School is back in session for students around the county, and with the help of Level Up SD and The Chicano Federation – more students returned to school better prepared after a summer of learning and fun.

In just three years, The Chicano Federation has provided the county’s largest free soccer program. Aside from refining soccer skills, The Chicano Federation Soccer Academy helps kickstart confidence and shape young lives in underserved communities.

Empowering Communities

The Chicano Federation, a nonprofit organization, is on a mission to provide a soccer academy and free classes to more than 1,000 students within the San Diego Unified School District. The 10-week program, held at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, goes beyond soccer drills – it’s all about teaching leadership, teamwork and social skills to kids ages 5 to 12.

“When you see them come in day one, they’re a little shy. Some of them don’t know anybody else in the group,” said Liz Ramirez, Chief Executive Officer of The Chicano Federation. “But by day two or three, you see them being bubbly and running around and smiling, and really, you see their self-confidence — how much it uplifts. To me, it’s amazing.”

Studies have shown the more students are involved outside of school, the more engaged they are in the classroom. The camp leaves students with more than skills, but with life lessons they can remember throughout their lives – like problem-solving and good sportsmanship.

“It is truly a joy to be able to say that we are providing a space and a place for students to come and participate with their peers around the district,” said Dr. Lamont Jackson, San Diego Unified School District Superintendent. “We could not do this alone.”

Uniting with Soccer Icons

Part of what makes this initiative unique and special is the involvement of players and coaches from the San Diego soccer community. Members from the San Diego Wave Fútbol Club and the San Diego Loyal bring their expertise and inspire and mentor the young participants.

This past summer, students received visits from soccer superstars like Landon Donovan and Jill Ellis. Those visits left students feeling inspired.

“We’ve really seen that commitment from the professional soccer side of things, and it’s been great for the kids,” said Lupe Flores, Director of Engagement & Impact at The Chicano Federation. “To see the players, to see the coaches, to see the front office staff. They don’t only learn about the game; they learn about the soccer world in general.”

A Summer of Transformation

The Chicano Federation summer camp is funded through the Level Up SD program, a partnership of San Diego Foundation (SDF) and the San Diego Unified School District. The partnership makes this opportunity completely free for participating students.

“Level Up SD, over the past three years, has engaged over a hundred of our region’s leading, compassionate, talented, community-based organizations and youth-serving organizations that are out-of-school time providers,” said Michelle Jaramillo, Director of Education Initiatives at SDF. “They’re the folks that create these incredible programs and offer them out of the school daytime.”

This partnership has been key in growing the program over the last three years. Leaders at each organization hope this success is only the beginning.

“I think it’s really important to continue to grow our partnerships,” Liz said. “They continue to invest in our little ones because at the end of the day, they are our future leaders.”

Learn more about SDF’s Expanded Learning initiatives and Level Up SD.