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Friday, December 6, 2013

Lessons from soccer field, power of service-learning on display during second night of 16th Annual DC SCORES Poetry Slam!

Drew prepares for its performance.
When someone is introduced to DC SCORES and learns that the program combines soccer, poetry and service-learning, the usual -- and natural -- reaction is what? How in the world can that work?

The three prongs of our program model seem so far apart, such different disciplines. Why would a kid who plays soccer want to write poetry?

On Thursday night at the Eastside version of the 16th Annual DC SCORES Poetry Slam!, a near-capacity audience of over 500 people at H.D. Woodson Senior High School witnessed just how intertwined soccer, poetry and service-learning are through 19 original poetry and spoken word performances.

The second night of the fall season's culminating event was emceed by spoken word artist and teacher Clint Smith along with DC SCORES staff member Charity Blackwell, with DJ RBI dropping beats and the background music to performances all night.

Earlier during the season, the soccer team at Drew Elementary School -- just blocks from Woodson -- received a generous donation of soccer cleats from Sarah Bair, a high school student who started the nonprofit Cleats for Peace to give soccer shoes to students lacking them.

On stage in their orange soccer uniforms Thursday, Drew captivated the audience with a poem about their new shoes. In unison, the students sang, "Cleats on my feet! That's all I need! Cleats on my feet! That's all I need!"

That lined capped off a rhythmic clapping, stomping, rhyming and singing performance that at the end of the night won Drew the Golden Mic Trophy in the school's first ever Poetry Slam!.


Immanuel W. holds up his trophy for the Shine Award.
Drew wasn't the only debut school that showed no fear under the bright lights. KIPP AIM won the middle school championship with a powerful performance about education and self-empowerment, highlighted by Immanuel W.'s four-verse rap that won him the Shine Award for best middle school individual performance and could be on the radio soon (no joke).

KIPP AIM''s time on stage, though, began with an introduction. A girl, Raven H., in her orange soccer uniform took the microphone and told the audience how her soccer team had come from not knowing how to properly do a throw-in at the beginning of the season to making the Capital Cup Championship game.

And even though they lost, she said, the students were proud of what they had accomplished. That translated perfectly into an incredibly confident and inspiring Poetry Slam! debut performance highlighted by Immanuel's rap set to the song "The Show Goes On" by Lupe Fiasco.

Each middle school is tasked with choreographing a performance to go with a song, and Immanuel's lyrics flowed flawlessly as he dropped the chorus: "All right, all ready, we're climbing on/up the mountain/we worked so hard..."

Imagine Hope's students demonstrate community service.
Perhaps no team better demonstrated all they have learned on the soccer field and in the classroom this fall than Imagine Hope Community Charter School, which was also making its first Poetry Slam! appearance. Using the theme of "Harambe," which a student introduced to the audience as meaning "Pull Together" in Swahili, the Soaring Eagles demonstrated with actions and words all the ways they've come together during their first DC SCORES season.

"We pull together to show sportsmanship," two boys said, helping up a fallen teammate. "We're not supposed to litter, we're supposed to recycle," another boy said as he picked up fallen paper. "We pull together to help the poor," another student said as he and a teammate gave money to and helped a boy up from the ground.

Imagine Hope's third-place performance was capped off by Skky M., whose poem "I am the Hungry Child" not only inspired the audience, but won her the Shine Award for best individual performance.

"School, food, water are all things you take for granted," Skky emphasized. "I don't want or need a game, ipod, ipad or a car/Give me a book so I can learn and read and maybe ONE day/I can get an education!"

Imagine Hope hasn't had a DC SCORES service-learning season yet, but is there any doubt this spring that they'll make an indelible impact on their community (or around the world?).


Second-place finisher Arts and Technology Academy.
On the subject of education, no team delivered a more powerful performance than Arts and Technology Academy. ATA is no stranger to inspiring and heartfelt Poetry Slam! deliveries -- winning four consecutive Golden Mic trophies from 2008-11 -- and Thursday was no different.

With the increasing emphasis on test scores, school reform and other mitigating factors, schools in Washington, DC, are rarely completely immune to the possibility of being shuttered. Just last June, four DC SCORES schools were included on a list of 15 that were closed.

The ATA students, dressed well in their burgundy school uniforms, addressed school closures head on -- highlighted by a boy's solo performance that had the entire audience's attention. Microphone in hand, the boy came off the stage and walked directly in front of the judges, where he expounded on the worth of his fellow students.

"We know our math and reading scores may not be the best," he said. "But we have potential because our worth is more than just data and tests!"

That much was obvious to the 500-plus people who witnessed ATA's perfectly delivered second-place performance.


The beauty of poetry and self-expression is that when you're treated to several performance under one roof, there is great diversity in the content. While ATA focused on schools and Hart Middle School performed an anti-violence song ("Violence is a waste of time/At Hart that's something you will NEVER find"), other schools had fun with creative and comical performances.

Emcee Clint Smith.
Third-place elementary school finisher Perry Street Preparatory Public Charter School had the audience howling with laughter during its "Soccer is a Dog" poem, which featured the students in their Santa hats imitating the sounds of big dogs, lonely dogs and confused dogs -- the funniest sound.

Garfield Elementary School did a poem all about running, with each student imitating a different animal's or person's gait. Burrville Elementary School did a serious yet also amusing poem about the government shutdown, dropping lines like, "The shutdown was so bad, it made some people go mad!" and followed that poem with "Tale of two David's," as two boys performed a fun back-and-forth about the merits of their David.

It was a poignant, powerful, comedic and entertaining night of self-expression at H.D. Woodson -- a Poetry Slam! Executive Director Amy Nakamoto called the best she's witnessed in seven years. And no event could have better exemplified just how connected the three aspects of DC SCORES' program are.

Now if only Drew's students could have worn their cleats on stage!

Below is a full list of winners from the second night of the 16th Annual DC SCORES Poetry Slam.

Elementary Schools
1st place -- Drew Elementary School
2nd place -- Arts and Technology Academy
3rd place -- Imagine Hope Community Charter School, Tolson Campus
Spirit Award -- Perry Street Preparatory Public Charter School
Shine Award -- Skky M., Imagine Hope

Middle Schools
1st place -- KIPP DC: AIM Academy
2nd place -- Kelly Miller Middle School
3rd place -- Jefferson Middle School
Spirit Award -- Cesar Chavez Public Charter School, Parkside
Shine Award -- Immanuel W., KIPP AIM

See photos from the 16th Annual DC SCORES Poetry Slam! on our Flickr page.

And students from Drew have a final message for you...

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