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Friday, May 22, 2015

DC SCORES coach's journal, part VIII: Lessons learned from a year of SCORES


Zachary Gomes moved to Washington, DC, last August from Albany, NY, to begin working at DC SCORES as a Coach Across America AmeriCorps volunteer. Zach has a passion for working with youth, and as part of his time with DC SCORES is coaching poetry, service-learning and girls soccer at Lincoln Middle School. Throughout the year Zach will share his experiences, providing insight on the impact of DC SCORES -- through the eyes of a coach.

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Written by Zachary Gomes
Soccer Coordinator

The last game of the spring season is today against the 2014 DC SCORES Capital Cup champions from Raymond Education Campus. It will certainly be a challenge, but the girls have grown so much and I know it will be a great game.

Watching the girls develop as a team over the past year has really been a joy. Things certainly aren’t perfect and there is always room for improvement, but isn’t that the case with everything? That’s one of the great lessons playing on a team can teach — keep working hard, keep improving, keep learning because there are a lot of other individuals and teams out there working just as hard or harder than you.

As a unit the team is stronger than ever. Win or lose, the team is understanding more and more that it is the support of their teammates — through the good and the bad — that is really what makes a team so special.

The eighth-graders have stepped up and taken leadership roles. The older girls lead the stretches, run the drills, invent new drills, suggest new lineups and give the team talks before and after games. They are enjoying every moment of their last season as DC SCORES poet-athletes.

Jossellyn A., who has been a DC SCORES student since the fifth grade at Marie Reed Elementary School and is one of the team captains, is already getting a bit emotional about the end of the season. DC SCORES has been a part of her life for the past four years and clearly means a lot to her. She wants to end the season on a positive note and so does the rest of the squad.

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My first ever DC SCORES game day as a coach at Lincoln was last September. We played E.L. Haynes and we lost 6 to 0. Last Friday we got a chance to play them again and we looked like a completely different team.

E.L. Haynes has a great team, and 5 minutes into the game one of their forwards ripped a shot from outside of the box to put them up by a goal. This would be a test for the girls. How would they react to being down a goal so early in the contest? Would frustration get to them or would they respond as a team and keep going strong?

I reminded them from the sideline that there was a lot of time left in the game, but they looked at me with faces that read ‘we already know that coach.’ They were not going to give up or get down on one another. They rebounded and rebounded fast. Noelia A., a seventh-grader whose skills have continued to get stronger throughout the season (her first season ever playing!), scored a goal 2 minutes later to tie things up.

A couple of minutes later, Jossellyn caught a hold of a ball that was rattling around in the box. She volleyed the ball out of the air and slammed it into the back of the net. It was a pretty goal. We ended up winning the game 5 to 2. It was a well-played game on both sides.

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Our service-learning project has continued to move along. And although the kids have hit a few road blocks while planning for their Community/Family day, they are still going to make it happen.

As the team began organizing the special day for their families and friends, it became clear to me that they just thought they were planning a party. Coach Popsie and I decided to have the team take a step back from the planning process and re-evaluate why they were planning the day in the first place.

This sparked a lot of interesting conversation over what family means, why family is important and how family and friends can help an individual succeed.

The kids strongly rejected the traditional definition of family — “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. A group of people related to one another by blood or marriage.”

Instead they defined family as a “group of people who share a bond and are connected because of experience, values, emotions, culture and a love for one another. They do not need to be related by blood.”

In the end, the kids figured out the main concept of the day by accident. In an invitation letter addressed to their parents and friends, the kids wrote, “Modern technology keeps us from communicating with our families a lot.”

We began to read articles and talk about the negative and positive effects of technology — how technology has affected the concept of family dinner and the socialization process. It was pretty interesting stuff.

The kids have decided that the Family/Community day will focus on spreading the message that quality family time without the distraction of technology is important to create meaningful relationships. We might even ban phones from the event … or for at least a portion of it. We’ll see if it happens. I have faith it will.

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Stay tuned for my final blog about the service-learning project and a recap of the May 30 Jamboree!.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Creating change at Truesdell EC, part VII: Get to know the coaches

During the DC SCORES spring season, each of our 44 teams go through a four-step service-learning process that involves A) Identifying problems that need addressing in their community; B) Researching one issue; C) Implementing a project to make a difference in the community; and D) Reflecting on the impact they made.

This spring, DC SCORES intern Kristen Miano is following the Truesdell Education Campus (elementary school) Trojans as they go through the service-learning process. Read below and watch each week’s video to learn how DC SCORES empowers youth to create change around them. You can also view photos from Truesdell HERE and follow Kristen's Tweets HERE.

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Written by Kristen Miano
Digital Media Intern

Just as DC SCORES soccer coaches help kids build their confidence on the field, DC SCORES writing coaches help kids become confident putting forth their thoughts on paper and then expressing them to others. Writing coaches teach their poet-athletes how their own words and efforts, especially when combined with their peers,' can create real change around them.

Truesdell Education Campus elementary writing coaches Cailin Eisele and Emily Adams are the guidance behind the Trojans’ schoolwide trash pickup service-learning project. Since late March, Cailin and Emily have let the Trojans take charge of the service-learning project, stepping in and providing guidance when necessary.

Cailin, who has been a writing coach for two years, says she loves watching the kids get motivated to work on their writing projects during the fall and spring seasons. Emily, who is just finishing up her first year as a coach, says she likes that DC SCORES gives kids an outlet they may not have otherwise. Both Cailin and Emily are incredible teachers and coaches and have done an amazing job leading the Trojans to success.

Watch the videos to learn more about their DC SCORES stories.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Creating change at Truesdell EC, part VI: Committee work!



During the DC SCORES spring season, each of our 44 teams go through a four-step service-learning process that involves A) Identifying problems that need addressing in their community; B) Researching one issue; C) Implementing a project to make a difference in the community; and D) Reflecting on the impact they made.

This spring, DC SCORES intern Kristen Miano is following the Truesdell Education Campus (elementary school) Trojans as they go through the service-learning process. Read below and watch each week’s video to learn how DC SCORES empowers youth to create change around them. You can also view photos from Truesdell HERE and follow Kristen's Tweets HERE.

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Written by Kristen Miano
Digital Media Intern

The Truesdell Trojans are putting the finishing touches on their committee tasks and looking ahead to their final project.

“I’m excited,” said Ashtyn H. of the advertising committee. “We’re going to encourage people to clean up behind themselves.”

The classroom was a flurry of activity as each committee focused on its own projects. The advertising committee spent their time designing posters and slogans to promote the trash pick up competition.

“I’m want to make a poster of a person picking up trash and putting it in the trash can,” Ashtyn said.

The speaking committee clustered around a computer, typing up the speech they are going to deliver in the coming weeks to convince their fellow students to get on board with the competition.

“We’re writing this letter to let teachers know that we’ve decided to start picking up trash,” Carlos T. of the speaking committee said.

Noticeably absent for most of the meeting was the contest committee, as their task for the day was to count the number of trash cans in each bathroom on every floor. When the committee wasn’t walking up and down flights of stairs shouting how many trash bins they found, they spent their time discussing some final rules and the grand prize for their cleaning competition.

“I’m excited to see which class wins the contest,” said Steve H. of the contest committee. “The prize will probably be a goodie bag with Skittles and Hershey’s.”

The contest is all set to kick off soon and the Trojans are getting pumped to make their school a better place. After all their hard work, the competition is bound to not only create a great change at Truesdell Elementary, but also united the student body as the spring semester comes to a close.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Creating change at Truesdell EC, part V: Working in committees



During the DC SCORES spring season, each of our 44 teams go through a four-step service-learning process that involves A) Identifying problems that need addressing in their community; B) Researching one issue; C) Implementing a project to make a difference in the community; and D) Reflecting on the impact they made.

This spring, DC SCORES intern Kristen Miano is following the Truesdell Education Campus (elementary school) Trojans as they go through the service-learning process. Read below and watch each week’s video to learn how DC SCORES empowers youth to create change around them. You can also view photos from Truesdell HERE and follow Kristen's Tweets HERE.

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Written by Kristen Miano 
Digital Media Intern

With committees assigned and goals in mind, the Truesdell Trojans last week came together to hammer out the details of their trash pick up competition. As each committee clustered together around tables, the classroom was abuzz with ideas and brainstorming.

“We’re the contest committee,” said Robin C., age 10, “and we’re working on the rules for the contest that we’re going to have and deciding who is going to participate.”

The contest committee is tasked with not only designing the rules for the competition, but also deciding how long the competition will run for, how the team will decide the winner, and what the final prize will be.

Blessing T. of the advertising committee said her group is in charge of developing a plan to spread the word about the competition and reminding everyone to participate by picking up trash.

“We have to make a poster of people picking up trash,” Blessing said. “And we’re going to write a slogan so that people remember that when they throw trash, they should pick it up.”

The permission committee has already accomplished one of their goals —  getting permission from Truesdell principal Mary Ann Stinson to host the contest. Now, they are working on their strategies to get permission from individual classrooms and teachers to work with them to get the school cleaned up.

The final committee, the speaking committee, has a singular but tough goal — to write the speech that will explain what the competition is and why the team is holding it. The speaking committee will also deliver this speech in classrooms throughout the school, so they are busy practicing their public speaking skills as well.

With just five weeks before the end of the DC SCORES session, the Trojans still have a lot of work to do but are making great strides. The kids are getting excited to hold the competition and can see the completion of the project's goal at the end of the tunnel!

Monday, May 4, 2015

National Poetry SLAM! diary: Three days in New York City!


DC SCORES Writing Coordinator Rachel Klepper accompanied poetry stars Jency M. and Leron B. on their trip to New York City for a weekend in the Big Apple with 25 other young poet-athletes culminating with the 9th Annual America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!. Read below for Rachel's recap of the experience and view the photo album HERE. Watch any part of the SLAM! in the embedded video above or by clicking HERE

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Written by Rachel Klepper
Writing Coordinator

Day 1, April 11 -- On the Train to New York
Our journey to New York City began on Saturday morning when I met Jency and Leron at Union Station. We picked out some snacks and headed to the boarding area. Before we even made it to the train, the questions started: How long is the train ride? What will we do in New York? Will the buildings be really tall? This was both poets’ first trip to New York City, so they were full of questions and excitement.

On the train, Leron and Jency got to know one another and quickly became friends. They talked, watched movies, and eagerly awaited our arrival in New York. Finally, we stopped at Penn Station and made our way outside for their first glimpse of the city.

First we headed to the hotel to meet up with America SCORES staff and leave our suitcases. We got settled in quickly because Leron and Jency were impatient to explore! We had a few hours on our own before dinner since other cities' poets were still arriving from the airport. When I had first met the two poets back in DC, I asked them what they most wanted to see in New York. After hearing what they were interested in, I planned to use the time for two iconic New York activities: pizza and a visit to Times Square.

Both stops were a big success. We found an award-winning pizza store, where we all got enormous, cheesy slices. They were delicious! Then we walked through the crowded streets and soon emerged in the middle of Times Square. Jency and Leron’s eyes lit up as they saw the bright billboards, tall skyscrapers, and tempting stores all around them. It was a perfect introduction to the city.

When we returned to the hotel, it was time for dinner and meeting the 25 other poets who would be joining them for the weekend. Leron and Jency each settled in at a table with their three roommates and took part in a fun bingo icebreaker. After that the hard work began. They had their first performance workshop, where they began to understand how they would be preparing for Monday’s performance.

Day 2, April 12 -- Empire State Building!
Sunday morning started with a continuation of the Poetry SLAM! rehearsal. Each of the poets had a chance to practice the poem that they would perform on Monday night. Leron and Jency were both performing pieces that had won them Shine Awards at the DC SCORES Poetry Slam! in December, so they were experts at their poems. However, they still had lots to learn from their talented peers, and paid careful attention as Coach Tova gave them advice on their voice and movement.

After lunch, it was time for an adventure to the top of the Empire State Building! We divided up into groups by room, so I traveled with Jency and her three new friends from Milwaukee, Cleveland and Portland. We waited in line to go up two elevators to the top, and when we got there we were greeted by a spectacular view and perfect weather. The girls loved taking pictures and searching for landmarks - they even found the Statue of Liberty!

Although everyone was tired by the time we returned to our room, we could only take a short break because we needed to get ready for dinner. Our Sunday dinner took place at the Marriott in Times Square, so we got dressed up and quickly walked the twenty minutes to the hotel. The poets felt so important in the gorgeous hotel, eating from the amazing buffet -- they especially loved selecting their desserts! Some poets had family members join them. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the hard work and dedication the poets and their communities put into writing poetry and getting ready for the SLAM!.

Despite their busy day and a long walk back to the hotel, the poets were not ready to sleep. They were filled with anticipation for what Monday would bring. Since it was the final night before the performance, we got to participate in an America SCORES tradition: the SLAM! Pajama Party. The poets in our room performed their poems for one another in a relaxed, friendly environment, while snacking on popcorn, playing music, and trying on their new NYC souvenirs.

Day 3, April 13 -- SLAM! TIME



Monday was the day of the performance, but there was still a lot of work to do! After breakfast, the poets gathered for more rehearsing. They only had a few hours to learn the group poem that would open the show. Each poet had written an original line that they memorized in addition to the chorus. The most important part, however, was learning to recite the poem in unison and to accompany it with choreography.

During this rehearsal, the team really came together. They learned to listen to one another and to each ensure that they were doing their part to make sure the piece went smoothly.

Then it was on to Central Park, another New York spot Jency and Leron had heard about from movies and TV shows. They sat outside in the sun and ate sandwiches, and then participated in small soccer games. It was a great way for everyone to relax and have fun before the big night.

We went straight from the park to the venue for the SLAM!, the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square. The performance would be at the very top of the skyscraper! When we arrived, the poets did a dress rehearsal on stage. Then they had some time to hang out and change into their special T-shirts. Everyone was feeling pretty nervous, but they were encouraged because they knew that they would all be on stage together.

The time passed so quickly that the poets had just barely finished their pizza dinner when they were led upstairs and backstage. They began with their group poem, chanting in strong voices: “Louder than thunder my voice will be heard. I breathe my dreams alive, I CAN change the world!”

After that, each of the 25 poet-athletes recited their poem. Emcee Charity Blackwell -- a former DC SCORES staff member and coach -- helped the poets feel comfortable and happy on stage. Jency was one of the first poets to perform her poem about bullying. She boldly asked the sell-out audience, “Do you have the courage to go against bullying? and pointed straight to the middle of the room, encouraging all of us to take a stand for what we believe in. Later, it was Leron’s turn. He confidently took the microphone out of its stand to walk across the stage as he spoke, reciting a meaningful poem about the price of freedom.

During the hour-long SLAM!, the poets spoke about their lives, their hopes, and dreams. The poems ranged from funny to serious, but they all captured the audience's attention and encouraged us to see the depth and promise of these children's thoughts. After the last performance, the poets exited the stage, wearing sunglasses and huge smiles on their faces. They were so proud of what they had accomplished and enjoyed meeting their fans and signing programs -- a very celebratory end to the weekend.

Soon we returned to the hotel, and for the first time all weekend the girls quickly fell asleep. They were exhausted from the long day and needed to get up early on Tuesday to pack up and head home.

Day 4, April 14 -- Heading home
The next morning I brought Leron and Jency to the train and we settled into our seats. They were both so happy to have experienced New York City, made new friends, and to be part of a new community of poets. They realized that poetry is now an important part of who they are and how they express themselves. They returned to school more confident and proud to be themselves, and with wonderful stories of their adventures in the Big Apple.

It was a weekend that they will never forget.

Friday, May 1, 2015

DC SCORES coach's journal, Part VII: A visit to Georgetown


Zachary Gomes moved to Washington, DC, last August from Albany, NY, to begin working at DC SCORES as a Coach Across America AmeriCorps volunteer. Zach has a passion for working with youth, and as part of his time with DC SCORES is coaching poetry, service-learning and girls soccer at Lincoln Middle School. Throughout the year Zach will share his experiences, providing insight on the impact of DC SCORES -- through the eyes of a coach.

View the full photo album from Lincoln's visit to Georgetown on Flickr HERE

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Written by Zachary Gomes
Soccer Coordinator

This past Tuesday, some of the Lincoln Knights, Coach Popsie (the boys coach) and I were lucky enough to visit Georgetown University. One of DC SCORES’ amazing interns, Liselot - a student-athlete at Georgetown herself – organized a fun-filled afternoon for the kids complete with a tour of the campus and a soccer clinic run by some of the players from the men’s and women’s varsity soccer teams … and I almost forgot ... it all ended with lots of pizza!

The kids, Coach Popsie and I left school in Columbia Heights at around 3 pm and took a city bus to Dupont Circle. From the circle, we hopped onto a commuter bus that brought us right to the heart of Georgetown’s campus. Liselot and her friend Daphne, who plays on the women’s varsity soccer team, were waiting for us when we arrived. And so the tour began.


Liselot asked the kids if any of them had ever been to Georgetown. To every adult’s surprise, almost all the kids had! I panicked a bit. In my head, I was sure the kids that had already been here would get bored quick and start asking the dreaded question, “Is this almost over?? Can we go home now??”

But I was mistaken, as Liselot’s tour proved to be a lot cooler than the last one the kids had taken. Liselot was full of interesting facts and stories about Georgetown’s campus and history. She showed the kids the varsity soccer field and explained how Messi had practiced on it a few weeks ago while the Argentine national team prepared for a game in DC against El Salvador.

She brought the kids into Healy Hall, a building which closely resembles something out of either the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter books and is one of the oldest buildings on campus. She showed the kids a famous step that has been stood on for commencement ceremonies or speeches by 14 presidents spanning George Washington to President Obama.

By the end of the tour, all of the middle school kids knew what the word sophomore meant and had received an in-depth view of a student’s life on campus. But the day wasn’t over yet.

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Liselot led the group to Georgetown’s multi-purpose field. Now it was time to have some real fun! As the kids walked out onto the huge turf surface in the middle of Georgetown’s campus, they were met by five women and two men from the Georgetown varsity soccer program.

The Georgetown players were great and really made the kids feel comfortable from the beginning. Austin Martz, a senior at Georgetown, led the kids in a warm up session and got them stretched out. After splitting up into two teams and doing some team chats, the scrimmaging began.

Halfway through the scrimmage, the kids took a quick break and partook in a shooting drill. Coach Popsie played keeper and was pretty hard to score on. I think Gabriel T., a seventh-grader, was the only one to score. After soccer, everyone sat in the stands and ate pizza together. The kids asked the Georgetown players questions.

“How hard did you have to practice to get on the team?”

“What’s the hardest thing about playing sports in college?”

“What do you guys eat?”

“Who’s your favorite soccer player?”

The Georgetown student-athletes were super friendly and answered all the questions really well. Their answers summed up? Time-management and hard work are the ingredients to making it as a college athlete. After kids consumed the last few morsels of pizza, we headed back to the bus. It had been a wonderful afternoon. Good conversation, soccer and food. No one could ask for anything more. The kids thanked the players and Liselot and we headed back up to the Heights of Columbia and home.

I want to thank Liselot and everyone at Georgetown University who made this visit possible. Everyone was welcoming and the kids had a blast. These kinds of experiences can really stick with a child. Thank you!