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Monday, December 5, 2011

Inside Bancroft Elementary Part 5: Showtime at the Poetry Slam!

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.


Bancroft Elementary's busy week of rehearsals and run-throughs culminated in excitement and celebration last Wednesday night when spoken word artist KoM announced to the audience in Columbia Heights Education Campus' auditorium that the students won third place in the elementary school division of the DC SCORES Poetry Slam!.

The students proudly holding up the trophy and posing for pictures was the culmination of an action-packed night that capped off the fall 2011 season. Let’s rewind to the beginning…

Around 6 p.m., it was showtime, and the auditorium was filled. For many students from Bancroft, this would be their first performance in front of a large crowd.

Seated in the row closest to the stage, Bancroft's poets were easily recognized in their bright yellow jerseys dancing to the musical interlude of "Party Rock Anthem" courtesy of DJ RBI.

Bancroft was 11th out of 14 schools in the performance order. The ample waiting time provided many of the students an opportunity to rehearse their lines one last time, but for some, the fear of going on stage continued to build as the large auditorium filled near capacity.

"I feel scared," Alicia said before the show started. "I'm nervous that people are going to tease us."

As Truesdell Education Campus took the stage for its performance, the Bancroft students were escorted to their positions backstage.

A few minutes later, the emcees introduced Bancroft, and the students walked out under the bright lights and took their seats along the front of the stage. Standing behind a line of his sitting classmates, Alejandro introduced his class and his friend Elder, who would be reading Bancroft's first poem.

Elder grabbed the microphone. He paused and took off his glasses. Walking behind his classmates, Elder began to read with authority.

"Women these days are so mysterious!" he said as the audience broke into laughter. "It's hard to know when they're being serious."

Elder has excelled in his poetry writing this year. His creativity and writing ability leave many surprised to find out he is only in the fourth grade. Elder, like many students, has also battled stage fright and has worked hard with his coaches to improve his confidence.

"He's a natural star," writing coach Nikki Allinson said of Elder at a practice two days before the Slam! in the Bancroft Elementary gymnasium. "He's this little kid writing about women, and I think it's adorable. It's not what a normal fourth-grader writes a poem about.

"He has so much potential to make such an impact on the audience, but he sometimes lets his stage fright get the best of him because he's afraid of getting back feedback."

Coach Nikki expressed her excitement Wednesday night when Elder overcame his pre-performance nerves and entertained the crowd.

Nikki said that Elder initially had a rough time "with nerves when he saw how many seats were in the audience."

As the Community Outreach Coordinator for DC SCORES, Nikki spends a lot of her time in the office working with the Alumni Development Program. Coach Nikki channeled the strength of this alumni network before Wednesday's performance to help Elder overcome his stage fright.

"I brought him into the hallway where Juan Carlos Rivera and Sebastian Duque, who are both members of the DC SCORES Alumni Executive Board, talked to him and made him more comfortable," Nikki recalled. "I remember Sebastian saying, 'Man, we've both been in your shoes. It's not easy. But you have the swagger, just let it shine on stage.'

"It was a really beautiful moment.”

Sebastian's advice must have worked, because Elder and the rest of the Bancroft crew brought their signature swagger to the stage on Wednesday night.

After Elder's performance, the students performed their poem about monsters using masks they made from paper plates decorated with feathers and markers. Anna then stepped up to the microphone, found her rhythm in the metronome of her class' stomps and claps, and began her rap about Bancroft power.

"You wish you had this Bancroft power, but you don't. You're lame and sour!" she rapped, as her classmates joined her in shouting the last line.

The group strutted off stage proud of their performance. The event's emcees were as impressed as the audience.

"How you fit that much attitude in that little body, I don't know," emcee KoM said over the microphone.

The Poetry Slam! concluded with the awards ceremony. When the students heard the announcement that Bancroft had won third place, they leapt out of their seats screaming and hugging each other in excitement.

Alejandro, the team's captain, ran up the steps to the stage with Anna and posed for a picture with Bancroft’s new trophy alongside honorary judges Clyde Simms of D.C. United, and Lori Lindsey and Becky Sauerbrunn of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.

Not long after the celebrating students took their seats, Alejandro was selected to join two other students from the crowd in a freestyle dance-off on stage. His athleticism was on full display as he broke into a handstand mid-song.

As his classmates crowded around the front of the stage in support, he said he tried to do "any random dance move" he could, but he wasn't nervous.

Coach Nikki said Alejandro is a "true leader," both on stage and on the soccer field.

From the Bancroft classroom, to the makeshift performance area at the local Starbucks, to the Poetry Slam! stage, the students’ season of hard work, practice, encouragement from classmates and coaches, and the courage to step outside of their comfort zone paid off last Wednesday night.

"I couldn't be more proud!" Coach Nikki said about her team. "This season was amazing, but it wasn't easy.

“I was lucky to have such talented poet-athletes to work with.”

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