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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An incredible 13 years of DC SCORES at Arts and Technology Academy, led by four great leaders

From left: Executive Director Amy Nakamoto, ATA
coaches Joyce Newton, Natasha Davis, and Rodney Curry,
and Senior Director of Programs Katrina Owens. 

ATA coach Robert Lancaster isn't pictured. 
View ATA photos here, and watch videos here

On May 31, the Arts and Technology Academy DC SCORES team will come together for one final Jamboree! -- the exclamation point on an incredible 13 years.

ATA is closing at the end of the school year, meaning one of the tightest-knit DC SCORES teams will also conclude programming for a final time. Rodney Curry has been at the Ward 7 school since 1999, when he arrived at the same time as Joyce Newton, Natasha Davis, and Robert Lancaster. Two years later, they all signed up to coach for the after-school program that was starting.

The four of them have stuck together ever since.

"Honestly, I'm going to miss working with Ms. Newton, Ms. Davis, and Mr. Lancaster," Curry said. "We're like family. ... We just have a really good group.

"That's the toughest part -- not having them there -- because we've been leaning on each other for so long."


On May 6, the ATA coaches were presented with the Teamwork Award at the 2nd Annual SCORE Awards held at Long View Gallery. Before taking the stage, they watched a video that captured dozens of students whose lives they've impacted during the last 13 years.

There were hundreds of kids not pictured.

In the ideal DC SCORES program, we're not just building teams for youth through the combination of soccer, poetry and service-learning -- we're providing the resources for teachers and administrators within the school to also come closer together and ultimately create a tighter-knit school and surrounding community.

That's exactly what happened at ATA.

Curry and Lancaster coach the school's soccer teams while Newton and Davis run the writing and service-learning sessions. Soccer practices and writing sessions are on different days of the week. The coaches could have just done their own thing; instead, they came together and offered a helping hand.

When Curry or Lancaster couldn't make a soccer practice, there was a writing coach to fill in.

"One day I had to serve as a (soccer) coach; I had no idea what I was doing," Newton recalled. "But it was good because I was learning as the kids were during practice. That's what I've been doing since that day -- I've been going out practicing with them.

"One day during the week I will go out there with Mr. Curry or Lancaster just to get a feel, because you never know when you might have to go in and replace them."

The kids at ATA have never had to worry about not having a coach for soccer or writing.


Selling the soccer aspect of DC SCORES at a new school is easy. Who doesn't like to kick a ball around? Making poetry and service-learning sound fun is much more difficult.

Sitting in the auditorium at H.D. Woodson Senior High School in 2011 watching ATA win a fourth consecutive Golden Mic Trophy for the best Poetry Slam! performance, one could have been forgiven for thinking spoken word had always come easy to dynasty team in their burgundy uniforms.

That, of course, was far from the case. It took several years of Newton and Davis being there every day and letting the kids know just how good at performing they could be and how powerful their voices were.

"Actually our biggest competition was HRA (Howard Road Academy)," Davis said. "I think just going every year to the Poetry Slam! and not really being as prepared as we should have been and watching Howard Road and other schools like Anne Beers perform and do really well -- it made the students really yearn to want to be better, to put together really good poetry."

It all came together when President Obama was elected. The team had always tried to focus their performance on a local or global issue, and in 2008 they put together an inspiring ode to the first black president. 

"The students were so inspired by his election and they were really excited, and the poetry just sort of flowed and everything that we wanted was put together," Davis said. "Once we started practicing, we knew at that moment, 'We have it, we've got it, this is really, really good.'

"And when they got up there and were able to execute it, without any issues at all, we knew at that point that we were a really good contender."

Each year since then, ATA has put together the most powerful and poignant performance about issues affecting their community -- gun violence, test scores, bullying, an ode to MLK when the memorial opened, and, finally, a performance about their school closing.

If you watch any of the school's performances from the past six years, you'll be convinced that the students are incredibly bright and will be leaders in their communities as they grow up. Two ATA students during that time were chosen to represent DC SCORES at the America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! in New York City and also performed on live TV and at other special events. 

"They take a lot of pride, especially when they've been able to contribute," Davis said. "Whether it's a verse, whether it's one or two words, they're able to contribute and feel really, really good about it."


If you ask any student or parent at ATA about DC SCORES, there's a very good chance they'll know about the program. That's the work of the four coaches, who've ingrained the team culture into the school's hallways and classrooms.

"In the school, they're like rock stars," Davis said of DC SCORES participants. "Prior to the Poetry Slam!, we get the after-school program involved, we rehearse in front of them, rehearse in front of different grade levels."

Added Curry: "Oh, mannnn! It's a good high. Everyone's excited. The school's somewhat buzzing."

The same can be said of Thursday Game Day. Like high school students wearing their varsity jackets, the ATA Jaguars are allowed to wear their jerseys throughout the day. The younger children not yet old enough for the program look up to them and yearn for the opportunity to do the same.

"I think that the system gives them that incentive and gives them the confidence to be willing to play when it's time to play," Curry said. 

The games take place in front of throngs of family members, who cheer on the kids playing on the field adjacent to the school building. During the afternoon, teachers and administrators, their work done for the day, venture over to watch. Everyone knows that Thursday afternoons are Game Day.

Program alumni come to the games, too. Some high school students are now volunteer referees for DC SCORES; others visit the coaches to thank them for the opportunities they provided the students and to give updates on school. 

"We thank them for seeing they're still pushing for and using what we taught them to better their lives," Curry said. "They tell us that their experience with DC SCORES helped them further their education in middle school and high school."


Come next fall, there will be no Arts and Technology Academy. A KIPP charter school will take over the building, and there's a chance DC SCORES will still have a program there. Curry is hoping to keep it going. 

But there won't be the morning WATA broadcast over the loudspeakers -- which always featured a segment about the Poetry Slam! on the day after -- nor will there be the four-person team that has changed so many lives and created such a vibrant, cohesive community.

A long list of memories, however, will live on.

"It has been for me pulling together the kids and making us a family," Newton said. "A family that cares, a family that shares, helping them to learn what poetry is and how to express themselves through poetry, and also being the soccer coach."

We will miss you, ATA. And never forget you, either. 

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