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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Students throughout DC feel powerful, create sustainable change during spring of service-learning

Photo by Juliette Steadman
Written by Cory Chimka
Program Director


That’s how a team of 32 youths feel after spending an entire fall season engaging in team-building exercises on the soccer field and in the classroom; then showcasing themselves and their work in a competitive, team-created, multimedia spoken word performance in front of over 500 community members at Washington, DC’s largest youth poetry slam.

The team has a collective voice, something important to say, and they DEMAND you listen!
DC SCORES’ spring writing season seeks to harness that power in the interest of developing communities, making positive sustainable change, and giving students marketable life and professional skills that will make them more employable and increase the number of quality educational opportunities down the road.

As winter thaws into spring, each team gets out of their classroom on writing days. They closely examine their community: Who are the people in their community? What are the things they most love about their community? What are the threats of and to their community? Is the longevity of the current population remaining in their neighborhood threatened – including themselves and their families? What do they see every day, but never took the time to think about before?

The students then choose together a community issue to dig deeply into. They choose a point on their “threat-to-asset” continuum where they think they can safely make the largest, most sustainable impact for themselves, their families and their neighbors. At that point, DC SCORES coaches take a back seat, offering guidance and resources, arranging guest speakers, and exploring community partnerships.

The students take charge!

On one visit to Bancroft Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, I got to see 8- and 9-year-old committee spokespeople reporting out to the large group the status of the work each small group was doing. Members of the Technology Committee were video recording the reports using iPads, while the Social Media Committee stood by intending to use the footage as vLogs on a Wordpress site the team had set up to document their entire service-learning process.

A few days later, I found myself on the opposite end of town at Kelly Miller Middle School in far Northeast. The students were grouped in four corners of the room. Some were huddled around coach Kevon Ward’s personal laptop, iPad, iPhone, and iPod. Like many teams, Kelly Miller elected to partner with a senior center near the school. But Kelly Miller students, rather than focus on traditional ways of supporting the seniors, aimed to bridge the “digital divide” they had read about online. By teaching older adults how to use smart phones and other technology, their visit made sustainable change.

The team at Hart Middle School was devastated when their proposal to hold a “Claws & Paws Benefit Dance” at the school was denied by an administrator. Fortunately, this setback only galvanized the team to make sure “stray animals captured will have a better experience until adopted,” and “raise awareness about animals in need.”  Through internet research and a guest speaker, they learned that one shelter badly needed old sheets and blankets. Upon further learning that a recent distemper outbreak had caused the local shelter to destroy their sheet and blanket supply, they focused all their “dance energy” on collecting funds as well as old sheets and blankets. Weeks later, they presented the shelter with garbage bags filled with blankets and a check for $160.

Before I headed out for the last day of spring programming, I changed into gym shorts and donned a sweat band. I was signed up to run in Bancroft’s “DC SCORES One-Miler for Homeless Animals.” I followed student-created signs that led me easily to a well-organized registration table. After checking my name off a list of registrants, the students handed me a runner’s bib not unlike I’d seen marathoners wear on television. I was runner #281!

After registration, I was directed toward an adjacent table where students asked me my size and handed me a beautiful hand-screened T-shirt designed and created by the team. The roar of a Harley Davidson caught my ear and I whipped around as an MPD motorcycle officer pulled on to the playground. Were we in trouble?

No! When the team applied to the MPD for the parade permit, they’d read that the city required when hosting a race an MPD escort. Here he was!

The race was professional and perfectly planned at every turn. “Course Marshalls” guided my way down the clearly marked trail, which included runs along commercial and residential streets before dipping into Rock Creek Park. Around each corner, I was encouraged by signs held by DC SCORES participants and teachers from the school who students had recruited as race day volunteers.

Each quarter mile, I was given my lap time along with more shouts of encouragement. When I heaved back onto the school’s blacktop, and labored cross the finish line, I came in fourth among adult racers, narrowly missing the prize of a $25 iTunes gift card.

It didn’t matter. When Coach Velez announced over the portable public address system that collectively we’d raised over $1000 to help homeless animals in the District of Columbia, we looked around at one another, huffing and puffing through grins.

We were all winners, and we were…


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