The best of the best from all over the country have been scouted down. These elite soccer players under the age of 17, who are a part of the U.S. Soccer’s Full-Time Residency Program, train by playing top-notch international opponents and attend Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School. Goal: To win the U-17 World Cup, to be held in Mexico in the summer.
U-17 Residency Program Coordinator Sam Pugsley said that the players of the U-17 Men’s National soccer team are invited to live, train and go to school in Bradenton.
“The U.S. Soccer U-17 Residency Program is the top level of soccer in the country for players under the age of 17. The culmination of their stay is a trip to the U-17 World Cup held every two years, if the team qualifies,” he said.
Saint Stephen’s Upper School Director Dr. Randy Watts said that this year, the U.S. Soccer Organization approached Saint Stephen’s to see if the school would consider hosting this team, given their intense training and travel schedule. “It became clear that U.S. Soccer needed an environment where they knew the academics were going to meet the needs of the kids. We saw this as an opportunity to create something really unique but have it at the same quality of Saint Stephen’s,” Watts said.
According to Head of School Jan Pullen, Saint Stephen’s intends to provide the U-17 team with the academic course work that meets their academic needs to prepare them for their future. “If we can instill in them a love of learning, which is part of our school’s mission, then we will have done our job in preparing them to return to their high school,” Pullen said. “Though it’s a different self-contained program, it’s still the quality of the program we offer with caring teachers.”
U-17 Program Director and Middle School Director Ann Wolcott said that a special faculty has been hired to be the group’s teachers. “Since about half of these students travel to play soccer matches around the world throughout the school year, the faculty works to accommodate their needs,” Wolcott said. “It’s really a nice team of teachers working together.”
The curriculum the teachers follow is working well for the boys, Wolcott said. “We’ve gotten lots of comments from the families of these boys who are very appreciative of what we’re doing here, and U.S. Soccer is very supportive.”
For these students, the new faculty has instituted a form of online school because they are traveling so often for games, said U-17 English teacher Ellen Orr. “This way, when they come back (from their trips), they are truly with us and not behind in any of their classes.”
Watts acknowledged the challenge of keeping the academic process going whether the students are traveling or not. “We didn’t want to create all online classes, but there is a way to do a hybrid. This means that you have some classroom instruction, and then you can give assignments that can be completed remotely.”
The teachers use a program called Schoology, which is used to allow teachers to upload lectures and assignments onto this program. U-17 history teacher Ted Allen said that this allows the students to be linked with Saint Stephen’s at all times. “While the student is traveling, he is able to receive and complete the same work and keep up to date with the students at the school,” he said.
In regard to the difficulty of classes, U-17 science teacher Irene Haakman said that the students are still held to very high standards and are expected to cover all the material they would have covered if in their home schools.
U-17 teacher Rob Moran said to accommodate the team’s rigorous training schedule, a modified block schedule has been adopted. “Within this schedule, we are offering, in my opinion, a significant choice of core class that would be fitting for sophomores and juniors in high school,” he said.
With their busy schedules, these boys have little time to participate in school activities, Watts said. “We organize activities for the boys, when their schedules allow, but with training, travel and games, they have little time.”
To integrate the students into the Saint Stephen’s community, the U-17 players have been introduced to the Upper School students and have attended some of the school’s athletic games. Wolcott also said that some students and faculty have watched them at their games at IMG. “Just the knowledge that they are here, and that they are doing something that they are very passionate about in their sport’s life is of interest to our students.”
Wolcott said that this has been a very exciting program for the school to take on. “We’re so glad we undertook it and that it is working well,” she said. “These boys are really in a very unique situation. This is something that they have worked to achieve to throughout their soccer years. The competition is tough, but the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the World Cup is worth it. We are happy to have them at Saint Stephen’s.”