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Monday, June 10, 2013

A behind-the-scenes look at Thomson Elementary School's service-learning project

Written by Zaryn Jennings
DC SCORES Communications Intern

My first day as an intern at DC SCORES served as an introduction to many things. It was the first time I experienced the metro during rush hour; the first time I ate lunch in the office break room; and the first time I spent the afternoon with the Thomson Elementary School Tigers.
As I joined Elementary School Program Director Anna Cohen-Price to head to the school in downtown DC, I was briefed on the Tigers’ service-learning project. I was told they had chosen a safety awareness campaign as their focus. And when dealing with third- to fifth-graders, safety came with many different angles.
On that first day, I watched the students begin implementation of their project that they had decided on during the previous weeks through brainstorming and careful examination of their school community. I helped at Thomson for three weeks. On my last day, I saw the project come to fruition and make a real difference.
The Thomson Tigers are a group of kids like many other elementary schoolers. They’re energetic, silly and creative. When a visitor, Kim, from the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency came to talk to the kids about safety, she asked why someone would call 311.
One of the kids answered, “When I don’t want to do my homework.”
The room broke into laughter, but Kim, after assuring them that 311 would not be helpful with their homework, directed them toward the next subject: “What could you do in case of a natural disaster?”
Hands shot up and many answers were given on how to keep one’s family out of danger. The students could certainly joke, but they’re serious when it comes to safety in their community.
The first day I worked with the kids at Thomson, I spent my time running between poster making and letter writing. The students filled me in on their project as they made posters covered in photos of healthy fruits and vegetables (safe food), and reminders to “not be a hater.” They read me the letters they had written to local police officers. A group spent the hour outside in the hallway filming a video on “how to be safe at school.”

Eating healthy to avoid sickness and obesity. Treating others kindly. Contacting local officials to stress the importance of community safety. And an awareness video. The Tigers had a clear understanding of the many ways to push forward the issue amongst themselves, in their school, and in their greater community.
When I came back two days later, the project was moving forward. Students were split into groups based on their grade, and each group was tasked with creating a presentation to show to their classmates outside of DC SCORES.
The kids (with much help from their DC SCORES writing coach) planned out their presentation piece by piece. They chose which topics they were going to talk about and decided who would speak about each. There were discussions about who would cover junk food and who would cover jaywalking.

At the end of the action-packed afternoon, everything came together.
On one of the Tigers’ last days of planning, I was nervous the presentations wouldn’t be completed. The students had done so much work, but their last step involved talking to teachers and planning a time to present during class.
At the beginning of our time with the kids that day, we told them each group would practice their presentation in front of the entire team at the end of class. When that time came, not only did every group present -- every student spoke.
At the end of that day, I went around to collect the pieces of paper where all of their information was written. As I reached down to collect a sheet, one of the third-graders, Itzelly, gave me the most telling answer of whether or not they were ready,
“Coach Z, you can’t take that. We’re presenting tomorrow.”
She wasn’t the only one who told me that.
On my last day with the kids at Thomson, they demonstrated to me what a DC SCORES service-learning project can become. A student who told me at the beginning of the week that he didn’t want to speak for his group at all, had changed his mind. He stood up and introduced his group and their presentation.
Though his transformation was a small one, it gave me a glimpse into the impact that the DC SCORES service-learning curriculum has in empowering youth to feel they can make a difference.

Each day I visited Thomson was an introduction to something new -- whether it was students’ abundance of questions about safety, their desire to know more, their overall excitement, or their ability to work together as a team.

The students presented to their classes what it meant to be safe, but they showed to me what it means to be a part of DC SCORES.

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