A real deal Wellington High School signs up a partnership with Real Madrid

Wellington High School prinicpal Don Harvey, Real Madrid Foundation project manager Inigo Arenillas and Victoria Ugarte
Wellington High School prinicpal Don Harvey, Real Madrid Foundation project manager Inigo Arenillas and Victoria Ugarte

Backed by the world's number one team, Wellington High School has become the first school in Australia to form a unique partnership with the Real Madrid Foundation.

Many would regard this as a national coup.

Known internationally as the charitable face of Real Madrid (one of the world's biggest teams and sporting brands), the foundation works with schools internationally to foster positive values and boost school attendance and academic achievement through the sport for which it is famous: football (or soccer).

Over the years, their methodology has been tested and developed globally, producing encouraging results and now Wellington High School is where the research begins in Australia.

This program could be groundbreaking, in which case the Department of Education and Training will be watching very closely.

"Principals are constantly looking at ways to increase attendance. This is another tool, but it is a pretty big one and it will have a big impact," principal Don Harvey said.

The program begins mid-July when technical director David Gill arrives to take the teachers through a coaching workshop. Students will also visit Melbourne to watch Real Madrid play and meet the team.

The Real Madrid Foundation has 250 academies in 70 countries, but it was when they were looking to extend to Australia that they came up against a brick wall.

For two years collaborator Victoria Ugarte approached schools and institutions in Australia, but for some reason even some of the top schools in Sydney weren't interested.

"I was embarrassed, they were only interested in AFL, not soccer. They were not seeing the vision and the big picture. It was exasperating," she said.

Then, through a family friend she got in touch with Wellington High School principal Don Harvey.

"It has been wonderful," she said.

"Little Wellington is very special; this community is very special because out of everyone we tried they were the first to say 'yes'."

It is an ongoing partnership and Mr Harvey is keen to see the data produced over the next few years, especially after the success of the school's links with NASCA (the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy) which saw positive results around attendance rates and academic performance.

Sport is not the main objective, but through the game of football (and some top tips from the very best) the Real Madrid Foundation expects to change lives through the values it instils.

International project manager Inigo Arenillas says there is a beauty to its simplicity.

"Football is something that is very nice. Everyone is concerned about football with the World Cup. It is a very accessible, common sport for anybody and it is not a luxury or an elitist sport," he said.

"We are focusing on educational values to foster the participation of girls, young people or any kid with a disadvantage because we consider sport to be an extra motivation for boys and girls to improve academic results."

Add a name like Real Madrid to the equation, and he expects students to develop values of fairness, equality and a respect for the rules, just like their idols Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale.

Mr Harvey is also collaborating with Wellington Public School and expects results to extend beyond the field and into the community.

"Success breeds success," Mr Harvey said.

"If they find success in sport they will find success in other areas."

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