As students crowded the hallways of Fairfax High School on a Wednesday afternoon, chatting with friends, gathering books and preparing for sports practice, a new club assembled in the cafeteria. Members of the after-school soccer club had only met three times before, but by March 15, nearly 70 students were showing up at the cafeteria doors in sneakers, ready to play.
The club members, all Fairfax students, clamored around Andres Ruiz as he called roll. Ruiz is the moderator of the soccer club, a project of the newly-formed Hispanic parent's organization La Voz Hispana. The parent's organization had set out to organize an after-school program geared toward Hispanic students, said Voz Hispana coordinator Ana Bauserman. Students had been asking about opportunities to play soccer in a school setting, and so Voz Hispana decided to develop an after-school club centered around the sport.
"The students used to come to me and say, 'We want to play soccer but they don't let us play soccer, we go to the field and they don't want us there,'" said Bauserman. Many students do not have the grades or the time for the school soccer team, she said, and so the club focuses less on competition and more on sportsmanship and teamwork. The club's academic component — students spend an hour doing homework before stepping on the field — bolsters classroom performance, she said.
A DEEP LOVE of soccer brought most students, like freshman Mariama Kaloko, into the club. Mariama, 14, has played soccer ever since she was young. She did not get the physical needed to play with the school soccer team on time, so joined the club to be able to play regularly.
"At first I felt strange, since I didn't speak Spanish," said Mariama. It is a bilingual club, with students and moderators switching from Spanish to English with ease. But Mariama said she feels comfortable there.
Sophomore Marvin Rafael found out about the club through a flier handed out in class, and decided to sign up. A native of El Salvador, Marvin has been playing soccer his whole life.
"It's just one day, and everyone can do it," said Marvin, 17. "It's a good sport to do."
The club allows students like Brenda Gomez and Dulce Delgado to spend time with fellow students of Hispanic background, a chance they rarely have during the school day or in other extracurricular activities.
"Nobody is the same culture as me in basketball," said Brenda, 15, who is the manager of the junior varsity girls' basketball team.
Having a shared language and background gives students a chance to help each other with work, too, said Dulce, 15.
"Since we understand each other, we can help out," she said.
Being less competitive than the soccer team, the club allows students to spend more time with their friends than they would during the school day and helps foster new friendships, said Marvin.
"A lot of times, you have 10 minutes to walk to your next class and see your friends," he said. "Here, you can see them for a long time."
THE SOCCER COMPONENT is what draws students, said Bauserman. "If you told them it was about study, you would maybe get one [student]," she said. "The goal is not soccer really, but we used this to attract them."
"The goal is motivation for a very good student," said Ruiz. He offers incentives to club members, such as the chance to play against the school soccer team if they raise their grade-point averages.
Even though some students grumble about the study period, having an allotted time for schoolwork is a relief, said Brenda. Hispanic students at Fairfax often have part-time jobs or responsibilities at home that leave little time for homework, she said.
"When I go home, I have to clean and cook," she said. After she does that, said Brenda, she is often too tired to work.
According to Marvin, a community of students is better than studying alone.
"Here if you have trouble in a class you can find a friend who is good in that class, and they can help you," he said. "At home you don't have that."
As the club progresses, said Ruiz, he will bring in speakers and offer formal programs during the study period to familiarize students with scholarships and opportunities after high school.
"It’s important, because a lot of kids after school go looking for big problems in the street," Ruiz said. "They go into the street, not home."
"We can motivate them to do better academics through soccer," said Bauserman. Parents, too, are enthusiastic about the program, she said, happy that their children have something to look forward to after school.
Brenda agreed. "Now on our college resume, we can put that we did this," she said.