“People know that Bancroft kids go to the White House garden and that they play DC SCORES. Those are the two big things, and with good reason.” — Principal Alison Auerbach
It's a moderately warm Thursday afternoon in mid-October at Bancroft Elementary School, nestled in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Mount Pleasant in Washington, DC, and there is an unusual amount of activity on the tiny turf soccer field tucked behind the school's playground.
The DC SCORES team is practicing. But only after posing for a group photo with school principal Alison Auerbach.
On a normal Thursday in the fall or spring, 32 team members — decked out in their unmistakable yellow jerseys — would be playing a game at a rival school with a larger field in front of a strong contingent of Bancroft supporters. But because DC SCORES' Fall Frenzy is two days away, there's no game this week — just a lively practice.
Team members are challenged on this day not just by their coaches, Monica Diaz-Lopez and John
Guzman, but by a trio of Bancroft alumni who have dedicated their after-school time this fall to nurturing the youngsters. Juliana F. and Alicia C. scrimmage the team without mercy, making them realize what hard work can lead to.
Dozens of younger students mill about the field's outskirts, watching the lucky ones and anticipating that day when they can be a part of Bancroft's team. The bilingual elementary school has 510 students, but as Guzman says, "Everybody at Bancroft currently is looking forward to becoming third-graders so they are eligible to participate in DC SCORES."
DC SCORES has been ingrained in the Bancroft community since 1999. This is the story — told from three perspectives — of the program's impact and how those in different positions think about it.
ALISON AUERBACH, PRINCIPAL
Before heading outside to soccer practice for a few minutes, Alison Auerbach is running around handling about 2,197 things. It's a busy Thursday. She confers with staff in the main office to make sure the next day's student photos will be to parents' satisfaction. Then, as we sit down, she reveals that tonight is International Night. Auerbach expects to hear conversations in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, French, Italian and maybe more languages by evening's end.
It's a particularly big deal to Auerbach because of how much pride she takes in the school's diversity and bilingualism. A DC-area native, she took time off from undergrad at Yale to travel to Spain and immerse herself in the culture and language. Auerbach's host family treated her like a child of theirs, and that's when she discovered bilingualism's ability to connect.
Several years later, Auerbach was named the founding principal at DC Bilingual Public Charter School in the District's Columbia Heights neighborhood.
The job was also very demanding and didn't mesh with getting married and having two kids, so Auerbach stepped back after three years into more administrative roles. She didn't think she'd be a principal again. Following six years at the school, she took a job as Master Educator at DC Public Schools. One of her main roles was evaluating English Second Language (ESL) teachers. At Bancroft, that means all the teachers.
The minute she walked in the door, Auerbach fell in love with the school and couldn't pass up the opportunity to become assistant principal in 2011.
"I said if I were ever going to go back to a school, Bancroft would be the school I would want to go back to," Auerbach said, "because there’s a family here, a community here, and just a sense — it’s a special place.”
She knew of DC SCORES before joining the school's leadership; it didn't take her long to recognize its importance when, on the first game day, all the program participants wore their yellow T-shirts during school and there was a palpable buzz — similar to a Friday before a high school football game — in the hallways.
Auerbach has always loved soccer, having played it and coached younger kids growing up. However, “I didn’t really learn about (DC SCORES) until I came here.”
What she's also learned — first as assistant to Zakiya Reid and, since 2013, as principal — is how big of a motivator to do well in school DC SCORES is. There is no larger privilege at Bancroft than wearing the DC SCORES uniform and playing on game day. There's so much interest before each season, some kids have to wait until fourth grade. And if you're in DC SCORES, you better focus in school — and go to poetry sessions — or you'll be replaced.
"And kids don’t do that that often, but it is important you are representing our whole community when you’re out there playing. And I think kids really get that, they really understand that."
While it's hard to match the thrills of a Bancroft game day, Auerbach also takes great pride in the strides DC SCORES' poetry program has made since she arrived at the school and is especially moved by students writing and performing in two languages. And when the team's service-learning season concluded with hosting a fun race that raised more than $1,000 for an animal shelter, Auerbach was at the finish line giving high fives.
“The academic and the athletic piece are equally important, and the expectation is that we’re developing and evolved in both," Auerbach said. "That’s what we want for our students, and everyone wants to be a part of DC SCORES so it’s a great motivator to get kids engaged in all these different pieces.”
JOHN GUZMAN, COACH
John Guzman came to Bancroft to coach DC SCORES. Now, he's as big a part of the school community as anyone.
He estimates he started as a DC SCORES coach nine or 10 years ago, and began working at the school soon thereafter. He's been a Classroom Aide, After-school Coordinator, Administrative Aide, and now is in his first year as the Assistant of School Operations.
It's likely Guzman would not be a school employee if not for DC SCORES, and his story isn't unique. Both writing coaches, Dafne Ortiz and Yasmin Escobar, are Bancroft alumni who returned to the school as DC SCORES coaches and now also work here during the school day.
In his role, Guzman interacts with many of the same students in the halls before 4pm and then on the soccer field after school. Like Auerbach, he believes there's a strong connection between students' motivation — and, thus, performance — in class and wearing that yellow uniform.
"The kids have already signed a player agreement in the beginning of the season and that player agreement indicates that they have to do well in class, they have to do all their homework, they have to have good behavior," Guzman says. "And if they don't do any of those items, they're not allowed to play on Thursday. They also have to come to poetry days."
Speaking of poetry, it may not be Guzman's specific role but he takes pride in talking about how far the self-expression aspect of DC SCORES has come. He's the first to admit that five or six years ago, Bancroft's program was little more than soccer. Since then, he's helped build up the poetry and self-expression component.
Recent Poetry Slam! performances — including top-three finishes — have demonstrated that the Bengals are far from just a soccer team. Guzman, as the veteran coach, worked hard to make sure strong writing coaches were hired, and he watched, impressed, as the elementary school youth used the teamwork developed on the soccer field to execute all aspects of the service-learning 1-miler for charity.
"We were just facilitating the resources," he said. "They were doing their own blogs, doing their own fundraisers, they did their own posters. They took ownership of the actual project, which is a good thing, and that's teaching them some life skills as well that they will need when they go on to high school and college."
ALICIA C., JULIANA F, ALUMNI
It's late October, and a pair seventh-graders at Alice Deal Middle School are proud to report something. They've come to Bancroft's DC SCORES sessions — not just soccer, but poetry, too.
And then, to emphasize, she adds, "We stay here from 4:30 to 6 o'clock."
But why? Deal, located in the upper northwest portion of the city, has no dearth of after-school enrichment offerings. Why make the trip each afternoon to Mount Pleasant?
"We want to teach little kids about what we've been through," Alicia answers without hesitation. "There are some girls that had never played soccer (prior to DC SCORES), just like me and Juliana. ... we're here today to teach other kids and to just have fun even if we lose."
This is evident during scrimmages with current team members. The girls push the younger kids and provide a good challenge, but more than anything laugh and smile and make sure their pupils are doing the same. It's clear they've learned from their DC SCORES experience when, they say, losses were not always handled gracefully.
Juliana remembers a game against Marie Reed when several girls were crying. That was just one time when the parents and strong Bancroft community kept things together.
"A whole bunch of parents were telling us to calm down because it's a game and we're supposed to have fun and that we're supposed to enjoy it," Juliana recalls. "We're not supposed to get mad just because we lost the game."
Both girls heard about DC SCORES in second grade and immediately wanted to join the team. When third grade rolled around, they became a part of the program. Looking back, they learned far more than just the impressive soccer skills they now display as assistant coaches.
"I focused on school, because I knew if I didn't get good grades and my teacher told something bad to Mr. Guzman, I know something bad will happen in DC SCORES — I know I wouldn't be able to play a game," Juliana says.
Adds Alicia: "DC SCORES, it taught me a lot, especially in reading. Before I didn't know how to read. As soon as I joined DC SCORES, I got better because my mom told me that if I wanted to be an athlete, I have to focus more on school."
Back then, students had to be nagged to participate in poetry. Now, the alumni are impressed by the Bengals. "They care about school, soccer and poetry," Alicia exclaims as soccer practice winds down.
And that's music to Principal Auerbach's ears, and Coach Guzman's ears, and to the ears of the hundreds of parents who have — or will soon have — kids that are a part of DC SCORES.
“It is a real sort of family within the Bancroft family," Auerbach says.