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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why soccer, poetry and service-learning? Explaining DC SCORES' core components

The spring season at DC SCORES is well underway. Students at each of our 23 schools are beginning to immerse themselves in service-learning projects. Soccer games are taking place throughout the city each week. And a pair of talented poets just returned from New York City and the National Poetry SLAM!

With every aspect of the program on display, it's a good time to answer the question of why DC SCORES is based around the three core components of soccer, poetry and service-learning. Amy Nakamoto, our Executive Director, does just that:

Working at DC SCORES, the most asked question of any staff or board member and volunteer or supporter is, “Why soccer, poetry, and service?” Here is why . . .
There is a practical and, well, a poetic reason for the combination of the three core activities that comprise our program.

The practical reason is that when DC SCORES was founded in 1994, soccer, and poetry and spoken word were virtual unknowns to the students Julie Kennedy was working with at Marie Reed Learning Center in Adams Morgan, DC. By teaching students these two disciplines, she was expanding their physical and intellectual horizons. And in terms of youth development, she was filling a gap.

There was space (unused school facilities), time (the precious after-school hours), and existing knowledge (Julie Kennedy’s background as both a creative writer and an athlete) that combined to create a program where one did not exist for needy students.

The addition of service-learning was also a practical decision. Students in DC SCORES were living in communities and attending schools that, through the words of their poetry, they wanted to change. By adding a service component, students could both express their concerns (through poetry and spoken word) and act on them (through service) in the span of a school year. The underlying sense of support and teamwork built through participating in a sport together made the writing and service part of the program a safe and trusting one for participants.

The poetic reason for the combination of soccer, poetry and spoken word, and service-learning is that each discipline is fluid, imaginative, devoid of too much structure, and yet inclusive of enough rules to help children grow. Soccer is a sport, unlike many 'American' sports, that does not rely on set plays, set movements, time-sensitive calls, and clear strategies to achieve the end goal (pun intended). While there is ‘strategy’ and are ‘positions,' the game’s fluidity precludes a coach and a team from committing too hard to one way of playing a game or a position for maximum success.

Poetry and spoken word are metaphorically linked to soccer – there are styles, formats, and structure, but a beautiful poem is subject to nothing other than the creator’s expectations. Too many boundaries on one’s words, or expression of them, will limit the potential of the author. A poet owns their words and the expression of them in a way that a soccer player’s style and development of that style is unique to them.

Service-learning, to me, brings together the best of these two creative worlds (athletic and language arts). In order to create a service-project that is lasting, there are stages of thought development, planning, implementation, and reflection. There is also the important factor of effective teamwork. 

When you consider our core program – students are participating in activities each fall (poetry + soccer) where their own imaginative drive has been rewarded through learning new soccer skills or producing amazing poems as a team and as individuals – the practical and creative next best move is to take this energy and focus the group on something they can create, carry out, and reflect on together.

Today, the practical reasons still exist. DC SCORES provides a comprehensive program unique to its 700 participants and 23 schools. We are filling a creative writing and physical activity gap in the formal school-day environment. The poetic reasons will always exist when discussing the combination of these three components – success in soccer, poetry, and service-learning will always be measured by the fluidity, imagination, and sense of personal and team accomplishment defined by the creators and not a set of outside rules and dictated structure.

Importantly, whatever the reason for the original combination, there is a reason that it has endured – and that is simply because it works. One of the few ‘rules’ in DC SCORES is that you have to participate in all three.

A student may not feel comfortable or successful in all three disciplines, but small gains in one are sure to relate to gains in the others. This only grows exponentially throughout ongoing participation.

-- Written by Amy Nakamoto, DC SCORES Executive Director

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