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Soccer, Literacy, and Building Better Students

Soccer, Literacy, and Building Better Students


This summer, as many schools across El Paso County began opening their doors to eager students who longed to be inside of a classroom, the San Elizario Independent School District did the same. Still, one unique program supplemented the work already happening inside of the San Elizario school buildings. The First Annual Summer Soccer and Literacy Camp (SSLC) kicked off. 

The SSLC  program was an intervention that sought to diminish literacy regression due partly to Covid-19 among language minority students by combining physical training and promotion of a literacy culture. In addition, the camp aimed to enhance mental and physical health using soccer while simultaneously encouraging intrinsically motivated readers. The inspiration behind this program came from San Elizario High School’s Three-Time State Champion Soccer Coach, Max Sappenfield. A steadfast champion for San Elizario and education, Coach Sappenfield’s success lies in the belief, “Better students, better athletes.”

The complimentary two-week Summer Soccer and Literacy Camp, led by Coach Max Sappenfield and Girls’ Soccer Coach Miguel Mendez, took place at the Alarcon Ball Park, located in the middle of town.  Eligible students were San Elizario ISD incoming 3rd through 6th graders, both male and female. Each day consisted of attendees participating in a short read-aloud followed by various post-reading activities that allowed participants to discuss, write, and work collaboratively with their peers about the day’s excerpt.

When Coach Sappenfield reached out for help with reading materials for the camp, Planning and Instruction Officer Georgina Diaz stated, “I was excited to work alongside him and his team.”  The Planning and Instruction team’s collaboration was in developing daily engaging reading activities to encourage metacognition. Daily readings centered around books about erstwhile rivals Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Although soccer players are some of the greatest players of all time, many were unaware of the barriers they’ve had to overcome, which mirror some of the camp’s attendees’ current reality.

San Elizario High School Soccer Players then led attendees through drills that helped build endurance, strength development, agility, flexibility, and posture with the motivation to push through adversity. Not only was new knowledge acquired from this Summer’s Soccer and Literacy Camp, but each attendee left with a specially designed camp shirt, their own personal soccer ball, and more books to continue reading.

At the culmination of the camp, students expressed gratitude and enjoyment for reading.  Having experienced older students reading to younger peers will inspire to ensure that this program continues and will expand for many years to come.