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Thursday, October 6, 2011

When it rains, DC SCORES students exercise to Dance Dance Revolution

Written by Cory Chimka
Program Director

Charlotte Gerchick, now a 17-year-old senior at the Potomac School in Maclean, Virginia, was cleaning out her closet in October of 2009 when she came across her old Dance Dance Revolution video game system.

She waxed nostalgically about the many hours she and her friends spent jumping, twisting, turning on its mats, grooving to all the popular dance tunes built into the game. They’d spent many rainy days indoors, but still working up a sweat, and fostering healthy competition, during their “D.D.R. sessions.”

Now that they were sophomores in high school, Charlotte and her friends just didn’t have time for video games. When they weren’t in class, participating in extracurricular activities, or studying, they were starting to think about college.

Charlotte couldn’t bring herself to just throw away the once-treasured Dance Dance Revolution game, but it had to go. Then, she had a brilliant idea.

“I figured there must be lots of students at my school who had also outgrown their DDR games, which were just gathering dust somewhere. Because I had volunteered for DC SCORES, I knew about the kids and the schools, and that the kids in DC SCORES didn’t get exercise when it was raining or too cold. It just made sense to recycle the video games and provide an exercise opportunity at the same time.”

What if she could get these video game systems into DC SCORES classrooms, so those students could have fun exercising while developing some fancy footwork that might translate onto the soccer field?

Project Encore was born!

On an afternoon nearly two years later, Charlotte found herself in the Anacostia section of Southeast Washington, DC. Her first stop was Howard Road Academy Public Charter School. When Charlotte arrived, the HRA team was using the hallways and stairwells to have soccer practice, a clear reminder of Project Encore’s importance.

After some slight technical difficulties, the right TV was located and the students were choosing which tunes to groove to before jumping, hopping and spinning to the beat.

“It’s so hard because you have to wait for the arrows to come up,” said poet-athlete Lorenzo H., “but it’s great because it helps you to exercise and get to learn how to dance.”

Charlotte told the students not to get discouraged, with the object of the game to have fun and be active. She left the students taking turns trying to dance past level 1, then headed up the hill to Moten at Wilkinson Elementary. The Moten students were in the cafeteria anxiously awaiting Charlotte’s arrival, and their coach Mr. Henley had found an old projection television with a giant screen to use with the game.

The students at Moten were more familiar with the game. They’d seen it on television and some had even played at the arcade before. It didn’t take long for even some of the younger students to advance past level 1. Cedric M. was one of the first students to advance to level 2.

“The game keeps us kids focused,” Cedric said, “and it’s a lot of workout, but it takes you step by step, so it’s really fun!”

As I watched our DC SCORES students breathe new life into the old video games, the beauty and brilliance of the name “Project Encore” hit me hard.

“We liked the word ‘encore’ because it had a double meaning,” Charlotte explained. “It has the use in performances, when the audience shouts ‘Encore!’ applauding a good performance. It also means ‘again’ in French, which refers to the recycling aspect (of the project).

“The games were used by families like mine and then again by the students in the DC SCORES schools.”

There were some struggles along the way. “Collecting enough of each component was harder than I thought it would be,” Charlotte said. “There were plenty of mats. I guess the mats are easy to find — they are big and colorful. The DVDs hide somewhere. It was also hard to match up all the components because there are DDR games made for PlayStation 2 consoles and others for X-Boxes.”

But Charlotte never got discouraged and just kept on piecing together full game systems with the help of her parents, classmates, and the community service coordinators at her school, David Grant and Sharyn Stein. And for Charlotte, it’s worth all the effort when she delivers the games to DC SCORES schools.

“The best part has been giving the games to the kids and teaching them how to play,” she said. “It was great to see their reactions. I loved watching them get excited and seeing how happy they were when they found out they get to keep the games.”

“I can’t wait to give out more DDR games to more schools!”

If you’re a DC SCORES student, coach or parent who would like to see Charlotte bring Project Encore to your school, email me at cchimka@americascores.org, and if you are teenager who would like to know how you can be like Charlotte and get involved with and help DC SCORES, email volunteerdc@americascores.org

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