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Friday, October 31, 2014

Bancroft Elementary School: Most well-known for the White House garden and DC SCORES


“People know that Bancroft kids go to the White House garden and that they play DC SCORES. Those are the two big things, and with good reason.” — Principal Alison Auerbach

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It's a moderately warm Thursday afternoon in mid-October at Bancroft Elementary School, nestled in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Mount Pleasant in Washington, DC, and there is an unusual amount of activity on the tiny turf soccer field tucked behind the school's playground.

The DC SCORES team is practicing. But only after posing for a group photo with school principal Alison Auerbach.

On a normal Thursday in the fall or spring, 32 team members — decked out in their unmistakable yellow jerseys — would be playing a game at a rival school with a larger field in front of a strong contingent of Bancroft supporters. But because DC SCORES' Fall Frenzy is two days away, there's no game this week — just a lively practice.

Team members are challenged on this day not just by their coaches, Monica Diaz-Lopez and John
Guzman, but by a trio of Bancroft alumni who have dedicated their after-school time this fall to nurturing the youngsters. Juliana F. and Alicia C. scrimmage the team without mercy, making them realize what hard work can lead to.

Dozens of younger students mill about the field's outskirts, watching the lucky ones and anticipating that day when they can be a part of Bancroft's team. The bilingual elementary school has 510 students, but as Guzman says, "Everybody at Bancroft currently is looking forward to becoming third-graders so they are eligible to participate in DC SCORES."

DC SCORES has been ingrained in the Bancroft community since 1999. This is the story — told from three perspectives — of the program's impact and how those in different positions think about it.

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ALISON AUERBACH, PRINCIPAL

Before heading outside to soccer practice for a few minutes, Alison Auerbach is running around handling about 2,197 things. It's a busy Thursday. She confers with staff in the main office to make sure the next day's student photos will be to parents' satisfaction. Then, as we sit down, she reveals that tonight is International Night. Auerbach expects to hear conversations in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, French, Italian and maybe more languages by evening's end.

It's a particularly big deal to Auerbach because of how much pride she takes in the school's diversity and bilingualism. A DC-area native, she took time off from undergrad at Yale to travel to Spain and immerse herself in the culture and language. Auerbach's host family treated her like a child of theirs, and that's when she discovered bilingualism's ability to connect.

Several years later, Auerbach was named the founding principal at DC Bilingual Public Charter School in the District's Columbia Heights neighborhood.

“For me, it was a way to bring together everything I’m passionate about — education, working with youth and bilingualism," Auerbach says.

The job was also very demanding and didn't mesh with getting married and having two kids, so Auerbach stepped back after three years into more administrative roles. She didn't think she'd be a principal again. Following six years at the school, she took a job as Master Educator at DC Public Schools. One of her main roles was evaluating English Second Language (ESL) teachers. At Bancroft, that means all the teachers.

The minute she walked in the door, Auerbach fell in love with the school and couldn't pass up the opportunity to become assistant principal in 2011.

"I said if I were ever going to go back to a school, Bancroft would be the school I would want to go back to," Auerbach said, "because there’s a family here, a community here, and just a sense — it’s a special place.”

She knew of DC SCORES before joining the school's leadership; it didn't take her long to recognize its importance when, on the first game day, all the program participants wore their yellow T-shirts during school and there was a palpable buzz — similar to a Friday before a high school football game — in the hallways.

Auerbach has always loved soccer. However, “I didn’t really learn about it until I came here.”

What she's also learned — first as assistant to Zakiya Reid and, since 2013, as principal — is how big of a motivator to do well in school DC SCORES is. There is no larger privilege at Bancroft than wearing the DC SCORES uniform and playing on game day. There's so much interest before each season, some kids have to wait until fourth grade. And if you're in DC SCORES, you better focus in school — and go to poetry sessions — or you'll be replaced.

"To be on the team and represent Bancroft, there are lots of expectations in terms of how you behave on the soccer field during practice but also throughout the day at school," Auerbach says. "We have one of the most difficult consequences for some kids, which is if they have shown a real lack of respect and lack of responsibility during the school day, ‘Right now you’re not representing Bancroft and you’re going to have to sit on the sideline.’

"And kids don’t do that that often, but it is important you are representing our whole community when you’re out there playing. And I think kids really get that, they really understand that."

While it's hard to match the thrills of a Bancroft game day, Auerbach also takes great pride in the strides DC SCORES' poetry program has made since she arrived at the school and is especially moved by students writing and performing in two languages. And when the team's service-learning season concluded with hosting a fun race that raised more than $1,000 for an animal shelter, Auerbach was at the finish line giving high fives.

“The academic and the athletic piece are equally important, and the expectation is that we’re developing and evolved in both," Auerbach said. "That’s what we want for our students, and everyone wants to be a part of DC SCORES so it’s a great motivator to get kids engaged in all these different pieces.”

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JOHN GUZMAN, COACH


John Guzman came to Bancroft to coach DC SCORES. Now, he's as big a part of the school community as anyone.

He estimates he started as a DC SCORES coach nine or 10 years ago, and began working at the school soon thereafter. He's been a Classroom Aide, After-school Coordinator, Administrative Aide, and now is in his first year as the Assistant of School Operations.

It's likely Guzman would not be a school employee if not for DC SCORES, and his story isn't unique. Both writing coaches, Dafne Ortiz and Yasmin Escobar, are Bancroft alumni who returned to the school as DC SCORES coaches and now also work here during the school day.

In his role, Guzman interacts with many of the same students in the halls before 4pm and then on the soccer field after school. Like Auerbach, he believes there's a strong connection between students' motivation — and, thus, performance — in class and wearing that yellow uniform.

"The kids have already signed a player agreement in the beginning of the season and that player agreement indicates that they have to do well in class, they have to do all their homework, they have to have good behavior," Guzman says. "And if they don't do any of those items, they're not allowed to play on Thursday. They also have to come to poetry days."

Speaking of poetry, it may not be Guzman's specific role but he takes pride in talking about how far the self-expression aspect of DC SCORES has come. He's the first to admit that five or six years ago, Bancroft's program was little more than soccer. Since then, he's helped build up the poetry and self-expression component.

Recent Poetry Slam! performances — including top-three finishes — have demonstrated that the Bengals are far from just a soccer team. Guzman, as the veteran coach, worked hard to make sure strong writing coaches were hired, and he watched, impressed, as the elementary school youth used the teamwork developed on the soccer field to execute all aspects of the service-learning 1-miler for charity.

"We were just facilitating the resources," he said. "They were doing their own blogs, doing their own fundraisers, they did their own posters. They took ownership of the actual project, which is a good thing, and that's teaching them some life skills as well that they will need when they go on to high school and college."

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ALICIA C., JULIANA F, ALUMNI

It's late October, and a pair seventh-graders at Alice Deal Middle School are proud to report something. They've come to Bancroft's DC SCORES sessions — not just soccer, but poetry, too.

"We come every day," Alicia C. says.

And then, to emphasize, she adds, "We stay here from 4:30 to 6 o'clock."

But why? Deal, located in the upper northwest portion of the city, has no dearth of after-school enrichment offerings. Why make the trip each afternoon to Mount Pleasant?

"We want to teach little kids about what we've been through," Alicia answers without hesitation. "There are some girls that had never played soccer (prior to DC SCORES), just like me and Juliana. ... we're here today to teach other kids and to just have fun even if we lose."

This is evident during scrimmages with current team members. The girls push the younger kids and provide a good challenge, but more than anything laugh and smile and make sure their pupils are doing the same. It's clear they've learned from their DC SCORES experience when, they say, losses were not always handled gracefully.

Juliana remembers a game against Marie Reed when several girls were crying. That was just one time when the parents and strong Bancroft community kept things together.

"A whole bunch of parents were telling us to calm down because it's a game and we're supposed to have fun and that we're supposed to enjoy it," Juliana recalls. "We're not supposed to get mad just because we lost the game."

Both girls heard about DC SCORES in second grade and immediately wanted to join the team. When third grade rolled around, they became a part of the program. Looking back, they learned far more than just the impressive soccer skills they now display as assistant coaches.

"I focused on school, because I knew if I didn't get good grades and my teacher told something bad to Mr. Guzman, I know something bad will happen in DC SCORES — I know I wouldn't be able to play a game," Juliana says.

Adds Alicia: "DC SCORES, it taught me a lot, especially in reading. Before I didn't know how to read. As soon as I joined DC SCORES, I got better because my mom told me that if I wanted to be an athlete, I have to focus more on school."

Back then, students had to be nagged to participate in poetry. Now, the alumni are impressed by the Bengals. "They care about school, soccer and poetry," Alicia exclaims as soccer practice winds down.

And that's music to Principal Auerbach's ears, and Coach Guzman's ears, and to the ears of the hundreds of parents who have — or will soon have — kids that are a part of DC SCORES.

“It is a real sort of family within the Bancroft family," Auerbach says.

DC SCORES coach's journal, Part III: Fast! Slow! Outside! Low!



Zachary Gomes moved to Washington, DC, two months ago 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 work with DC SCORES is coaching poetry and girls soccer at Lincoln Middle School. Throughout the season, Zach will share his experience as one of DC SCORES’ 190 coaches who run the program at our 47 schools. Zach will provide insight on the impact of DC SCORES -- through the eyes of a coach.

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Written by Zachary Gomes
Soccer Coordinator

FAST! SLOW! OUTSIDE! LOW!

While on defense close the gap between yourself and the opponent who has the ball as FAST as you can. As you get close to them, SLOW down so you don’t just blow by them. Next, angle your body to push them toward the OUTSIDE of the field! And whatever you do, stay LOW, on your toes and don’t let them get by you!

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks here at Lincoln Middle School DC SCORES. The poetry and soccer coaches got together for mid-season training and we all learned some valuable tools to bring back to our practices. FAST, SLOW, OUTSIDE, LOW was one of my favorites.

But my absolutely favorite, for sure, is a drill I have come to call “the running of the crab gauntlet.” In this drill, there are four sections set up for the girls to dribble through. Each section is occupied by one girl in a crab-like position (hands and feet on the ground) scurrying around vigorously attacking the dribbler and attempting to not allow her through the section. The drills gets the girls working hard and smiling.
Coach Zach's clipboard.

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The new skills paid off last week, and the girls got another win. It was nice to get the “W,” but I was most impressed by the sportsmanship and attitude of one of the team’s veterans, Maria S.

Maria has been in DC SCORES for two years and sometimes can have a little temper. Let’s just say she is passionate. Maria likes to win and she always, always plays 110 percent.

The whole game, Maria was battling with one particular opponent who matched her in size and speed. Up and down, up and down the sideline the two girls would run, shoulder checking and jockeying for position. In fact, both of the girls scored goals.

After the other girl scored, Maria ran over to her. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. It went very well. Maria shook the girl’s hand and congratulated her on the skill and accuracy of her shot. I couldn’t have been more proud of her. Don’t hate, congratulate. Respect.

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The Poetry Slam! is about one month away and the kids are working extremely hard to get some amazing poems prepared. By Dec. 3, the poetry class (which consists of both the girls and boys soccer teams, around 40 kids in all) needs to have two group poems written, memorized and ready for the bright lights.

The last few classes have been focused on writing our first team poem. Using a free association exercise, I asked the kids to write whatever came to their minds when I said the word ‘clock.’ I then wrote the word down on the board and underneath it wrote the first seven words the kids called out. That produced something like this…

Clock
Minute
Boring
Slapped
Hand
Finger
Nails

Next, the kids wrote a seven-line poem, the only requirement being that they had to use each word on its respective line. This exercise produced some awesome surprises. Everyone shared.

After the kids’ creative juices started flowing, we did the same exercise, except this time the first word was ‘together’ and I asked them to think about their team.

Together
Team
Family
Strong
Brave
Confident
Champions

The kids floored me with their work. Carolina R., who has been in DC SCORES for two years, wrote a beautiful poem that had her peers clapping and giving her a standing ovation. Ferdis A., a two-year veteran of DC SCORES who had not shared any of his poems with the class up this point, dropped jaws with his beautiful, rhyming masterpiece.

Things are looking up for the Slam!. It is amazing to watch the kids tap into their creative sides. Kids who may have never thought of writing a poem, write one and amaze not only me, but their peers and, oftentimes, themselves. The pride on their faces is contagious and gets the whole team connected on a level that soccer alone could not do.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Power of Poetry at Brightwood, Part III: Time to learn how to perform



This fall, DC SCORES Digital Media Intern Paris Volpe is attending the after-school poetry sessions at Brightwood Education Campus (Elementary School) to observe how the Panthers discover "The Power of Poetry." Each week, Paris is writing about the curriculum and lesson plans of the program. Follow as she documents the progression of the students’ self-expression and writing techniques. You can also follow Paris' experiences on Twitter by following @DCSCORESinterns and view photos on Flickr.

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Written by Paris Volpe
Digital Media Intern

Glossophobia: the fear of public speaking. Supposedly the greatest fear of them all.

How many kids do you know who can give a speech? At the DC SCORES Poetry Slam! Dec. 3-4, there will be 1,500 who can.

A big component of DC SCORES' poetry and spoken word program is working with the students on their performance skills. This Monday, Atrice Williams, a poetry specialist from the American Poetry Museum, visited Brightwood Education Campus to help begin prepping the Panthers for their 5-minute performance the Poetry Slam!.


Williams started off by defining the words “performance, enunciation, projection, and intonation.” She then assigned the class group work. “Come up with as many action verbs as you can. Then at the bottom of the page write your favorite musical artists. We will use these lists to act out some sentences.”

I grabbed my notebook and joined Joel J., Ashley A., Carlos G., Fitsum M. and get to work. “Whisper, yell, shout, scream, laugh, talk, sing.”

“Do you think we will have to sing by ourselves?” Ashley A. asked wearily. “If we do I want Latino music! It’s my favorite,” explained Joel J., age 8.

Carlos and Joel shared how they are both originally from El Salvador and know a little bit of Spanish. This opened a discussion about the possibility of writing poems in various languages. We began to share the words we know in other languages. “Ohayo” means “good morning” in Japanese. “Aloha” is how we would greet each other in Hawaii. The conversation was effortless. The exchange of ideas, similarities, and interests was plain sailing. Incidentally, it seemed like the quaint little groups learned a lot about each other from this prompt. However, it didn’t take long for the mood to change.

One by one, Williams called groups to the front of the classroom. Using the lists and their favorite artists, she helped the students come up with sentences to act out. “When I hear Taylor Swift songs I tend to shout the lyrics,” Williams said to Nancy R., age 10. Nancy repeated the sentence in a quiet murmur.

It was clear that this was uncomfortable for the students at first. Feet constantly shifting and nearly silent mumbles demonstrated their nervousness. In the safe haven of their clustered desks, students can easily write and discuss whatever they want. I’ve seen them excitedly share poems when seated. But when it comes time to stand before peers, a new feeling takes over. Suddenly, it’s not so easy to speak aloud about much of anything.


The fear of public speaking is deep-rooted in our human nature. We are born to be collaborative, social beings. This is why when we stand alone, we feel ostracized and fear rejection.

But this is why the second half of the DC SCORES season is dedicated to helping students practice their performance techniques. The goal is to make every student feel confident and comfortable. As I witnessed, this is not an easy task.

Williams was untroubled by this. She praised students who stepped out of their comfort zones to project their voice and add animation to the words. “I really liked the way you smiled and enunciated your words!” she told Keily L., age 10.

More importantly, Williams was patient with the more withdrawn students. She delivered constructive criticism and allowed everyone a few chances to improve -- feedback the students will be giving to each other in the coming weeks.

“That was good but you were a bit monotone. I know you can be enthusiastic! You’re doing so well, let’s try it again.” she instructed Trey O., age 10. The second time around, Trey put a little pep in his step and danced to his sentence! Incrementally with each try, stance and intonations improved. The students noticed.

After nearly every presentation, each student wore a winsome smile. A smile that said, “Yes, I did it.”

Exercises like this are a vital part of the after-school sessions. Practicing spoken word develops self-assurance and significantly improves speech overall.

“Sometimes I forget the words I have to say. But it’s better to forget now than at the Poetry Slam!” said Ruben R., age 8.

“What do you think will help you remember?” I asked Ruben. “Practicing,” he responded with a giggle.

The past six weeks have shown these are effervescent kids with incredible talent. With the guidance of their DC SCORES coaches and special guests like Williams, they will surely shine by the end of the season. They already glow with pride when they read their poems to each other. I cannot wait for them to share that same pride with conviction at the Poetry Slam!.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Volunteer spotlight: Aya Takeuchi, program photographer

When people ask about volunteering with DC SCORES, they often think that if they can’t make it to a coaching session after school or a game day to referee, then there are no options available for them. However, our volunteer spotlight this month highlights an amazing volunteer who has demonstrated that there are other paths toward making an impact for DC SCORES.

Aya Takeuchi has supported DC SCORES as a photographer at many events, snapping great photos that we include in our communications (many of the photos on our Flickr page are Aya's!). Further, she has spread the word about DC SCORES and brought her network to a High Five Tour.

Without the help of volunteers and donors telling others about DC SCORES, there is no way we could successfully provide high-quality programming for 1,500 students throughout the District. If you would like to attend a tour or invite your friends to one, check out our tour dates HERE.

Please visit our website for a list of volunteer opportunities, but also reach out if you have other ideas. Photographers, poets, artists, designers, social media gurus and more are always needed!

For some inspiration, read about Aya’s experiences with DC SCORES below!

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DCS: Where are you from and where do you work? 

I am originally from Japan. I came to this country to study at the University of Maryland. I just got a new job offer literally today! I am currently working at U.S. Courts, but I will start working for Callahan & Associates on Oct 28. I am a software engineer.

DCS: How did you get involved with DC SCORES? 

I found it on a local TV news show! Then I went to the DC SCORES website to volunteer at Jamboree!.

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

The staff and volunteers who support the programs. They are wonderful mentors/role models for the kids.

DCS: Describe your experience volunteering for DC SCORES. 

I have been helping as a photographer. My job is to capture the moments of DC SCORES kids and their activities.

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

Travel! I have visited 45 countries and counting! When I am in the DC area, I love to play volleyball. I have two league teams. I also love to sing karaoke (another outlet of my stress), take pictures and do volunteer work.

DCS: Who is your favorite singer or poet? 

I was raised to be a classical pianist and now I mostly listen to British music. I like singers from lots of different genres.

DCS: Who is your favorite athlete? 

I follow all Japanese athletes playing overseas!

DCS: Fun fact? 

 I said I play volleyball ... but I am only 5'2"! I am usually the shortest player on the volleyball court :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

DC SCORES coach's journal, part II: Lessons learned from Game 1


Zachary Gomes moved to Washington, DC, two months ago 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 work with DC SCORES is coaching poetry and girls soccer at Lincoln Middle School. Throughout the season, Zach will share his experience as one of DC SCORES’ 190 coaches who run the program at our 47 schools. Zach will provide insight on the impact of DC SCORES -- through the eyes of a coach.

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Written by Zachary Gomes 
Soccer Coordinator

So the first game is in the books. We lost, but the scoreboard didn’t reflect our level of play. The girls fought hard all the way through and all of us learned a thing or two.

I learned that I needed to start from the beginning. I noticed three positions while watching the game: defense, offense and the huge bunch of girls running in a pack, back and forth, following the ball everywhere it went. Monday’s practice would have to start with a better explanation of the positions. The first game was a learning experience; it was also amazing.

I couldn’t stop smiling (as evidenced by photos); I was so proud of the girls.

Gabriela A., who has never played soccer before (imagine that!), played goalie for the first time and even though she let some goals in, she never gave up. At the end of the game, she charged out of the box, leapt in the air and saved a towering shot!

In her excitement, she proceeded to almost back into the goal. I made a note to myself to do some goalie training after talking soccer positions on Monday. I was impressed by Gabriela’s determination. She had played her first game of soccer and pushed through the challenges. She had displayed real courage.

As the girls walked off the field, Jossellyn A, who has been in DC SCORES since third grade, ran up to Gabriela and gave her a double high five. With that simple act of camaraderie, Jossellyn exemplified the power DC SCORES can have on a kid. Jossellyn demonstrated leadership, sportsmanship, teamwork and friendship. She supported her teammate and showed a level of maturity anyone could learn a lesson from.

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“I am from” was the prompt for one of last week’s poetry classes. The kids and I are now in a beautiful classroom, and the change of setting from the cafeteria has made a real difference. The “I am from” prompt encourages the children to not only write about the places they are from but to think about the experiences that have formed them. It is a perfect activity for the kids to learn more about one another and to delve a little deeper into their own evolution.

It was amazing to hear the kids share their poems. Brianna V., who is in DC SCORES for the first time and usually never shares her writing, was so inspired by others sharing that she finally read aloud to the class. Everyone clapped when she was done, her face turned a bright red and her smile started at one ear and went to the other.

I am from El Salvador.
I am from my beautiful, caring mother.
I am from the nacho cheese chips I eat at lunch.
I am from the soccer field and scoring a goal.

The kids got creative and respected one another, allowing each and every student in the class a chance to share. It was awesome to be a part of. Practices are going well and game two is right around the corner. Not to mention the Poetry Slam! is coming, and coming fast. Stay tuned. Much more to come.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Power of Poetry at Brightwood, Part II: All About Me



This fall, DC SCORES Digital Media Intern Paris Volpe is attending the after-school poetry sessions at Brightwood Education Campus (Elementary School) to observe how the Panthers discover "The Power of Poetry." Each week, Paris is writing about the curriculum and lesson plans of the program. Follow as she documents the progression of the students’ self-expression and writing techniques. You can also follow Paris' experiences on Twitter by following @DCSCORESinterns and view photos on Flickr

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Written by Paris Volpe
Digital Media Intern

Since I began attending the Brightwood after-school writing sessions, I’ve been working on my own poetry. It’s been awhile since I learned about similes and metaphors, so I decided to take full advantage of Monday’s DC SCORES lesson and tuned in for a refresher course.

I am DC SCORES. Hear me roar — Well, it’s a work in progress.

The “All About Me” poetry lesson begins with the mechanics of similes. The curriculum is designed to engage the students in comparative thinking. Coach Rachel Rosenberg writes on the board, “He is cold as ice,” and the students begin to interpret this simile.

After dissecting the phrase, the lesson moves on to metaphors and the room erupts. The classroom of Brightwood Panthers transforms into a room of otters, eagles, dolphins, cheetahs and the like.


There is even a hyena sitting right next to me. “I am a hyena because I like to laugh really loud,” says Hikma H.

“I am a dolphin because I know how to dive!” says Alazar T.

The metaphors come from every stretch of the imagination.

As a transition to writing, the students listen to a few example “I Am” poems. They discuss what they interpret as the meaning of each poem. Coach Shannon Nelson then begins to read a list of questions as a starting point for the students’ own “I Am” poems.

If you were a color, which one would you be?
If you were a food, what would you be?
What if you were a shape?
A musical instrument?
What do you like about yourself?
What are you proud of?
What are three things you hope for?

The students’ answers are eclectic and the room transforms once again. We are now a room of purples, reds, apples, triangles, drums, proud athletes, future authors, doctors, singers, dancers, believers, dreamers.

Then Coach Nelson poses the most thought-provoking question yet: “What will you be doing 20 years from today?” This stirs the room a bit.

“Where will I be in 20 years? What will I be doing? Where will I be working?” Betelihem G. asks me emphatically, as if I am Pandora’s box holding all her answers. “That is entirely up to you,” I tell her.

She pauses to consider this for a moment. I can tell her thoughts are dramatic as she searches for an answer to the question. “I’ll be running my own game show,” she says finally. Her direction in life is unbounded, but for right now, this is a wonderful prediction.

“These are tough questions,” says Carlos G. while staring at his full journal page. And he’s right. The activity challenges the students to think about themselves in an alternative light. At this time, they are no longer simple beings. They are complex individuals with infinite dimensions.

The Power of Poetry is transcendent at Brightwood, especially when students are given chances like these to celebrate who they are.

And the season is still young. Much more to come!