A journey toward college starts in D.C.
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.