Written by Cory Chimka
At DC SCORES, we talk a great deal about what our program does for students, but do we underestimate the transformative effect DC SCORES can have on teachers and schools?
DC SCORES soccer and writing coaches get the opportunity to form more meaningful relationships with parents, teachers, support staff and administrators. They describe a positively unique teacher-student relationship that arises from encouraging students to explore their feelings, expressing themselves through poetry. There is a permanent shift in the way a student looks at the adult who gives them the skills, tools and resources to become positive change-agents within their communities. Imagine the difference made to a teacher’s day-to-day interactions in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and playgrounds.
Teaching is often an isolationistic experience. We spend the majority of our time operating independently in the microcosm of our classroom. Time is of the essence when it comes to lesson planning to deliver a broad curriculum to 30 widely diverse learners in just 180 days. Opportunities for collaboration are few and missed.
Contrarily, when I became a DC SCORES soccer and writing coach at Harriett Tubman Elementary in 2000, my classroom became a hub of teacher interface.
Ms. L. was concerned that a group of her boys was participating in after-school soccer but not consistently turning in homework, so together we created a system of accountability that used DC SCORES game day to motivate the boys in documenting progress toward completing all assignments.
Ms. D. couldn’t believe that Dana was actually writing poetry after school, so we sat down during a planning period and I taught Ms. D. the strategies I’d learned at DC SCORES trainings and in the America SCORES Power of Poetry curriculum.
Mrs. J. was fed up with Dante’s disrespect and disruptive behavior in her classroom, and she wanted him OFF the DC SCORES team. I understood Mrs. J’s frustration. I explained how and why we’d named Dante DC SCORES Equipment Manager and shared some other strategies that had been working for me with Dante. We scheduled a meeting with Dante, and explained that being on the DC SCORES team and serving as Equipment Manager were privileges, and that he was still representing his team while in Mrs. J.’s class. We introduced a weekly chart by which Dante earned stickers and minutes of soccer playing time by complying with Mrs. J’s instructions and treating others with respect.
I became closely allied with the school nurse, psychologist, social worker, and special education coordinator to make sure any student that needed the opportunity for self-expression, physical fitness, and a sense of community had them through DC SCORES.
The team-building and character-education elements ubiquitous throughout DC SCORES curricula align with widely accepted best practices like Responsive Classroom, Positive Behavior Intervention Systems, and Balanced Literacy. My DC SCORES team’s favorite team-building games became my go-to Morning Meeting activities; and they could be masterfully led by the students who were members of both my team and my class. This intersection produced our leaders and as a class, we became Team 204 (our room number).
Our team resolved to have the straightest lines in the hallway, the cleanest table in the cafeteria, and we’d look out for one another on the playground and in the streets.
We learned what one another’s academic strengths and challenges were, and made a commitment to advance to fifth grade together as proficient readers, writers and mathematicians. At the end of the school year, we received the Academic Achievement Award for superior growth in scores on the state standardized reading and mathematics test.
At the whole school-level, DC SCORES was also transformative. There was a small green amphibian on the sign in front of Harriet Tubman Elementary School that largely went unnoticed. That is, until the DC SCORES team began referring to themselves as the Tubman Toads. Soon after, the entire student body began dressing in green and yellow and our soccer games became large-scale community events.
We had fans of all ages. Ice cream trucks and fruit vendors lined our dusty field. Team news became a featured staple of morning and afternoon announcements. We all became the Tubman Toads: the whole school, the whole community. The neighborhood had been waiting for a way to celebrate its youth, time to bond over common experiences, and a place to rally around a shared goal.
For soccer games and poetry slams alike, the community came out en masse to support their Toads.
Being a part of DC SCORES meant working to improve the lives of students throughout Washington, DC. But in addition, DC SCORES made me a better teacher, a better leader, and a better community member. It made my school a better place to be, to learn, to play, and I’ll forever be a proud Tubman Toad.