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Changing a School’s Culture Through a Love for Orlando City

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How a local elementary school is connecting soccer to reading and reviving recess because of a librarian’s love for Orlando City.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Orlando City SC Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Situated just outside of Orlando lies a small, Title I school not far from Orlando City Soccer Club’s new training facility. As the school’s librarian, I have a unique opportunity to see and truly know the almost 1,000 students in grades pre-kindergarten through fifth. We serve a culturally diverse population, ranging in socioeconomic backgrounds and varying exceptionalities. It’s through a supportive administration that my love for OCSC is slowly changing the culture of our school.

Think back to your school library. What was it like? It was probably a quiet space used for studying or checking out books. Maybe your school library had computers where learners could research or work on presentations. Not ours. Our library is loud because it’s full of hands-on learning, a makerspace, and dramatic read-alouds.

If you’re not familiar, a makerspace is an area where students can create freely as they work on and practice the skills needed to be successful during collaboration. Ours prominently features an 80-inch by 80-inch Lego wall, an Xbox with Minecraft, building materials (linkable pieces), as well as Sphero robots ready for computer coding, and Cubelets ready to introduce robotics. Why share all this? It’s important you know how loud our library is most of the time.

It started innocently enough, buying the game day posters to support the Orlando City Foundation. Realistically, what was I supposed to do with all these posters? I live in a small, one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment and what little wall space we have is covered in bookshelves because yes, my love for reading and books goes beyond my career choice. So, I decided to bring them with me to work. I started hanging them in a little corner of our library.

Jenn Glasheen The Mane Land

In walks a second-grade class. Nothing out of the ordinary, the same routine of coming in, getting new books, and finding something fun to engage with while there. Then, there he was. The second grader who refused to get anything because he “hates” reading. Same story in first grade and kindergarten. I’ve been trying for years to find some sort of connection with him, one little spark of an interest to connect him to a book.

Then he saw the newly added posters. He came alive like I’ve never seen him, challenging me with trivia on Yoshimar Yotún, Dom Dwyer, and Amro Tarek. We talked about their roles on their international teams and their time with OCSC. Then he started a chant, a few other students chimed in, and before I knew it, the entire library was yelling “Vamos Orlando!” Before having to leave he swung back by and shared that he didn’t know I liked soccer and asked if I had any books about soccer.

Following that interaction, in October we celebrated Red Ribbon Week, when we share strategies to say no to drugs. With that comes spirit days, one being “friends don’t let friends do drugs.” On that day, students got to break uniform and dress like their friends. My husband teaches at the same school, so we decided to go in our full game day best. All day I got asked about soccer by boys who “hate” to read. This was also around the time I had to place my annual order for books. I instantly added titles to the list based on requests from boys and girls wanting books about soccer legends and teams from around the world, forcing me to delete popular titles from the list, which I did happily because I had them!

I had a new group of readers. Almost a year later, those students aren’t just reading about soccer. They’re picking up all the popular titles and they stop in regularly just to say hi.

Word spread that Mr. and Mrs. Glasheen love soccer and his students found a torn and discarded soccer ball they started kicking around at recess. Students soon realized that their teacher wouldn’t be able to just sit back and watch them kick it around. The number of students interested in playing was growing by the day and that ratty old ball wouldn’t do. On our small budget we found the best deal for a quick solution and purchased 10 soccer balls from Five Below. Our administration even supported Mr. Glasheen in allowing him to fully dress out before recess and play full games with students, teaching them strategies, conditioning them, and for some, even learning the game.

He was building relationships with students (not just his) outside of the four-wall classroom, giving them a trusted adult to turn to for other things. The balls served their purpose but were quickly falling apart, as was to be expected. With the administration’s support of his recess revival, he applied for a small grant through the school’s PTO for quality soccer balls, to which they were ecstatic to approve. This has also given our PE coaches a larger pool of third through fifth graders who understand the game and can try out for the school’s team. Additionally, our principal is looking to expand recess resources for all students as we only have one structure for all of our kids.

With the unsurprising upturn in interest for soccer at our school, I wanted to keep that momentum rolling over the summer. I reached out to Kay Rawlins, who supported my request to bring top summer readers to an Orlando Pride game when the new year started. She graciously gifted me eight seats to a match. This allowed me not only to invite some top readers, but their parents too. Often students at our school are gifted prizes that state “child free with paying adult,” but our students aren’t often in a position where their families can afford the adult ticket, leaving their prize useless. The families in attendance at the Pride vs Chicago Red Stars had a rainy, lightning-delayed blast, even with the loss.

All this is to say that sharing your passions is important, as small as they may seem. I never thought I’d love soccer, let alone talk about it with 8-year-olds for 30 minutes. I certainly never expected it to thrust our school into the direction it’s heading. I’m hoping more teachers get out and play with their kids at recess or share their passions and connect it to reading or math. What are your passions? How are you making changes in your community?