Elizabeth Bandercan, an ESL teacher at Bellaire HS, knew that all she needed was a ball and a flat space. The idea of getting her recently arrived ESL students motivated and making friends quickly was as simple as starting to kick a ball around. Football (or what we call soccer), she thought “is international, it’s great for ESL students and since I have a lot of former students coming to visit me at lunch who end up helping my students with homework, why not persuade them to play?” Thus, the ESL soccer club was born!
Principal Michael McDonough, APs, and her department really helped to get the club organized and approved quickly. “I had friends in the Houston soccer community, as well as coworkers and the general SW community donate cleats and other supplies,” Ms. Bandercan comments.
The day she finally got one of her students cleats in his size (he is a size 13!), she had no doubt that this was the right path. “I got a friend from my adult co-ed team to donate them. The student who received them was so excited. He said to me, ‘Miss! Watch me kick a soccer ball for the first time in the USA!’ I wanted to cry!” she mentions.
For last spring’s season Todo Deportes Soccer League, run by Nelson Alaya, waived their registration deposit, and Meyerland Soccer Club gave them scholarships for this fall’s season.
Ms. Bandercan’s goal is that “the club impacts the students’ social lives and trickles into their academic one too.” She has seen it is possible through this sport for she has more than ten years of experience coaching (previously for Meyerland Middle School). “My hope is that this empowers them to see themselves as leaders. It also causes the ESL students to make friends quickly upon arrival. I noticed that the recent arrivals and my former students were making plans to scrimmage on their own, bring new ESL friends onto their weekend teams, and basically make ties and friendships within the SW Houston community. All of this influences them academically because the ESL students have someone to go to for homework help (they are free to come to my room for lunch any day) and more means to get out, assimilate, and practice their English skills.”
For example one of her students, a boy from Colombia on his second day at Bellaire HS, had been looking so scared, sad, and slouched over during the day, but when he attended practice, “his posture got better and he was laughing and joking with the other kids, by the end of the practice- he was like an entirely new kid!”, she recalls.
The club members do not have to be ESL students to participate, which has given her former middle school players leadership opportunities. “I have a different young man run the practice each week.” Now there are about 30 students ages 14-18 from 9-12 grade and their nationalities include Mexico, USA, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Israel, Ethiopia, Greece, Peru, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Saudi Arabia.
For now the ESL soccer team is finishing up the season with Meyerland Soccer Club this coming weekend, they are working hard to go to a Hispanic adult league in the spring and are also planning a scrimmage against the Bellaire UIL soccer team. “As of today -says Ms Bandercan-, I think they realize that goals and dreams that they had in their home country are still attainable here. They realize that the language barrier is not permanent and does not have to impede their dreams forever. I believe it gives them hope that they can make wonderful lives for themselves here and most importantly, that we are here to support them.”