interact with older students and ask questions about why it is so important to be a responsible and healthy student.

“You have to be a good student before you can be a good athlete,” Feinberg said. “I hope that my students will always play sports and be involved in extracurricular activities. However, they need to understand that their first priority is their education and they need to take ownership of it. 

“This visit helped my students understand what I have been teaching them about being attentive, responsible, and healthy students. I am always trying to teach my students that these good habits start young and play vital role in their future.”

Seisay and Bade, like Diwa, each relished the chance to play a vital role in the kids’ lives Thursday.

“It brings back a lot of memories about being in the classroom with little kids,” Seisay said. “It feels like I have given back a lot to them. I feel like we helped them get active.”

Bade added that Thursday’s appearance also presented the chance for the kids’ to see the American Canyon High football players in a role beyond helping the Wolves win on Friday nights.

“I was kind of nervous at first but once I started reading the book and answering their questions it took me back,” Bade said. “It is very important to do well academically so you can go to college and be able to do what you want with your life.”

MacMillan also likes the program because it gives his student-athletes a chance to take ownership of their community.

“When you think about it we are a one high school town,” MacMillan said. “These kids should hopefully be coming here. It just shows that we are one family. We are here to support one another.”

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