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Friday, November 27, 2015

Perspectives from Powell, Part V: Countdown to the Slam!

The Powell Panthers will once again take the stage at Columbia Heights Education Campus on Dec. 2. 
This fall, Writing Coordinator Mira Smith is coaching writing at Powell Elementary School in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, DC. The Powell Panthers love soccer, but are also learning how to express their feelings about the beautiful game -- and much more -- through the poetry aspect of DC SCORES. Follow along as Mira takes us on a journey, through her words and those of her poet-athletes, leading up to the Poetry Slam! December 2.


Written by Mira Smith
Writing Coordinator

The intensity, excitement and nerves are building for the Powell Power Panthers and in just one week we will add our final touches for the Poetry Slam!.

As their coach, I am unbelievably proud of the team and the amount of progress they have made individually and as a whole. I can only imagine how the poet-athletes feel given the fact that I seem to develop a stomach ache every time I realize just how little time there is before the Slam!.

These weeks, we focus on editing poems, assigning lines, and creating basic group choreography. Our first group poem is a chance for students to share fun and important facts about themselves with the audience. Together, we come up with the title “Now You Know Us” along with a clapping call-and-response rhythm.

During our first session of the week, we give any student who is interested in performing his or her individual poem at the Slam! an opportunity to recite it for the rest of the team. Coach Matt gives the group some quick pointers on stance, eye contact and emotion before their mini-performance.

Franklin recites a poem titled “They Tease Me” about standing up to bullies on the soccer field. Katie, recognizing her connection to her heritage, recites a poem in Spanish titled “Hermanos.” She promises to translate it to English for me soon! In America’s poem titled “Lone Wolf,” she compares her own character traits to those of a wolf. Finally, Rosio’s “Bravery” is a rap about her experiences reading poetry.

The students vote for their favorite piece and I am excited to announce that Rosio will be performing “Bravery” on stage Dec. 2 at Columbia Heights Education Campus.

For the remainder of the sessions, we tirelessly practice the group poems. At this point, about half of the poet-athletes have their lines fully memorized and some poets even create hand motions to go along.

In hopes of encouraging the team to memorize the poems, for Thanksgiving break I task each individual poet athlete to recite their lines to as many people as possible and teach the choruses to at least two people. Some team members even suggest meeting up over break to practice their lines.

While we are not yet performance ready, the Slam! is quickly approaching and we cannot wait to show everyone all of our hard work!


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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

First-time Capital Cup victors Capital City and Raymond relish the journey

(View the full Capital Cup album on Flickr)

Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

In recent weeks, even as the weather has gotten chillier, more and more students at Capital City Public Charter School have arrived earlier in the morning before school.

Braving the cold, members of the schools' soccer teams have taken to the new mini pitch built by the U.S. Soccer Foundation to practice — on their own, in addition to their usual after-school practices with DC SCORES.

About 2 miles south of CCPCS at Raymond Education Campus, members of the boys soccer team waited anxiously on practice days to hit the field together. Their leader David Petersen even said something you don't often hear from coaches.

"They practice so hard against each other," Petersen said. "I have to tell them to scale it back a little bit."

At both CCPCS and Raymond, soccer is an embedded strength of the school community. On Tuesday evening, both schools brought out large throngs of fans to watch the CCPCS girls and Raymond boys win their first Capital Cup middle school championships in thrilling fashion.

The CCPCS girls relied on the communication of their star forwards Precious and Tatiana to hold on for an exciting 2-1 victory over Lincoln Middle School. The Raymond boys outlasted Lincoln on penalty kicks to conclude a tremendous fall middle school season.

And across the city, Paul Public Charter School beat Kelly Miller Middle School in an equally competitive co-ed championship game.


Precious and Tatiana, seventh-graders, have been playing together for several years. So it's no wonder that the pair of forwards communicates well on the field. What impresses one of their coaches, Claudia Rojas, the most is how they verbally also ensure their teammates are in the right positions on the field to be successful.

"They talk, they organize the rest of the team," said Rojas, now in her fourth season coaching. "They've been playing together, they've been working together since way before I met them."

Precious laced a beautiful shot from deep on the right right side into the upper left corner of the net for a 1-0 lead against Lincoln. After the Knights answered to tie up the score, that communication paid off when Precious found Tatiana on a deep ball down the right side for the game-winning goal.

After the final whistle blew, you couldn't remove the smiles from the faces of the CCPCS poet-athletes.

"They're just so proud of being a soccer player, being a school team," Rojas said. "Soccer is a big deal in Capital City."


The boys game was, simply, great soccer. Petersen marveled at how well Lincoln — winners of three of the last four Capital Cup boys titles — passed the ball and spread the field, a testament to their longtime coach Popsie Lewis. 

The game is a neighborhood rivalry, with the schools less than a mile apart. Most of the kids know each other and play pick-up games outside of DC SCORES. A few weeks before the game, Raymond scored two late goals to forge a tie with Lincoln that helped them get into the playoffs.

And again, this one came down to the wire — a first-half Raymond goal equaled by Lincoln in the second half. Ultimately, penalty kicks decided a game that both teams deserved to win.

"We're really excited," Petersen said afterward. "The kids came a long way. We lost a lot of eighth-graders last year, so it was cool to see their progress all year. They got a lot better."

After the final kick, Raymond parents, teachers and others from the community rushed the field to celebrate with the kids — one last reminder of just how much soccer and DC SCORES mean to these communities. 

"We have great fans," Petersen said. "They come for the away games during the regular season, they bring signs, make posters. It's a fun atmosphere, big soccer atmosphere."

Thanks to all the middle school coaches, parents and communities for another great fall soccer season. We'll see you at the Poetry Slam! Dec. 2-3

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Soccer season starring the Seaton Stingers, Part IV: Learning positions

Do you remember your first time on a team? Learning how to play a sport? DC SCORES intern Luiza Kieffer is spending this fall with the Seaton Elementary School Stingers, documenting the team’s progress on a weekly basis as Coach Blake teacher the kids basic skills, the rules of soccer, and how to be on a team. For more, follow @DCSCORESinterns and watch Luiza’s videos on YouTube.


Written by Luiza Kieffer
Digital Media Intern

Nov. 17, 2015

The fall soccer season for the Seaton Stingers is nearing its end. Coach Blake is very impressed with the improvement these young athletes have shown the past couple of weeks, but he is not done with them yet. Starting off the practice with their usual routine of stretching, the Stingers then go straight into practice.

Coach Blake sets up the field with a straight line of cones on either side.

“1, 2, 3, 4...” Blake yells out.

Automatically the kids know it’s time for the Stingers to come together around their coach. Once Coach gets to 10, if the kids aren’t there they must complete 10 push-ups ... “8 .. 9 .. 10." Some of the kids still trickling in, Coach Blake looks at them and they immediately know they have to complete their push-ups.

While the kids are completing their push-ups, Blake starts to explain the first drill of the day.

“Everybody line up with the cones!” he tells the Stingers. “Dribble the ball with your left foot to the cones, then circle around and switch to your right foot.”

All the kids line up, and Blake yells, “Go!” and the kids begin. As the drill began, it was complete chaos, everybody running into each other as though they didn’t know what to do. After a couple of run-throughs, they finally get the hang of it and complete the drill well. One of coach's main focuses for the Stingers is improving their dribbling, so they continue the drill for several minutes.

By the end of practice as light wanes from the field, the kids eagerly wait to scrimmage once again -- it never gets old for them. Coach splits the Stingers into two teams, and assigns each team a different color. Once the scrimmage starts, it's a joy to watch the progress the Stingers have made since mid-September.


From the very beginning of the season up to these last couple of practices, the kids have not only grown their soccer skills, but also their team bonding.

While they scrimmage, I can hear more communication on the field than from the first couple of weeks -- kids telling their teammates to pass the ball or congratulating each other on scoring. The kids are quick to encourage each other to play better.

The younger kids who have never been on a soccer team before DC SCORES have improved immensely. There's no way you could tell this has been their first real team experience.

“The kids are starting to get soccer, and learn to love soccer," Blake says. "And I’m really proud of them.”

As practice finishes up, Ryan, one of the leaders on the team, screams out, “This is the best soccer team ever!”


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

DC SCORES is Teamwork: Chavez Prep poet-athletes inspire, motivate each other

DC SCORES is Teamwork. On Giving Tuesday, Give the Gift of Teamwork to a DC kid in need.

Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

It’s an unseasonably warm early November afternoon in NW DC, the light fading quickly from the sky as Cesar Chavez Public Charter Middle School—Prep takes on Truesdell Education Campus.

Omar M. places the ball in the NW corner of the dimly lit field, counts out his steps, then strides into a corner kick. The ball is a great one, making a beeline for the forehead of teammate Emanuel “Manny” L. as if it’s a heat-seeking missile.

The next thing you know, the orb is in the net and the Chavez sideline is erupting in euphoria. On the field, Omar and Manny embrace. It’s 1-0 the boys in green, and every player shares an equal level of joy.

Chavez goes on to win the game 2-0, but afterward coach Mateo Samper drives home what made him the most exuberant.

“First of all, that is the best game you’ve ever played,” Mateo begins. “You should be very proud of yourselves. I’m very proud of you. The difference — it wasn’t just execution, it was how you communicated, it was how we worked together.

“Everything tonight was well-oiled, everything fell into place, everything fell into sync because you guys were talking. We trusted each other.”



It’s a value often taken for granted in team sports. However, the core DC SCORES value — along with Commitment and Leadership — is not easily instilled and followed. And it doesn’t often serve as an identity for a team the way it now does at Chavez Prep.

Picture this: It’s early September at the charter school that sits on the edge of the Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods. The heavily populated Latino areas of DC are full of soccer-loving kids who dream of being the next Messi, a superstar.

Kids pour into Chavez Prep from a plethora of elementary schools, many of which have DC SCORES programming. There’s Omar and Juliana M. from Thomson; Jonathan G. from Reed; Ariana from H.D. Cooke; others from Seaton and Tubman. They’ve played soccer against one another, but never on the same team.

The DC SCORES season doesn’t get off to the best of starts.

“I would say our first game was a mess,” says girls coach Maureen “Mo” Mitchell. “It was like a bunch of individuals trying to play. And all the talent in the world can only get you so far.”

The biggest talent on the girls team is Ariana, a deceptively fast dribbling whiz with a wicked-hard shot that has even the other team crooning. Ariana is also on a travel team and will be playing competitively for a long time.

But on this afternoon, she struggles to create any offense as Truesdell throws two, three and even four players at her. Mo calls Ariana off the field — a rare, gutsy move by a coach trailing 1-0 late in the second half. Less than a minute later, Chavez Prep scores. Ariana joins her teammates in cheering wildly.

It’s inspiring to Mo how far her team has come in just two months.

“They’re there for each other and they’re there for me,” she says with a smile. “They’re constantly positive. They know that teamwork and citizenship is important.”

And their teamwork translates to much more than soccer.


Fidencio “Fidi” A. moved to Washington, DC, from El Salvador just a couple years ago, and his family enrolled him at Chavez Prep.

Fidi didn’t know a lick of English.

Classes were intimidating, but even more so was trying to make friends and fit in — until he joined DC SCORES. At first, teammates would translate for Fidi what coaches were instructing them to do. Then the coach at the time began speaking in Spanish too.

It didn’t take long for Fidi to feel comfortable and part of a team, a community. When the older kids who supported him moved on to high school, he assumed a leadership position and has made new friends. The eighth-grader also speaks English with a confidence almost similar to that which he exudes on the field.

“My favorite part of being in DC SCORES is having more friends, playing with them, talking with them, working with them,” Fidi says.

“Even if we win or we lose, we always laugh.”


The teamwork Mo and her girls developed in soccer practices and on game days has paid huge dividends off the field.

Teammates hold each other accountable. No one wants to be ineligible for the next game because of a failed class or truancy. This is a far cry from the early season practice when only three girls showed up.

Now, everyone does better in school because of DC SCORES. This warms the heart of Mo — a ninth-grade earth science teacher at Chavez — and makes her look forward to having her poet-athletes in class at the high school level.

“If one girl is not being her best self around the hallways in school, her teammates will remind her, ‘Hey, you’ll get detention,’” Mo says.

“It was originally like they just wanted to play soccer, but now it’s like they know that they are my soccer girls and they want to represent themselves the best. It’s pretty cool to feel like you’re inspiring them.”

When Juliana was struggling and behind in her classes, teammates encouraged her and Mo made sure she received extra help. When Nancy C. was having behavior issues because, Mo says, she wasn’t challenged enough, the team encouraged her to take a leadership position that she’s embraced.

“On the field I call her the conductor,” Mo says. “She realized she had this potential.”

Perhaps no one sums up the feeling Chavez’s girls have better than Ariana, who can’t attend practices because of travel team obligations but spends as much time as possible with her DC SCORES friends both in programming and playing pick-up games.

“I feel like we’ve become a family instead of just teammates,” Ariana says.


“Where do you go to school!?” Mateo yells.


“Who do you play for!”


“Chavez on 3. 1 .. 2 .. 3!”


Mateo breaks the huddle and the kids scatter toward the bus, ready for a joyous post-victory ride. It’s easy to be happy and united after a big win, but this is a team that won’t crumble even after losses. The bonds are too strong, even if they’re in their infancy.

This is best exemplified by Omar.

“We have a friendship where it doesn’t matter if we win or lose,” he says. “We’re gonna talk about it, fix what we did wrong, and then do it even better.”

Teamwork is an overused word, but it’s hard to think of a better term to describe the Cesar Chavez teams and community. It’s a value — part of DC SCORES’ “TLC” — that has helped Fidi find friends and his voice in a new country; that has helped Ariana, Juliana, Nancy and others in school; that has led to Mo feeling better about teaching and “helps to build relationships;” and that has even brought DC SCORES alumni now in 9th grade like Nohemy and Emily back to occasionally help with the team and provide support.

“It’s like an ultimate team,” Omar says, reflecting on his and others’ journeys to Chavez. “Players come from different teams and commit to one.”

DC SCORES is Leadership: Betelihem finds her confidence through poetry

DC SCORES is Leadership. On Giving Tuesday, Give the Gift of Leadership to a DC kid in need.

Written by Jake Lloyd
Communications Manager

Betelihem’s tears were once born from sadness. They now flow from joy.

Betelihem entered DC SCORES in 3rd grade, a reserved child broken from being on the receiving end of her peers’ endless taunting. She feared going to school in the morning, let alone staying after. That was all until she received her first DC SCORES poetry journal.

Betelihem’s DC SCORES coaches provided her consistent encouragement, making sure she knew that nothing she wrote would be judged. Slowly, she opened up. By the fall of her 5th grade year, Betelihem no longer lived in angst.

In fact, when it came time for her team to choose the solo poem for the Poetry Slam!, Betelihem confidently volunteered. Then when her teammates expressed their nervousness before the team's performance, Betelihem was the one reassuring them, saying, "It's going to be fine."

Little did her younger teammates know then that Betelihem had been equally anxious about her solo performance, "The Big B," especially when she accidentally skipped a line during a final practice at school. At the time, she told her coach Shannon Nelson, "I can't do this in front of everyone."

Nelson responded, "Oh, yes you can. No one even noticed you missed a line. Your whole class has your back. You are going to own that stage."

And that's exactly what Betelihem did last December, as she cried tears of joy in front of more than 500 people after a powerful and emotional performance. She then clutched Brightwood's 2nd-place trophy, sharing the triumph with teammates who’d chosen her as their leader.

What had been unimaginable two years before became her reality.

Given the chance to express herself and with the constant encouragement of her peers and coaches, Betelihem grew from a self-doubting third-grader to a strong and inspirational leader in fifth grade. There's no doubt she will continue to lead and positively influence others for years to come.

DC SCORES is Commitment: Alumnus Christian A. becomes an all-star at the office

DC SCORES is Commitment. On Giving Tuesday, Give the Gift of Commitment to a DC kid in need. 

Written by Josh Freedholm
Community Engagement Director

DC SCORES alumni are constantly helping us as volunteers — acting as assistant coaches, refereeing our elementary school games, completing projects in our office, representing us at events, and much more. Our alumni help to power the program they once participated in and make it even stronger.

The past two school years, one alumnus in particular has become a major part of the DC SCORES office. Most days around 4 p.m., we expect to see Christian A. making his way into the office with a smile on his face. Christian is a high school sophomore who participated in DC SCORES as an eighth-grader at Hart Middle School and has worked as a summer camp counselor at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School and Marie Reed Elementary School the past two summers.

Christian has become an all-star volunteer. Almost daily, he sits down at the desk that he has labeled as “my own” and gets to work entering survey data or organizing student registrations. Christian is also one of only two volunteers to referee at every elementary school game day each season, gaining experience in calling games throughout the year. To top it all off, Christian has brought new volunteers with him to even further his impact.

More than anything, Christian has become a positive force in our office and something we hope to see even more from our alumni as we work to expand our Older Youth Connection (OYC).

Recently, Christian took a few minutes off from working to chat with us.


Christian not only works hard as a volunteer; he wins bets, too!
DCS: Where are you from and where do you go to school? 

I am from SE Washington D.C. and I go to Roosevelt High School in Petworth.

DCS: How long have you been playing soccer? 

I have been playing soccer for two and a half years.

DCS: How did you get involved with DC SCORES? 

I got involved with DC SCORES because I wanted to play soccer.

DCS: What do you find most interesting about DC SCORES? 

What interests me most about DC SCORES is the fact that they helped me with poetry and I used to hate poetry.

DCS: Describe your experience volunteering for DC SCORES.

My experience volunteering for DC SCORES is fun!

DCS: What do you like to do with your free time? 

I like to play video games on my PSP.

DCS: Who is your favorite athlete? 

I’m a big Green Bay Packers fan, so Clay Matthews or Aaron Rodgers.

DCS: What is one fun fact about you? 

 I like to cook for my family and want to become a chef.