Osvaldo Rubio teaches at Sherman Oaks Community Charter School by day and coaches the soccer club afternoons and weekends.
Since this article was written in 2000, founding principal Peggy Bryan has moved on from Sherman Oaks Community Charter School, but current principal Irene Preciado carries on the school's original vision.
When teacher Osvaldo Rubio started the Sherman Oaks Soccer Club, his goals were fairly simple: engage neighborhood kids in an organized activity and give them a place to go during the critical after-school hours.
Little did he know that soccer would become a powerful vehicle for mobilizing the community well beyond the playing field. For the children, soccer has helped to develop the discipline and the desire to do well in school (discussions about academics are an ongoing part of the club's daily workouts). It's also taught them, says Rubio, to think of themselves not merely as individuals but as part of a team, a major theme in learning at Sherman Oaks Community Charter School.
Rubio himself benefits as a Sherman Oaks teacher because the more he knows about the children in his class -- both personally and academically -- the better he is able to tailor instruction and guidance to the individual, which ultimately leads to greater academic success. "It's important to get to know the whole child," says Rubio, who not only coaches the soccer club but tutors in the summer and regularly visits the homes of students. "I know where they're coming from, so I can give them the help and support they need."
The now four-year-old sports program has been as motivating for parents as it is for their children. Saturday morning conversations on the soccer field have been the source of friendships and community building. Parents have gone from cheering on their child's team to volunteering in the classroom to speaking out at school board meetings regarding needed programs and services.
"The soccer club has really helped to unite parents," says Rubio, noting that many of the "soccer moms" have become some of the school's most active volunteers in the classroom as well as members of the school's site governing council and bilingual committee. The Sherman Oaks soccer connection played a critical role last year in staff and parent efforts to extend the school's Spanish/English dual-language program to the middle school.
"We'd tried for two years to push the program through at the middle school and it hadn't worked," says Principal Peggy Bryan. "We told the parents, 'We're worried about your kids and we need your help.'" Parents -- many of whom had become well versed in school issues through the soccer club -- took staff concerns to heart and packed a subsequent school board meeting to demand that the language acquisition program be continued at the middle school. The school board acquiesced.
Parents "got to know one another on the field and then felt comfortable working together to get what they wanted from the district," Rubio says. He recalls one "shy and quiet" parent in particular who had the courage to speak out at the board meeting "because she was surrounded by other parents."
With home visits, the soccer club, summer tutoring, and living and working in the neighborhood, the dedicated teacher has worked to build strong ties with the community around Sherman Oaks. "This is my family away from home," says Rubio, who is a frequent guest at the birthday parties, First Communions, and Quincenieras -- similar to Sweet Sixteen parties -- of current and former students. "I'm not only their teacher. I'm their coach and their friend. That makes all the difference."