Success on the field and in the classroom

Elm City Internationals combines passion for soccer with academic success among first-generation immigrant children in New Haven.

Photo credit: Ian Christmann

English, Spanish, and French can be heard when the Elm City Internationals team takes the field. But the players are all united by the universal language of soccer.

The New Haven-based Elm City Internationals combines high-level soccer training with mentoring and college preparation tutoring for low-income immigrant and refugee students. Many of the students in the program originate from African and Latin American countries, where soccer is the king of all sports and neighborhood pick-up games are everywhere. Elm City Internationals uses the beloved sport to incentivize its students to commit to their academic studies.

The program begins working with students in middle school and continues to support them through college. Tutoring focuses on reading and writing and provides students, depending on their level, with either remedial support or additional rigor not being offered during the school day. The program also takes students on college visits, advises them through the application process, connects them to scholarship opportunities, and helps them connect with college coaches.

The intensive nature of the program makes it a second family for many of its students.

Director and Founder Lauren Mednick, herself a former collegiate soccer player, says that while many of her students could make Division I teams, she encourages them to look at smaller, Division III schools where coaches are more likely to advocate for them.

"What we try to do is use soccer to have them be successful in the classroom as well," Mednick says. "So, we focus on the smaller more nurturing schools."

Elm City Internationals is funded through private donations and foundations. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven awarded the organization a grant through its strategy on immigrant integration. Elm City Internationals also raised more than $11,000 during The Great Give® in 2016, coming in second place for attracting the most new donors.

Now in its ninth year, Elm City Internationals has seen its first cohort graduate from college. The older participants continue to be involved as mentors for younger students.

Mednick's idea for the program came while working as a teacher at a refugee agency. There, she took notice of a rowdy group of seventh-grade boys. In addition to behaving in ways that frequently landed them in trouble with teachers, they were also struggling in school.

After discovering that the boys were gifted soccer players, Mednick started a team for them. Soon, the boys were seeking her out for help with their studies. Their confidence in school grew and their behavior improved. Before long, they went from failing grades to the honor roll. At the same time, they flourished on the field in a premier soccer league.

"They have what no one can teach them -- the love for the sport, the hunger for the sport, the athleticism, the amazing touch," says Mednick.

By successfully channeling that hunger into academics, Elm City Internationals is helping to seed their future success.
"I'm convinced that they'll all be better off than me," says Mednick.

To learn more about Elm City Internationals and support its mission, visit its profile on®.

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