Inside a nondescript building on the corner of East Main Street and Avocado Boulevard in El Cajon, dozens upon dozens of shiny porcelain soccer balls sit on desktops and counters. It’s hard to find a level surface that isn’t playing host to a small soccer ball-shaped vase.
Instead of holding flowers, each holds writing utensils. It almost looks like an army of No.2 pencils and pens have punctured each little ball.

Welcome to Yalla.

The word means “Let’s Go!” in Arabic, and the concept is deceptively simple: Use an existing passion to inspire learning in students. Yalla’s young participants are composed entirely of refugees and immigrants.

“We use soccer as a hook to entice children to come in and get academic,” admits Sarah Cooper, the organization’s interim executive director. “The kids come in, and they want to play soccer.”

By Erin Siegal McIntyre