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  • Ryan Gitonga

In the Huddle: The Value of School-Based Partnerships at SWB Baltimore & Beyond



At Baltimore’s Vanguard Collegiate Middle School, as soon as the last bell rings, there is an excitement that fills the halls as students pour out of their classrooms. The volume spikes as hundreds of conversations happen simultaneously. Students head for the exits, and just as quickly as the volume spiked, it dips back down as the halls empty. All is quiet, except for the Media Room. The Media Room at Vanguard is filled with music, laughter, and Soccer Without Borders (SWB) participants as they wait for the start of programming for the day.


Last school year, SWB Baltimore offered programming to 180 middle grades students through our school-based programming model. English language learners (ELLs) at Lansdowne, Dundalk and Vanguard Middle Schools engaged in 700 hours of after-school soccer practice and academic enrichment throughout 36 weeks of the school year.


Partnerships directly with schools are an effective way to meet newcomer students where they are. By providing food and minimizing the need to travel, school-based programs are able to reach even the newest newcomers, who may not yet have the language skills or social confidence to navigate between activities. Embedding Soccer Without Borders at a school provides easier and more frequent communication between students and coaches, as well as between coaches, teachers, and other school support systems, allowing for closer supervision and intervention when required.



For a lot of newcomer students, school can be an exciting but stressful place. Newcomer youth are navigating a new education system and social structure at school, all while learning English. Soccer Without Borders programming is designed to create a safe, inclusive, and welcoming space where students can express themselves with or without words. Having a Soccer Without Borders program present at a school helps to extend that space into the school environment, during and after the school day. Students can drop in and chat with a coach about how their day has been, what they are excited about and what they need help with. It shrinks the time lag between something happening at school and turning to a SWB Coach for support.


The typical after-school routine at Soccer Without Borders is to play soccer, eat supper, and then do homework or practice English with the support of volunteer tutors and mentors. Because we are present within the school and aware of each individual’s academic needs, we are able to leverage this time more effectively to provide targeted academic support and enrichment to participants. Coaches can follow up with teachers and together make sure that every student gets the additional support they need to achieve growth and success in the classroom.



During the height of the pandemic, coaches from Dundalk and Vanguard Middle School programs assisted SWB youth in navigating online learning at a time when students at large were experiencing isolation and a huge shift in their learning environment. Coaches held virtual practice sessions, joined Zoom classes and provided academic assistance to students helping them not fall behind in their classes. Bringing elements of team-building and movement-based activities into the virtual classroom helped to keep students engaged and reduce frustration.


Just like soccer, youth development is a team sport. School-Based Programming allows SWB to leverage its relationships with teachers, school administrators, nurses and counselors to better serve newcomer students. The result? While just 45% of Baltimore City Schools English language learners graduated high school, 98% of English language learners participating in Soccer Without Borders graduated on time.



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