This story was submitted as a nomination to the Reader’s Digest “Top 50 Nicest Places in America” contest: a crowd-sourced effort to uncover nooks where people are still kind and respectful in an era of cultural and political divides. Be sure and vote for which story you think should be nominated as the Nicest Place by visiting the Reader’s Digest website.

Photo by the Fugees Academy

This non-traditional school uses soccer to help refugees learn, and it has a 100% college acceptance rate.

In 2019, every single student of the graduating class at the Fugees Academy in Clarkston, Georgia, was accepted into college, and every single one of them was the first in their family to make it past middle school.

It’s a point of pride for the few schools that manage it. For Fugees, it’s extra impressive given the struggles faced by some of its students.

Established in 2004, the school is uniquely designed to help refugee children thrive. Founder Luma Mufleh, who fled her native Jordan and was given political asylum in the United States in 1999, got the idea when she stumbled upon some boys playing street soccer. She joined their game, and soon the boys—refugees from Liberia, Sudan, and Afghanistan—opened up with their stories. They had fled the horrors of war and famine and were struggling in America, where they weren’t getting the attention they needed to succeed in school.

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Mufleh asked herself what she would do if these were her kids. “What’s really awesome about this country is that you can build solutions to problems,” she says.

So she sought out the students with the greatest academic need and used soccer as a way in. At Fugees, all 90 kids play soccer every day; they read about soccer; they write papers comparing and contrasting the styles of Messi and Ronaldo. Each pupil reads his or her report card to the entire school, and if a grade is slipping, the student body must decide how they, together, will get that grade back up.

Photo by Fugees Academy

“We want them to see that there’s no shame in struggling,” Mufleh says. “We’re going to help you no matter what.”

One Iraqi pupil, who survived kidnapping, bombing, and other hardships, recently wrote a brief biographical essay reading: “I attend a small private school called the Fugees Academy—and I’m sad when we get days off during snowstorms and holiday breaks.”

Fugees recently opened a second school, in Ohio, with a third one soon to follow.

Reprinted with permission from Reader’s Digest. To learn more about GNN’s part in searching for the Top 10 Nicest Places, click here.

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