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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Inside Bancroft Elementary Part 3: Performing at Starbucks

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 4:00 p.m. last Wednesday when 20 smiling students from Bancroft Elementary marched single file into the Columbia Heights Starbucks.

Carrying their poetry notebooks, the students looked around at the patrons sipping their coffees and typing away on their laptops.

For many students, this would be their first performance outside of the classroom.

The students filled into chairs situated in the front corner of the shop. DC SCORES program coordinator Joe Brophy introduced himself and explained that this performance was all about practice and giving feedback, just like the soccer games which have become a favorite among the students.

The students went around the circle one by one, introducing themselves and stating an animal in the wild they would like to be if they could.

Then, Coach Joe, standing next to a chart showing the types of feedback the students could give each other, explained that "positive feedback" and "constructive criticism" are ways they can help each other prepare for the annual Poetry Slam! at the end of the month..

Each student volunteered to perform when they felt comfortable. And then, standing at the front of the circle, they read their poem to the class.

Tatiana, a third grader, smiled as she stood and read her poem about playing with her brother at the playground.

Every performance concluded with a round of finger snaps, or a polite golf clap, in a gesture of respect to the members of the impromptu audience who were working.

"I liked your poem," Coach Joe said to Tatiana as she finished reading and the round of snaps subsided. "It's a meaningful poem, and I can tell that you care about what you write about."

Moises said it was his first time performing outside of class, and when asked the theme of his poem, he said, "I am a chicken." His performance drew laughs from his classmates when he talked about chicken salad.

Some students seemed nervous, while others were excited to stand up and perform.

Eric said he wasn't nervous to perform. "I wrote about fears," he said afterward.

Junior's poem was spot-on for the venue. "I wrote about Cookie Monster," he said, standing not far from the display case of tasty desserts.

The students didn't miss out on the goodies. After everyone in the group performed, writing coach Nikki Allinson handed out hot chocolates to all the students.

The hot chocolate provided newfound energy to the group, as a few students worked up the courage to perform twice.

Elder seemed a bit nervous at first, but with some positive encouragement from Coach Nikki and Coach Joe, he read his second poem about girls snoring. Elder's poems drew great reactions from his classmates and coaches.

The students and coaches focused on evaluating each other on projection, pace, body language, volume, context and tone.

"I liked how he used rhyming words," Junior said to the group about Elder's performance.

Coach Nikki said the field trip was a great opportunity to prepare the students for the Poetry Slam!, and it helped them narrow their focus to the areas where they can improve.

"I was so proud!" she said. "A few of the quieter students were able to individually shine.

"We need to work on articulating and projection. They have amazing poems, I just want the audience to be able to hear them!"

Two days prior, on Monday afternoon, poetry specialist Shelly Bell joined the Bancroft students in class to help them prepare for the Starbucks performance.

Bell runs her own organization called Seven City Art Society, which organizes poetry and writing events in Alexandria and different spots throughout DC, Maryland and Virginia.

Bell led the Bancroft students through creative exercises focused on public speaking, rhyming and expanding their vocabulary.

"Using each letter of your name, you're going to write an adjective,” Bell explained. Then, giving examples of how prevalent poetry and rhyming are in the students’ everyday lives, Bell asked the students to name some of their favorite songs.

One student shouted "Party Rock Anthem," and immediately the students broke out into a collective verse of the popular LMFAO song.

Bell then had the students sit in a circle and play "Going on a Picnic," as each student named one food item they'd bring on a family picnic. The only caveat: Before they could say their item, the students had to recite all of the previous items listed by their classmates.

It was an exercise in public speaking and memory, two skills which served the students well at their Wednesday Starbucks performance.

Bell concluded her lesson with a freestyle performance for the students.

"The kids really enjoyed her energy and clear passion for poetry," Coach Nikki said. "Her spoken-word performance at the end of the lesson was a great example for the students to see right before performing at Starbucks."

Shelly Bell is no stranger to performing poetry. She is on the 2011 Busboys & Poets National Slam Team, which is ranked nationally in the top 20.

Bell said these kind of lessons and performances are just what the students need to prepare for their Poetry Slam! performance in front of an audience of hundreds.

"I still get nervous on stage," Bell said, "especially if it's huge crowds.

"That's why I think this is such a great program, with having two performance aspects really. Because they're performing in sports, and then they're going to perform in something that has to do with academics.

“And that's awesome."

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