Exchange programs that give American high school students the opportunity to study for a year in another country are quite common. But it is rare to find American high schools that have the resources to bring international students to the U.S. on full, multi-year scholarships based on need.
Episcopal High School outside Washington D.C. is an exception. During the past several years, the private boarding school has brought a number of students from African countries to study there with great success. The African students have succeeded in the classroom and on the playing field.
High school basketball is often full of thrills. This evening, Episcopal High School is hosting Saint Albans. Both are private schools in the Washington D.C. area. But not all of the players in this game are American. Two are from Africa.
Jim Fitzpatrick has been the basketball coach and associate director of admissions at Episcopal High School for the past six years.
“My goal at the time six years ago was to open doors a little bit. Not only for the school, but for student athletes," explained Fitzpatrick. "And I was very fortunate that I was presented with the opportunity to find some young men from Africa.”
Sadiq Abubakar, a senior, is one of them. Raised in a small village in Northern Nigeria, Sadiq has known few luxuries in life. Although he is a good basketball player and a hard working student, getting a high quality education was just a dream. Then, he met a recruiter who told him about Episcopal. And the process began to bring him to the U.S. to attend school.
“I never thought it was going to happen actually, because I always believed that in Nigeria you have to know people, to get such opportunities,” said Abubakar.
Coach Fitzpatrick says having international kids at the school has been a win-win situation. For Episcopal, a boarding school with a strong academic reputation, it not only means getting good athletes, but getting kids who bring cultural diversity to campus life. For Sadiq, it is the opportunity to get the kind of education he could not afford in Nigeria, and the experience of living in another country.
"Every day I feel thankful to god that I got a chance to come to a place like this," added Abubakar. "Because I just know that I love Nigeria. Nigeria is where I grew up with my family. But coming to a place where I do not have to pay school fees, I just have to keep my head straight and work hard, study hard, and I get virtually everything that I need, it builds me to be successful. "
Coach Fitzpatrick says Abubakar has worked hard for his success.
“I am proud to say he is a 93-average student on a 100-point scale here, which is quite impressive," said Fitzpatrick. "He is constantly on what we call our high-list, which is our honor role here.”
Abubakar says when he first came to Episcopal, basketball was foremost in his mind. He had a dream of one day playing in the NBA. Soon, he learned academics were the better way to ensure success in life.
"I am fortunate enough to work around, to have people that are much older than myself, who have played professionally, who have gone to school. And every day all they tell me without academics, basketball is not going to take me anywhere," said Abubakar.
Several big-name basketball universities have expressed interest in Sadiq. But he prefers smaller schools that have more of an academic focus. Although he has not accepted yet, Hamilton College, a small liberal arts school, has offered him a scholarship.
“My coach always told me that if I could get my grades right all the time, behave myself and play basketball, that I would be fine," recalled Abubakar. "It worked out exactly the way he said. My grades are OK and I got accepted to college.”
Coach Fitzpatrick says taking these kids to the next level was always part of his motivation for bringing them to Episcopal.
“Part of bringing these students over here from Africa is, you cannot just think about high school," noted Fitzpatrick. "We also want to say, 'how can we get these kids to universities?'"
Episcopal will go on to win their conference championship for the season. Sadiq is excited about what the future will bring. He says, one day, with college degree in hand, he may return to Nigeria. And in some way help the people of his country realize their dreams.