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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

DC SCORES coach's journal, Part VI: Service-learning begins

Zachary Gomes moved to Washington, DC, last August from Albany, NY, to begin working at DC SCORES as a Coach Across America AmeriCorps volunteer. Zach has a passion for working with youth, and as part of his time with DC SCORES is coaching poetry, service-learning and girls soccer at Lincoln Middle School. Throughout the year Zach will share his experiences, providing insight on the impact of DC SCORES -- through the eyes of a coach.


Written by Zachary Gomes
Soccer Coordinator

Spring is finally upon us! And with spring begins another DC SCORES season.

At Lincoln, DC SCORES is built into the school day and continues throughout the winter months (which is great because we get to continue practicing, as long as it’s not too cold). All winter Katie S., an eighth-grader, the team captain, a central defender and a DC SCORES student since elementary school, practiced free kicks. Every day she would say, “Watch this, Zach. I’m getting more strength in my shot!”

Katie’s practicing paid off. In the first game of the spring season after a scoreless first half, we were awarded a penalty kick in the box. Katie jogged up confidentially from her central defense position and placed the ball on the penalty marker. She took a couple of steps back and blasted the ball into the lower left corner of the goal!

Katie’s confidence was contagious and Jossellyn A., another 8th grader, poked a ball by the keeper a couple of minutes later, after not giving up on a botched cross. The girls played great, we won our first game, and I was happy that they were happy.

Spring season also means DC SCORES service-learning. When I first learned about DC SCORES, I was super excited to coach soccer but the idea of getting to teach poetry classes and work with students to create a service-learning project equally pumped me up!

The Poetry Slam! was the highlight of the fall season, and as the team began talking about our service-earning project I got excited thinking of the change for good the kids could create.

Service-learning is all about empowering the kids to be the leaders. Through service-learning, youth are no longer considered the recipient of services but are rather people who are willing to give, have vision, and can contribute positively to the community.

The exciting and important thing is that DC SCORES service-learning allows youth to actively engage within society. It gives them a voice and proves to them that with work, that voice will be heard.


As we began to talk about what our service-learning project would be, it was an important first step to define community. Did community mean the neighborhood, the school, or did it mean the whole world!?

By breaking the kids up into groups and asking them to define community through a collage of pictures and words, the discussion over what community meant began. The collages also helped point out positive and negative issues that existed within the community.

I then asked the students to think about community groups — neighborhoods, families, friends, social groups, school, ethnicity/racial, cultural and religious groups — and answer these two questions: What would you like to see changed? What are you proud of?

Almost every student chose to write about family. It was overwhelming. The messages were very similar.

“I love my family but we need to speak more to each other. One thing I am proud of is celebrating holidays together.”

“My family helps me when I am in need.”

“My family is important, they care about me and I wish I could do more activities with them.”

“I like eating with my family.”

“I like going places with my family.”

“I would stop arguments in my family.”

These are just some of the things the kids wrote about. Consistently, family was the number one focus for the students.


After sharing this information with the team, I asked the students to tell me what the theme seemed to be. Family and quality time spent with family is what they got from it. And so organically began the discussion of how we can address this issue.

The kids had a million good ideas.

“Let’s have a family day where we all go to Six Flags!”

“Let’s make bracelets that say Family First!”

“We could have a cookout and soccer tournament for family at the park!”

The ideas are flowing and — as part of the curriculum — the kids will make the final decision on their service-learning project soon. I am excited to help them sort through the ideas and create an action plan.

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