Adopt-A-Country Program Builds Roots Within the Community
Since 2011, USA Sevens has collaborated with the Clark Country School District (CCSD) Office of Community Partnership (Office) to bring the Adopt A Country program (Program) to students living in the Las Vegas Valley. The program pairs the sixteen teams and nations represented in the HSBC Sevens World Series Tournament Las Vegas stop with a local school. Adopt A Country began as an ambassadorship program in an effort to introduce international geography, history, culture, and language into a curriculum in a special hands-on manner. Each school works within district guidelines to implement the classroom curriculum. Additionally, students are invited to participate in a T-shirt contest and a critical thinking essay comparing and contrasting the student’s life to day in the life of a student from the adopted country. Winners of the T-shirt contest have their drawings turned into shirts, and the winners of the essay contest carry the national flag for their team at the Parade of Nations.
In the days leading up to the tournament, the team attends a pep assembly at the school where the students demonstrate their newfound knowledge, welcome the team to Las Vegas, and cheer for the team. The short interactions are packed with singing, games, reading essays, demonstrations, and a great deal of admiration and support for the team. USA Sevens consistently receives positive feed back that teams appreciate the time and energy the schools have taken to support them, and it the players feel welcome in Las Vegas.
The culmination of Adopt A Country comes when the students from the schools board a bus to attend matches at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday to cheer for their team and watch world-class sevens rugby. This field trip is more than just attending a sporting event to many kids; it is an opportunity to experience something they may not ever have a chance to know. Some kids have never seen so many people in one place cheering together. In one instance USA Sevens received a thank you note from a student who had never been on the freeway.
While the main focus of the partnership is curriculum based, a number of activities have sprouted from the program. Teachers have reached out to schools in other countries and forged pen pal and Skype relationships between the sets of students. The Josh Stevens Foundation, a local non-profit organization has elected to use rugby’s ethos of fair play and sportsmanship to help spread its message to “Be Kind” in sports. Other local non-profits have expressed interest in working with Adopt A Country as well.
Last fall USA Sevens sponsored a rugby clinic taught by USA Rugby certified instructors to teach the game, and twenty-two physical education teachers from CCSD attended. That introduction led to the introduction of rugby curriculum at some of the schools in the same year. Three Adopt A Country schools had enough students participating in the after-school rugby program, that the schools coordinated a small tournament.
This Partnership works uniquely well in Las Vegas because CCSD is a relatively young but very large school district. As the fifth largest school district in the United States, CCSD serves over three hundred thousand students across countless demographics. Although the program necessitates some management, the Office’s structure allows the Program to reach the schools and students relatively efficiently with one contact decision-maker and a district-wide communication system. The program would be much more challenging in a community where schools are broken up into smaller districts, each with its own rules, requirements, and decision makers.
CCSD exploded in size during the last twenty years of unprecedented population growth in the Las Vegas area. As new schools were built, some were named after local business leaders and philanthropists who reside in the area still today. A few of the Adopt A Country namesakes have been huge community supports of the Adopt A Country program. Steve Schorr, former Las Vegas TV Anchor, Vice President of Public Affairs for Cox Communications, and current Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at the Las Vegas Review Journal, is the namesake for Steve Schorr Elementary School, which has hosted Austrailia and Fiji in the Adopt A Country Program.
Through the addition of a local community outreach director last fall, USA Sevens has been able to establish the relationships to more fully utilize this partnership, not only in outreach efforts, but to identify potential sponsorship targets and ticket sale avenues.
The Adopt A Country program has become a vital part of the USA Sevens Las Vegas event. This program has offered remarkable opportunities for the students and schools of Clark Country. Each year schools stay on a wait list to become involved the next year. And while the Program is popular and exciting in 2014, it still has amazing opportunities to become even better.