Every time we climb the steps up to the community court in Independencia, we’re not sure what scene is going to meet us.
Usually a couple of girls are sitting on top of the slide or hanging from the monkey bars greeting us with, “Hola profe!” Often there are boys kicking around a soccer ball by the goals. Recently, we were pleasantly surprised to find that turf had been installed on half of the field, which had been completely bare concrete just five days before!
Colegio Luis Vallejos Santoni in Independencia is the only school for which we hold class in a community playground, rather than on the school court. This comes with its challenges. We frequently have to vie for the space, explaining to young boys or members of an adult volleyball league that we have the court reserved from 3:00-4:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have recently had to compete with a community capoeira class that overlaps with our program and takes place in the comisaría that is adjacent to the court.
But holding class in a community space also gives us the unique opportunity to directly interact with the neighborhood. Although claiming our stake to the court sometimes means getting into arguments with kids or parents, more often it means being able to introduce our program to the people of the neighborhood and have the opportunity to explain our mission. Many of the Santoni boys now willingly forfeit their time on the court because they understand and appreciate the importance of giving girls the chance to play. Everyone who comes to use the playground during our class time is greeted with the unfamiliar sight of young girls dominating a space and excelling at sports.
This week, I took a moment to appreciate the beautiful diversity of the scene on the Santoni playground. It was one of those days during which we struggled to defend our half of the court, but this time I was not bothered at all. I witnessed a vibrant community coming together to take full advantage of a shared space. On both sides of the court, separate groups of adults played volleyball, one of them using an upturned soccer goal to hold up their net. A group of eager first-graders promptly ran out of the comisaría to join in their game. In one corner, mothers practiced a traditional dance to perform at the school. In our section of the court, where our girls played mundial, a gaggle of young boys ran in and out of the game while chasing a dog that had snatched their ball.
Danielle and I could have gotten annoyed with how the hectic activity limited the space available to us and our girls, but it was impossible not to smile at the sight of a playground abuzz with energy, filled with people old and young who were just excited to be outside and to be active on a beautiful day. One of the most important aspects of our job is adapting to unexpected circumstances and dealing with any curveballs thrown our away. Luckily, seeing how our program intersects with and ultimately forms a part of the neighborhood in which our girls are raised is a curveball that I am more than willing to field.