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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Inside the notebook at Imagine Hope Community Charter Part VII: Looking back at a fall of self-expression

Image Hope performs at the Poetry Slam!.
Each week throughout the fall season, DC SCORES intern Brady Smithsund visited the writing enclave of Imagine Hope Community Charter School -- Tolson Campus, a new school in the program. Brady witnessed as the Soaring Eagles experienced ups and downs in going through the Power of Poetry writing curriculum. Brady's internship ended before last week's Poetry Slam!, so he didn't get to witness Imagine Hope's inspiring performance at H.D. Woodson Senior High School that won third place and Skky M.'s solo poem that won her the Shine Award for best individual poet.

But Brady could have known as much from witnessing the enthusiasm and excitement the students brought to the classroom every day that he visited. Putting together a strong Poetry Slam! experience is a three-month journey for a DC SCORES team and its coaches, and Imagine Hope exemplified that process as well as any school.

Below are Brady's final thoughts from a semester spent visiting the poetry classroom of the Soaring Eagles. See photos from Brady's visits on our Flickr page.


Shine Award winner Skky M.
After about three months of hard work in the classroom, the fall 2013 DC SCORES season is ending for the Soaring Eagles of Imagine Hope Charter, Tolson Campus. Not only does it mark the end of their soccer and writing seasons, but it also means my time with them is over. I have enjoyed watching the students learn from two very talented teachers in Jerome Clemons and Kendra Keuhl. The amount of work it took for them to teach a class as successful as this one shows nothing but promise for future seasons of DC SCORES.

On Day One, I sat back and observed as the students cracked open the DC SCORES Power of Poetry curriculum book (182 pages!) and begin their journey through poetry. That first day I was there back in September, I saw a group of kids who didn’t know anything about poetry -- some didn’t even know much about creative writing in general. They were nervous and shy around me. They weren’t as cohesive of a group as they are now. I was nervous at first at how much progress they could make, and how much of the curriculum they could hit along the way.

Each week, though, they kept getting better and better. I found myself more and more impressed by the ever-growing knowledge, spirit, and willingness to work hard exhibited by the students week in and week out. I saw them write their first “I Am” poems, used to describe themselves as students, athletes, friends, and human beings. I was there when they proceeded to writing acrostic poems, which incorporated a more artistic and aesthetic approach to poetry. I could see their confidence growing with each line they wrote and each poem they performed in front of the class.

By this time, they had accepted me as one of their own, giving me high fives and welcoming me into the class each time I visited. I knew them by name and they knew me. I was able to offer them advice and give them little pushes in the right direction if they needed it. Even though we had only spent one day a week together for a few weeks, I could tell that they respected me and they knew I respected them.

On the final day I attended a session at Imagine Hope, I witnessed what I could only describe as the pinnacle of their season. That day the students were practicing a complicated group poem they would be performing at this year’s Poetry Slam!. Kids are not perfect, and therefore they messed up quite a bit. Frustration was all around and tempers were starting to run thin. It looked as though they had hit a wall and were struggling to find a way to combat it.

Then, a unifying moment happened. One of the smallest boys stood up and grabbed the attention of the entire room.

“Who are we?” he yelled “Who are we?”

This ignited the rest of the kids, who responded with a rousing chorus of “Soaring Eagles!” It was at this point that they became a team. They bonded together to overcome their obstacles and work toward their common goal -- performing well at their first ever Poetry Slam!.

It was at this moment that I realized success in the DC SCORES poetry program isn’t about making it all the way through the Power of Poetry curriculum. I realized that none of it matters if the kids don’t have fun along the way. All the substantive material in the book is lost if the kids don’t have a nurturing and creative environment to learn in.

They have this environment at Imagine Hope Tolson. The kids were genuinely excited to be in that classroom every day, and I could see them change as students and writers throughout my time there. This is what the DC SCORES Power of Poetry curriculum really does -- facilitate the positive growth of kids in ways that go beyond just writing by teaching them to deal with everything that may get in their way. They learned not only how to write creatively but also how to think for themselves and express themselves in new ways.

That’s the power of DC SCORES.

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