Nicole Jacobsen
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Nearly 50 students from different parts of the world gathered in the courtyard of The Episcopal School of Dallas to learn about one another’s culture, upbringing, and what school is like for each of them. About half of the group was visiting Dallas as part of Gonzo Soccer, an international leadership academy that unites young girls over a shared interest in soccer; the other participants were students enrolled in Middle and Upper School Spanish classes at ESD looking to practice their vocabulary. 

The majority of the 21 young ladies participating in the Gonzo Soccer program traveled from Colombia and Mexico City; one was from Chicago and one was from Houston. Most spoke very little, if any, English. To help assimilate and make the most of the visit, several ESD Spanish teachers and students volunteered to lead campus tours and host the students in their classes.

“The interactions allowed the students to relate to people their own ages, and to learn about the cultures of the schools in different countries, as well as add new vocabulary words to their repertoires,” Miller Walker, one of ESD’s Spanish teachers, explained. “I feel that the students are proud of their accomplishments but are also humbled, as they commented on just how much they don't know. They mentioned needing to go back and relearn old vocabulary. This activity gave my students purpose in taking Spanish here at ESD, something that will be invaluable to them as they continue their language learning journey here with us.”

Brenda Diaz ’18 and Stefanie Melgar ’18 helped lead two Spanish-speaking tours around the Merrell Road Campus. Over the course of an hour, the girls showed the soccer players and their coaches where ESD’s student-athletes trained and played games, as well as where the students gathered for Chapel, what a Fine Arts classroom looked like, and where they gathered with friends in the courtyards and quarry. 

“We had so much fun showing the girls around our school and getting to know them,” Diaz ’18 said. “I really hope they can come back next year so we can spend more time with them and learn more about what their lives are like back home.”

After visiting with three Spanish classes and touring the campus, the girls geared up for a friendly scrimmage against the JV and varsity soccer players. ESD’s varsity soccer coach, Mike Renshaw, helped referee the game. 

“I believe it is very important for ESD, as part of our continuing growth, to be cognizant of our slowly increasing role in the global community,” Renshaw said. “Soccer is truly 'the world's game' and for ESD to be able to host these young, mostly South American, women will hopefully be a memory they will cherish forever.”

During their seven days in Dallas, the Gonzo girls also attended leadership courses at ESD’s Wolf Run Ranch where they learned the life skills to equip them to become community leaders. The activities focused on four pillars of social change: authenticity, collaboration, kindness, and courage. The girls learned skills in public speaking, conflict resolution, and group problem-solving. They also heard from a variety of distinguished guest speakers about using leadership skills to promote social change. ESD’s Director of Outdoor Education Eddie Eason facilitated team building activities, campfires, and preparation of the evening meals.

“Just in the three days that I had the opportunity to work with the girls, I could see their confidence grow in leaps and bounds,” Eason said. “They were delightful guests and very appreciative the opportunity afford to them through Gonzo Leadership Academy and The Episcopal School of Dallas.”

Founded in 2009 by Monica Gonzalez, former Notre Dame standout and captain of the Mexico National Soccer Team, and Alyse LaHue, the general manager of the Chicago Red Stars, Gonzo Soccer has evolved into an international soccer academy with 16 schools in three countries and more than 900 students. The U.S. Embassy in Bogota helped fund the trip, as did some online crowdsourcing. Monica herself paid for the majority of the program.

“Monica hasn’t stopped working since she stopped playing professional soccer,” Brian Gonzales, a former ESD teacher and friend of Monica’s said. “She wants her legacy to extend beyond what she put on the field. She is committed to making sure these girls have the skills needed to succeed not only in the sport they love but also in life.”