Sperling grew up in a Conservative Jewish household where he learned the principles of tikkun olam (repairing the world) at a young age. Whether it is volunteering alongside his parents at a food bank or establishing an after-school basketball program for elementary school students, nothing is better than working with kids all day, Sperling said.
With a strong interest in the education system, Sperling thought there was no better way to make a difference than serving as a teacher. After applying to Teach for America, Sperling became a high school math teacher at Carver High School.
The experience was great, he said, but he noted the inequities in the education system.
The issues include the lack of positive exposure to colleges and careers and the limited support for high school students, Sperling said. After realizing he could have a greater impact outside the classroom, Sperling, Ian Cohen and Travis Salters quit their jobs teaching to launch Next Generation Men and Women.
The nonprofit works with schools throughout Atlanta to create college and career readiness for underserved students through exposure and support. NGMW consists of gender- and grade-specific groups, each with 15 to 20 students led by one teacher or coach trained in NGMW’s curriculum.
NGMW also hires a college fellow to meet with the kids twice a week after school to work on personal identity, relationship skills, and college and career exposure.
“The goal is to fill some of the gaps that exist in the education system for underserved students and prepare them for what comes after high school,” Sperling said.
Sperling has seen both sides of the spectrum, which is why he said he likes helping kids. “Growing up, I was a middle- to high-income person with a lot of privilege and didn’t have to worry about a lot of things other students had to. I could get an unpaid internship over the summer because I did not have to work to support my family. … But there are students who don’t have those opportunities,” he said.
Devante Tyuse, known as “Poncho,” was one of the students Sperling coached while teaching at Carver. The high school’s soccer team needed a goalie, and even though Tyuse had never played, Sperling recruited him.
“It was very clear that he had no idea what he was doing, but it was my responsibility as a coach to train him and teach him the rules of the game,” said Sperling, who spent two years training Tyuse until he became one of the team’s best players.
Tyuse’s natural skills and hard work landed him a full scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Sperling lost touch with Tyuse after he went to college.
A chance encounter in mid-April reunited the two: They both stopped at the same red light.
Tyuse had transferred to Georgia State University and was about to graduate with a degree in political science.
Through a series of Facebook messages, the ex-coach and his former player met for lunch. “It was amazing to hear everything he was doing,” Sperling said. “He went through some hardships, family issues, and lost his sister last year, but now he is graduating.”
The meeting made Sperling tear up after Tyuse explained how instrumental Sperling was in the trajectory of his education. Tyuse also said he wants to become a teacher through Teach for America after he graduates.
“To me, that is one of the most amazing things to hear,” Sperling said. “To hear that he sees the value of education because of the experience he has had and that I was impactful makes it one of the best lunches I have had all year.”
Because Tyuse lived in a rough neighborhood, Sperling used to drive him home after every soccer game at night. Sperling said Tyuse’s family supported him but didn’t have the time to be everything he might have needed.
“Devante has been an adult and has taken care of his family for a few years now and is much younger than most people put in that situation,” Sperling said.
Tyuse’s college graduation means a lot to Sperling. “It’s about opening doors and finding a career that will make him, as well as his family and future generations, successful. A high school degree is important but really does not provide a lot of opportunities compared to that of a college degree.”
Sperling said Tyuse’s graduation is about him beating the odds. “Not many people graduate from Carver, so the fact that he is graduating from college, let alone high school, and wants to give back to the community is special. It’s the best story an educator can hear or ever ask for, but it’s mostly about Devante having the same opportunities as his peers and being rewarded for all the hard work he has put in over the years.”