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Monday, May 6, 2013

America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! journal: A memorable weekend for two DC youth poets

In early April, DC SCORES Elementary School Program Coordinator Anna Cohen-Price joined two outstanding students on a trip to New York City for the seventh Annual America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!. Below is a journal, written by Anna, about the students’ three-day, memorable experience.

Saturday, April 6
On April 6, two exceptional poet-athletes from DC SCORES hopped on a train to the Big Apple to represent DC in the seventh Annual America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!.

 At 11 a.m. on Saturday, I met Christian B., 11, of Tubman Elementary School and Kastenny C., 10, of Marie Reed Elementary School at the Columbia Heights Metro to head to the train station. I was worried at first, because in my rehearsals with the kids in the previous weeks they had been quite shy. I thought maybe I would have to spend four days in New York trying to get them to talk to me or smile.

Boy, was I wrong.

As soon as we got to Union Station, Kastenny and Christian opened right up, bombarding me with questions once we boarded the train.

“How long is the train ride?”

“How many states will we go through?”

“Is the train underground or above ground?”

“How many stars does the hotel have?”

“Will there be room service?”

Luckily, the questions didn’t last forever, and they settled into their books and their phones —only looking up when I excitedly showed them cool things outside the train window.

Three and a half hours —and many “are we there yet?” inquiries — later, we stepped off the train and into Penn Station. We met up with our America SCORES representative outside, and immediately took a picture with the Empire State Building in the background. During the very short walk to the hotel, Christian looked up at the tall buildings in awe while Kastenny, who had been to New York once before, exclaimed: “I know New York like the back of my hand!”

A few minutes later we were at our hotel, and Kastenny and Christian were more than satisfied with our rooms. Their excitement about our hotel room and finally arriving in New York, however, was slightly overshadowed by a sense of nervousness. We were the first of 14 cities’ representatives to arrive, and would shortly meet 25 other young poets from across the country. Christian was especially worried because he was going to have to separate from us and stay in a room with both chaperones and students he’d never met before.

Next thing we knew, it was time to have dinner and meet the other poet-athletes. The chaperones had a separate event, so I parted with Kastenny and Christian, wishing them luck and feeling overwhelmed with nerves for them (if I had been them, I definitely would have been freaking out!).

Two hours later, I was met with beaming faces from all 27 students. Everyone was talking and laughing and acting as if they had known each other for years. Christian had transformed into being more than excited to move his stuff into his room with his new friends, and Kastenny was equally giddy about her new roommates.

Sunday, April 7
To my surprise, the girls were up and ready to go bright and early Sunday morning. Even though they had stayed up late the night before, talking and giggling and getting to know each other, they could not have been more excited to start the day. We met up with the rest of the group downstairs, and walked over to the America SCORES office for a long morning of rehearsals.

Upon arrival, the poet-athletes were split into three performance groups, where they would each get a chance to stand up in front of their peers and practice their poems. They then received constructive criticism and positive feedback from the audience so they were more prepared for the SLAM!.

Kastenny and Christian both seemed nervous at first, but once they made it through their poems once, they rehearsed them the next few times with ease. Both students (with a little help from their peers) performed their poems with passion and heart. All the poet-athletes were very constructive with their advice, making sure to help each other in the best possible ways.

After the individual rehearsals, everyone assembled to practice the group poem. Even outside the rehearsal space, I could hear the booming voices of all 27 poet-athletes.

“Make some noise! Make some room! We kick poetry as we grow and bloom!”

Later that afternoon, we walked the highline to show the kids some more of New York City and that night we all dressed up for a dinner banquet at Harry’s Italian Pizza Bar. Kastenny and Christian ate plates upon plates of pizza, pasta and salad — and just when I thought they had reached their tipping point, they brought out huge dessert platters. Turns out they weren’t full at all!

Back at the hotel, we were paired up with a different room to have a pajama party (AKA, secret rehearsal time). With all the girls in their PJs and bowls of popcorn in their laps, each one got up to perform their poem. With a water bottle as a microphone, they went up on “stage” one by one, and at the end were met by wild applause from the rest of us in the room.

Soon enough it was time for bed again, and after hugs and high-fives, and of course some more giggling, the girls separated and resigned to their respective rooms. I was exhausted from the long day, but Kastenny and the rest of the girls were somehow still full of energy and anticipation for their big day.

Monday, April 8
The kids were up early again, ready for their morning rehearsal in the hotel lobby. The group spent an hour putting the final touches on their poem, and then we hopped on the subway to Central Park to release all that pent up energy and nerves in a rousing staff vs. student soccer game. It was a beautiful day, and everyone got to show off their soccer skills, which had been hiding behind their amazing poetry the whole weekend!

Then we hopped on a bus. Destination: The New York Stock Exchange, site of the SLAM!.

As the kids spent the afternoon at the Exchange going through their final rehearsal, they were buzzing with anticipation. After an early dinner, they were presented with awesome, brand-new America SCORES soccer jerseys to wear during the performance. Once changed, the poet-athletes were led in for a final warm-up and then each given a pair of snazzy sunglasses to wear before and after their performances.

All of a sudden, something had changed. The group of 27 poet-athletes had transformed from your everyday elementary school students to passionate, strong and unique performers ready to share their poems with the world.

The America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! was the highlight of the weekend by far. Each student finally got the chance to get up on stage in front of a huge audience and share their story. We heard poems about families, about loss, about coming to the United States, about bad haircuts, and a love of hip-hop.

Each and every poet-athlete spoke clearly and with power and strength behind their words.

Afterward, the room was buzzing again. Everyone donned their sweet shades and got to go out into the audience and sign autographs. They were stars!

Kastenny and Christian could not have been happier. They were proud of what they had accomplished, and rightfully so. It was clear that all the students had bonded over the incredible experience. They left New York the next day exhausted from their jam-packed trip.

More importantly, they left empowered with confidence, pride and a bigger sense of identity — ready to take on the world in their respective cities!

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