Benton County Scores Goals with Escuelita de Fútbol and We Can!®
Posted November 21, 2011
The Benton County Health Department kicks it into high gear with its Escuelita de Fútbol (Little School of Soccer) soccer program for minority, bilingual, and low-income families.
In collaboration with the City of Corvallis Parks and Recreation, Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Services (Latino Nutrition), and Lincoln School Parent Teacher Organization, Escuelita de Fútbol uses soccer programming as a framework for engaging youth, parents, and caregivers at dual-immersion (English- and Spanish-speaking) elementary schools in Benton County that are primarily low-income and ethnically diverse.
While children are participating in afterschool soccer practices and weekend games, parents learn about nutrition and healthy eating from OSU Extension Services, which adapted the We Can! Parent Program curriculum and distributed We Can! handouts to Spanish- and English-speaking families. Children spend time after school preparing healthy snacks, and parents participate in nutrition education activities.
Escuelita de Fútbol began as a soccer program, aimed to provide physical activity opportunities and support minority children without access to other kinds of recreational activities. The school is dual immersion and has the highest percentage of Latino students and the highest percentage of children on free and reduced lunch in Corvallis, the largest city in Benton County. Lincoln Elementary School teachers volunteered time, sought out funding and resources, and began leading the program in Spanish. In its first two years, Escuelita de Fútbol served approximately 50 families. However, the Benton County Health Department and other partners realized an opportunity for growth.
"It took a life of its own," said Tatiana Dierwechter, Health Promotion Program Manager at the Benton County Health Department. "We were sitting around the table and realized there was the opportunity to bring in more resources, collaborate better, and serve more families."
In just eight weeks of Escuelita de Fútbol, 120 Lincoln Elementary students and 90 parents participated. By having the program at a local elementary school, children could walk to and from practice. In part due to the funding received through the We Can! assistance program, registration fees were reduced to improve access by low-income families.
"One of the things we knew and found was so critical—the outreach and engagement of families happens most effectively when they really trust the staff and partners," said Dierwechter.
Many diverse populations in Corvallis could not easily participate in recreational activities due to transportation, culture and language differences, and expense and/or registration procedures. The Parks and Recreation Department was not intentionally leaving a segment of the population out of their programs, but many people who wanted to participate could not because of these barriers. That is all changing, and it began with Escuelita de Fútbol.