Teen Coach Wins Jefferson Award for “Includitude” Club

(Photo – Lauren Marquez is third from the left)

“If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.” – Maya Angelou

Success is desired by many. However, the greatest success is not measured by what an individual can achieve but by how much his or her care changes someone else’s life. This is the vision Lauren Marquez grew up with starting from an early age. As she remembers, “In everything I did, my parents always gave me a vision – they taught me to see the bigger picture: Love. When I was about four years old and my sister was just born, I remember my dad having me look at her and promise that I would protect her. That was also the year I first went to E-soccer.”

Since that time, Lauren and her younger siblings have been going to E-soccer. Although she admittedly didn’t enjoy serving at first, wishing instead to watch Saturday morning cartoons, she was often reminded by her dad, “We don’t go to E-soccer for ourselves. We go to help and care for others.” As Lauren grew to become a coach at E-Soccer, she not only became closer to her siblings but to the many kids and families at E-Soccer. “I grew to love E-Soccer because of the smiles I could put on people’s faces, not because of scoring goals or getting medals. It was because of the friendships I experienced and lives I saw being changed,” Lauren recalls.

Starting from those early years, Lauren’s friends on the E-soccer field not only had special needs but a special place in her heart that would define her impact in high school. Once she began school at Lincoln High in San Francisco, she developed new friendships and met many peers with special needs. She was compelled to start a club called “Includitude”, with the ethos of including every student both typical and those with special needs. Lauren started it to promote building friendships among her friends both typical and those with special needs, such as the ones she experienced and cherished at E-Soccer. Includitude became the first inclusive club for students at any high school in the San Francisco Unified School District.

However, Includitude wasn’t met with enthusiasm at first in her freshman year. “For the first two years, I was the only one in general education who came consistently. Eventually I struggled with doubts, timidly advertising Includitude to my peers for fear of looking foolish. Yet I refused to give up on the vision I grew up with caring for others.”

By her junior year, Lauren became a Teacher’s Assistant for one of the special education classes. It was there that she rekindled the passion she first had in the early E-Soccer years for friends with special needs. It was a turning point not only for her, but also for Includitude! “I met so many amazing people as a TA, and E-Soccer helped me understand their special needs and the value of friendships. We now share many memories, special handshakes, inside jokes, and heart-to-heart conversations. Simply continuing to focus on giving in friendships has led me to wanting to devote my life to them.”

Soon the Includitude Club meet-ups became the weekly highlight for many on campus, changing the culture not only for students with special needs but also the rest of the student body at Lincoln High School. Lauren’s passion became contagious, as players from the Lincoln High football team along with other student leaders became regulars at the club. This created an unprecedented inclusive environment on campus across all grades.

It’s no wonder why a teacher recently nominated Lauren for the Jefferson Award for her passion and work to change not only the lives of students, but the entire school culture. Although Lauren was surprised, many of her peers were not at all surprised on the day CBS News came to Lincoln High School to award Lauren the Jefferson Award for her work with Includitude.

This week she is also receiving another unexpected award – the Advocates Worthy of Excellence (AWE) Award – from the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education (CAC). This committee advocates for effective SFUSD special education programs and services and advises the Board of Education on priorities in special education.

Today, Lauren is a senior at Lincoln High, aspiring to become an occupational therapist specializing in assistive technology. Her dream is to one day return to the SF Unified School District to provide students having special needs with the tools they need to thrive and build friendships. She will be graduating this June and enrolling at Stanford University in the fall.

The impact of her care has now even reached the collegiate level. Stanford University wrote a handwritten note on her acceptance letter after reviewing what a high school teacher shared about Lauren:

“‘What makes our school different is that we have Lauren Marquez’. This is a note that one of your teachers wrote. After learning about your interests, your work with Includitude, and the great familial spirit that you bring to your community, I couldn’t agree more. I hope that you will join us at Stanford in the fall, and that I get to say the same thing about our school as your teacher said about your high school.”

When asked if Lauren could have ever imagined how those Saturday mornings with her family on the soccer field as a little girl would lead to the impact we see today, she simply replies, “It all started with my parents giving a four year old a view of her role in the world. Through E-soccer, I was able to care and realize the impact I could have on others and on those needing a voice.” From those countless Saturdays on a soccer field to a changed high school culture of inclusion, Lauren Marquez understands what true success is and what she is destined for – “to care for somebody else.”