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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Inside Bancroft Elementary part 2: Students learn to enjoy writing creatively

This fall, Anthony Palmer, a Gettysburg College junior spending the semester studying at American University, is volunteering for DC SCORES by spending each Monday afternoon with the poet-athletes at Bancroft Elementary School as they write poetry and prepare for the season-ending Poetry Slam! and play soccer.

“Using a camera and a notebook to tell their stories, I hope to give you an inside look at the hard work the students, coaches and teachers at Bancroft Elementary are doing on a daily basis to work toward DC SCORES' goals of ‘self-expression, physical fitness, and a sense of community,’” Anthony says.

Each week for the remainder of the season, Anthony will write about his experience in this space. Read his weekly posts for an inside look into the DC SCORES elementary school experience.

See pictures from Anthony's trips to Bancroft on Flickr.


It was Halloween, and the DC SCORES students at Bancroft Elementary were excited to go trick-or-treating after school.

The school Halloween party had taken place the previous Friday, so there was no dressing up this afternoon. But that didn't stop the students from asking me how I planned on celebrating one of their favorite holidays.

"Are you going trick-or-treating?! What's your costume going to be?!" a student yelled in the cafeteria, where we all met before heading to the classroom.

The poetry session began with a warm-up exercise. "Write a poem pretending you're a pumpkin," was written in marker on the board at the front of the classroom.

The students then focused on rhyming. Following in true Halloween spirit, Nikki, Bancroft's poetry teacher, asked the students to "write a poem about something that scares you."

The students really enjoyed the assignment.

"I'm writing about the Boogie Man," said Anna, a fourth grader. Then, quickly changing her mind, she said she wanted to write about something even scarier.

"I'm writing about my dad's cooking," she said, as her friends around the table started laughing. Sisters Tatiana and Dalila shared that they were writing about scary Halloween movies and cats.

Across the room, Diego was writing about sharks, Edgar was writing about aliens, and Junior could barely contain his table's laughter when he said, "I'm writing about Barney."

Nikki Allinson is the Community Outreach Coordinator at DC SCORES and the poetry coach at Bancroft on Monday and Wednesday afternoons.

She said this mix of creativity, intellectual freedom and humor is essential to the classroom atmosphere.

"When I was a kid, creative writing was a way that I was able to find a voice when I didn't know I had one," Nikki said. "So for me, I like to give them the opportunity to write about whatever they want."

These moments are never in short supply during Bancroft’s group writing activities — and Halloween provided just the right opportunity for Nikki to get students involved and excited about Monday's class.

Standing at the front of the room with Smarties candy rolls taped to her pant legs, Nikki's "smarty pants" costume was a big hit with the students.

It is just one example of how she has found unique ways to engage the students through poetry and creative writing. It is an important approach, considering how passionate the students are about soccer and how eager they are to go outside and play.

"My students were much more confident with their soccer skills than their writing skills when I first started," Nikki said. "After working to build their self-esteem by showing them how proud I am, the intention behind their writing changed.

“They now work in the classroom with the same ferocity and commitment that they've always had on the soccer field."

After class, the students laced up their cleats, took to the soccer field, and broke into small groups. Coach Joel Lopez led the groups through drills focused on teamwork and, most importantly, communication on the field.

When Lopez noticed during the scrimmage that the players weren't talking enough on the field, he made sure they started calling each others' names each time before they passed the ball.

This week, the students will perform their poetry at a local Starbucks coffee shop and offer constructive criticism to each other. Like the players on the field who forget to talk to their teammates, some performers might get nervous, and some might make mistakes.

This is all part of the process, and exactly what makes the program special as the students find their voices both on paper, on the soccer field, and in life.

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