PHOENIX- Out on a grassy football turned soccer field, a mixture of athletes gather. They spend the next few minutes kicking the ball around to one another, waiting for their coach to arrive and practice to begin.
This team, like many others across the country, is one with a variety of different kids. Some short, some tall. Some outgoing, some quiet. What makes this program unique however is just how diverse it is. At Carl Hayden High School, not only will you see students from all walks of life, but also, students from around the globe.
Nearly every high school or athletic program will tell you how great of a bond that they have amongst their teams, but what many cannot say is that their bond is one of a multicultural family. This is what sets Carl Hayden apart from other schools, as Christopher Oglesby, Athletic Director for Carl Hayden explained. “An international family is part of our identity at Carl Hayden, so you will hear languages from sub-Saharan Africa mingling with Spanish, Mandarin, and a dozen other languages in just about every club meeting or sport team,” Oglesby said.
The soccer team is no exception to that.
Amongst the group of soccer players, huddled around the center of the field, stands three boys that exemplify what Oglesby had pointed out. A unique but not uncommon case at this school. Two brothers, Exauce and Elie Mayunga who originate from the Congo laugh alongside their teammate and friend Haruna Sumaili from Tanzania. These three boys have their own unique stories to tell.
Exauce and Elie Mayunga were 15 and 13 years old respectively when they arrived from their fated trip across the Atlantic to the United States just two years prior. First living in Virginia for a short period of time, their family decided to take their chances out west in Arizona in search of better opportunities. Exauce described the most difficult part of coming to a new country was learning a completely new language. Both of the boys, who were used to speaking French fluently at home, had troubles at the beginning of their journey adjusting. However, their classmates made a solid effort to teach them, and for that they were grateful.
When you’re here, you’re family
The significance of a family environment was essential for the brothers, as much of their family is back in the Congo. While they haven’t made any plans of heading home yet, Exauce stated that in the future he hopes to return. Although he is not sure of when this may happen, Exauce hopes that it is some time after he graduates from college. Because of his family being so far away, to Exauce, this is why being a part of a team like this is so important.
“It’s like a second family because we don't have a big family here,” Exauce said “The soccer team is like a second family because we love each other and support each other.” Being part of a sport creates an easier transition into a new culture, Exauce further points out. It does not matter what language you speak or where you come from, “if you can play, they’ll let you play.”
Elie reiterated his brothers point, “You get to [meet] different people from different places and [learn] new languages,” he said. Every day on the soccer field and in the classroom he is able to hear different languages being spoken. Whether it’s English from his teachers, Spanish from his classmates, or French from his brother, the multicultural aspect of the team creates a comforting sense of belonging.
Going the distance
At the beginning, it was difficult for Elie to speak up in class, as he didn’t know the language well enough. He would simply sit there, and any time the teachers would call on him, he would tell them that he didn’t know the answer or that he didn’t speak English. Once he gained knowledge of the language however, his confidence began to arise.
It was not just language that the brothers struggled with. Troubles arose over the uniqueness of the American cuisine. As both the brothers agreed, it was a strain to try the different types of foods and enjoy them as well. At first Elie said that he didn’t like any of the things that were put in front of him, he was picky in choosing the foods that he wanted. Foods that would seem so universally loved, like pizza, were the types of things that he had never tried before, and in no way savored their flavors like most teenagers do. Now, they are meals that both he and his brother enjoy and laugh at each other for disliking so much early on.
Their head coach, Abner Calderon, agreed with the concept of a close knit family atmosphere that is brought to the team. While the team is made up mostly of kids with hispanic heritage, this is not the first time Calderon has coached a student from another country, as he was lucky enough to coach a team that had an athlete from Nigeria.
Calderon stated how being around the Mayunga’s and Sumaili bring back positive memories. “It’s always a pleasure to have kids from other countries play on our team,” Calderon said. “Kids respect them for their abilities and skills, and the perspective they bring to the game and practices.” What helps these players adjust is how culturally unique the entire team is as Calderon points out that there are kids speaking Spanish, French and English on and off the field.
Embracing the diversity
Haruna Sumaili, the 16-year-old boy from Tanzania arrived in the United States around a year ago. “When I came to school here,” he said, “I was looking at everybody different, because I didn’t know the language.” When the student had heard people speaking Spanish around him, Sumaili had confused it with English at first. Now with the help of his classmates, he has been able to adjust easier to this new culture. “If I don’t know something, someone’s always there to teach me,” Sumaili said with a smile.
As he spoke on the things he enjoys most, Sumaili touched on how this sport allows him to meet with different types of people from various backgrounds. “We do a lot of things together, we help each other, and it’s fun to be with a group of people to do things together,” Sumaili said.
“Lots of schools include immigrants as part of their student body, but what sets Carl Hayden High School apart from other schools is the way in which immigrant students are quickly embraced by the teachers and students,” Oglesby said. This school is a family, and like all families they work with one another to succeed, not only academically but socially as well.
This explains why the majority of the immigrant students at Carl Hayden join clubs and sports. “We have a sense of togetherness and inclusiveness that permeates the fabric of our campus culture,” Oglesby said. He spent 10 years teaching at a high school north of Carl Hayden and pointed out that the first thing he noticed when arriving at Carl Hayden was the “feeling of a family spirit.”
Creating this atmosphere for the students allows for them to feel welcomed amongst their peers, coaches and teachers. A positive environment like Carl Hayden has displayed gives their students the idea that while they are all unique, they are all of equal importance. “We have great coaches, great club sponsors, and the best students in Phoenix because of the diversity afforded to us by immigrants and a close-knit community culture,” Oglesby said.
Facing the facts
It’s no surprise that the United States has grown increasingly diverse over the past decade. In 2014, the U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 42 million or more than 13 percent of the total population according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2014 American Community Survey. This number increased over 2 percent from the year prior, showing that the population is leaning towards becoming increasingly diverse. With more and more individuals coming in from all across the globe, it is inevitable that the schools will become more cultural as well.
As these numbers increase, there is obvious areas where there will be struggles in education. Learning the English language and helping the students feel welcomed are two of those important points.
In a city that is known for its highly immigrant populated communities, it is important that we put a face to these individuals. The school systems across the state are becoming increasingly diversified and Carl Hayden is a school that can be seen as a model on how to create a positive atmosphere for their students. While many come to the United States in hope for a brighter future, there can be a sense of anxiety for students. Whether it’s learning a new language or experiencing the different things the culture has to offer, Carl Hayden High School has created a community of people that hold a family-like bond that will never be broken.