Washington Post Article:
A journey toward college starts in D.C.
By Andy Marso
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
(article posted in the Washington Post – read here)
It’s difficult to watch the long strides Sidi Genus takes on the plush turf of the St. John’s field and not pause to consider how she came to this private school nestled into the trees of Rock Creek Park in Upper Northwest D.C.
A junior forward on the Cadets girls’ soccer team, Genus’s journey to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, one of the premier leagues in the area, is unique. Barely 15 months ago, she was waking before dawn to play soccer barefoot at camps on Treasure Beach in her native Jamaica. When she returned home, she’d study and help her parents with the crops, working outside under the tropical sun. Electricity in her house is spotty, and there is no air conditioning.
She studied hard enough to score high on state exams and earn a scholarship to St. Elizabeth’s Technical High School – an hour away by taxi. St. Elizabeth’s gave Genus a chance at the ultimate goal: college.
“Everyone wants to go to college, but there’s only, like, two in Jamaica,” Genus said in the living room of her host family’s home in Bowie. “So, you’ve got to work super hard to get into one of those.”
There are community colleges in Jamaica, but the nation’s two primary sites for higher education are the University of the West Indies and University of Technology. Each has about 11,000 students. According to Ministry of Education statistics, there were 250,166 Jamaicans enrolled at the high school level in 2009.
When a man with a soccer ball came to Treasure Beach and offered Genus another path to college – a more certain one – she took it. In August of last year, shortly after her 14th birthday, she left her family and the home in which she grew up and got on a plane for the first time, bound for Washington. Awaiting her was a scholarship to St. John’s, where, according to the school’s Web site, “100 percent of our graduates are admitted to four-year colleges and universities.”
Creating an opportunity
Her arrival at St. John’s was the result of a friendship between Cadets Coach Colin Lennon and Chris Rose, a former teammate of Lennon’s at St. Lawrence University.
Rose, a Jamaican, founded a company called I AM VolunTourism that helps tourists combine their vacations with volunteer work in Jamaican communities.
Among other activities, Rose and his volunteers run free soccer camps. It was at one of these camps that he met Sidi, playing barefoot soccer with her brothers and cousins on Treasure Beach.
“I saw her physique and I learned the background of her family,” Rose said. “They’re a soccer family. . . and I could see her talent. But she was rough.”
Genus was not the best soccer player at Rose’s camps, or the best student at St. Elizabeth’s. But she was near the top of both lists.
Rose told her she could play in college in America someday. She laughed.
“I thought he was just saying stuff,” she said.
By August 2009, Rose was at a crossroads. He wasn’t sure Genus was ready for school in the United States, but his instincts told him it might be now or never.
“Sometimes, with young ladies in these communities, the danger is that they get pregnant very young,” Rose said. “Sometimes 15 or 16, and that’s it. Then, forget it. Everything goes through the window after that.”
Rose called Lennon. He had already told Lennon about Genus, so Lennon knew she was a promising player, but unpolished.
“Colin never hesitated,” Rose said.
Lennon convinced the St. John’s administration to accept Genus two weeks before the semester started, and defray the $14,500 annual tuition with need-based aid.
“It wasn’t a scenario where we said, ‘Let’s go get a stud soccer player and bring her in.’ It was more that soccer was just a vehicle that opened a door for her,” Lennon said.
Genus spent her entire sophomore season on St. John’s junior varsity. She had natural athletic ability, but she struggled with the structure of U.S. soccer.
Structure was also an obstacle in the classroom. Genus came from the British system, in which homework is sparse and grades depend mainly on final exams. At St. John’s she had assignments every day. She wasn’t used to the pace.
“In Jamaica, it’s slowed down,” she said. “There’s always free time.”
She worked with Lennon on her soccer. She worked with one of her Jamaican teachers, Maati Hetheru, on her studies over the phone. She did extra reading. By the time Genus went home for the summer, she was caught up and confident.
When Genus returned to St. John’s this fall, everything was easier. She knew the soccer team’s routines and became a regular varsity contributor for the Cadets (10-8-4), who have won three WCAC titles in the past five years.
“Athletically, she’s very capable,” Lennon said, “It’s just catching up to the style of play.”
But Lennon would rather talk about Genus’s academics. After some prodding, she admits she got a B in math and A’s in religion and chemistry on her most recent report card.
When talk turns to college, Genus no longer laughs. Now she says she wants to study medicine.
READ MORE ABOUT SIDI HERE