Little Mavs Academy Has Mission To Serve Children

Photo of Little Mavs participants and volunteers interacting in an activity.

A University of Texas at Arlington researcher has made it her mission to instill invaluable skills and confidence in young North Texans. She said it all started with her own experience in sports.

Photo of Priscila Tamplain, UTA associate professor of kinesiology
Priscila Tamplain

"I was a clumsy child who always wanted to play sports but couldn't do it," said Priscila Tamplain, associate professor of kinesiology in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and director of the Motor Development Lab at UTA. "When I started doing research, it was a natural fit for me to study kids with coordination problems.

Tamplain's interest and passion led her to start the Little Mavs Movement Academy, a program aimed at improving motor skills and abilities in children ages 4-13 with motor or developmental disabilities. The academy is now in its 12th year.

The idea came to Tamplain when she spoke with the parent of a child who was being tested as part of her research. The parent wanted to know of any programs that could help develop her son's motor skills.

"There were no programs that could work with him," Tamplain said. "I think my need to be able to do something to serve the community with those sorts of requests pushed me to create Little Mavs."

The academy started with six children in 2012. Through word of mouth, it now welcomes about 30 every semester, with some parents driving as far as an hour and a half to attend.

Photo of UTA student Victoria Castillo
Victoria Castillo

By participating, kids are not only developing their motor skills, but their confidence as well.

"Higher confidence and self-esteem are all related to lower anxiety and depression rates, which in adolescence and adulthood are at epidemic levels," Tamplain said. "If you have good motor skills, you'll be able to join in activities that are fun."

That fun extends to UTA students as well. Through internships and volunteer opportunities with Little Mavs, they get to plan activities and interact with the children and their parents. It's real-world experience they gain on their way to careers in kinesiology and public health.

Victoria Castillo, who graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in public health, said the mission of Little Mavs and the opportunity to work with children attracted her to the program. She is determined to see kids reach their full potential and fight what she said is a negative stigma around people with autism and other developmental disabilities.

"Every child is unique," Castillo said. "The biggest thing is bringing more awareness and proving that every child deserves the opportunity to grow."

Photo of Little Mavs participants playing games
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