When the DC SCORES program goes into a new school, it's naturally a process to get participants interested in our unique, three-pronged model of soccer, poetry and service-learning.
The soccer part isn't difficult. Who doesn't love to kick a ball around and score goals? The poetry aspect, on the other hand, can be a challenge. Poetry? Self-expression? Many elementary school students have never even heard such words before DC SCORES.
So it's expected and accepted that when new schools participate in their first Poetry Slam! -- tasked with memorizing three poems to perform under the bright lights, in front of hundreds of other students, families and community members -- they might struggle a little bit and show some stage fright.
Six schools new to the program this fall participated in the second night of the 15th Annual DC SCORES Poetry Slam! -- funded in part by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Humanities Council of Washington, DC -- and put on a show for the ages, led by J.C. Nalle Elementary.
Nalle surprised the near-capacity audience at H.D. Woodson, emcee KoM, DJ RBI, and, possibly, the panel of judges with a well-scripted performance about making a difference that was equal parts history lesson and entertaining.
With each elementary school child dressed up in a unique outfit to illustrate that no one's the same, the students chanted in unison, "I'ma make a difference, I'ma make a difference what?" Then one student after another took the microphone, approached the front of the stage, and described how a United States president had made a difference.
This was not a partisan performance, either. Franklin D. Roosevelt was cited for the New Deal; Lincoln was cited for the Emancipation Proclamation; George H.W. Bush was cited for the Americans with Disabilities Act; Clinton was cited for his commitment to education. In all, more than 10 presidents were mentioned, as the Nalle team educated the audience.
They followed that up by stepping forward individually to describe what they would do if president.
"If I was president, I would make healthy foods cheaper and (bad) foods more expensive so the average American can live longer."
I would fight pollution, another student said, "Because no one should have to breath in unclear air."
At the end of the night, after hearing their name called, the Nalle students ebulliently overtook the brightly lit stage to hold up the huge Golden Mic trophy and breath in the fresh, clean air of an incredible victory.
It was incredible because of the competition they faced during the 17-team performance, capping off two nights of a record 35 performances featuring schools from seven of the District's eight wards.
Jefferson Middle School, another new school and the program's lone Ward 6 school, couldn't have represented better for DC's largest ward with a powerful musical performance about stereotypes that won first place among middle schools.
Standing in a line, students rattled off one stereotype after another:
"Kids don't care about the environment."
"Old people can't drive."
"All black people like chicken."
Then, in unison, the students belted out: "Stop judging people/Stop the labels/Stop stereotypes."
That was just the beginning of the show.
Introduced as a Grammy-winning artist -- which she sure sounded like -- Sandy T. performed a beautiful song about reaching for your dreams and navigating the obstacle course of life. When she sat down afterward, she got a bear hug and a huge smile from the young boy next to her. Sandy's performance was followed by an energetic rap from Julia B., who at the end of the evening was presented the Shine Award for the most outstanding middle school individual performance.
By the conclusion of schools' performances, one thing was clear: bullying will not be tolerated at DC SCORES schools. The night represented an anti-bullying campaign, as several schools brought the issue to the forefront, give the audience insight into the minds of both bullies and their victims and how the problem can be dealt with.
Four-time defending elementary school champion Arts and Technology Academy (second place) came on stage wearing shirts that said "Bullying" with a red line through them. The back of their shirts, when they lined up, read "Stop Bullying."
"When you're bully free," the students said together, "there's no limit to what you can be."
And then, in one of the neatest moments of the night, ATA closed its performance with pairs of students walking up to each other and shaking hands before descending the stage.
Chavez Parkside (second place, middle schools) and Johnson Middle also stood up against bullying, acting out both sides of the matter -- the bullies who are taking out their frustration from being bullied themselves, and the victims who are afraid to walk to school.
At the end of the night, it was evident that no student from any of the schools was afraid of being on stage and expressing their feelings. Every school -- whether around since 1994 like Anne Beers Elementary; or new to the program like Nalle, Davis, M.C. Terrell and Orr elementary schools -- embraced the opportunity to write poetry and then perform it front of a large audience.
This courage started with the very first performance, when Wheatley's Jovahn C. read a poem about his father's infidelity, and continued throughout the night until Orr's team of just four students stood proudly center stage and let their voices be heard:
"This is how we do it/This is how we do it/a go, a go, a go Jaguars!"
Below is the full list of winners from the second night of the 15th Annual DC SCORES Poetry Slam!
1st place -- J.C. Nalle Elementary School
2nd place -- Arts and Technology Academy
3rd place -- Burrville Elementary School
Spirit Award -- Wheatley Education Campus
Shine Award -- DeAndre W., Perry Street Prep Public Charter School
1st place -- Jefferson Middle School
2nd place -- Cesar Chavez Public Charter School - Parkside
3rd place -- Kelly Miller Middle School
Spirit Award -- Johnson Middle School
Shine Award -- Julia B., Jefferson