Inspire DC Youth Through Soccer, Poetry & Service

Coach Popsie (Lincoln Middle School)
Coach Popsie (Lincoln Middle School)

The wait seemed to last forever, but today, finally, another DC SCORES season is upon us.

Come 3:30 p.m., 1,500 students at 42 elementary and middle schools throughout Washington, DC, will have a team. Each student will receive a T-shirt with their school name on the back -- a shirt they'll wear every day for the next 12 weeks as a reminder of the community they're representing.

For those just learning about DC SCORES or reading this blog for the first time, here's a brief introduction to the organization and what will take place during the fall season. This video is also a great way to learn about our program.

DC SCORES' HistoryJulie Kennedy, a former teacher at Marie Reed Learning Center in Adams Morgan (now Marie Reed Elementary School), invented this complementary combination of activities in 1994 when she began working with a group of 15 girls with little to do after school. Kennedy learned that the team-centered relationships built on the soccer field translated into poetry workshops, and the development of teamwork and leadership prepared students to act as agents of change in their communities through service-learning projects.

DC SCORES' Mission -  DC SCORES builds teams through after-school programs for 1,500 low-income DC youth at 42 schools by instilling self-expression, physical fitness, and a sense of community.

DC SCORES' Model - DC SCORES uses an innovative model combining poetry and spoken word (fall season), soccer (fall and spring), and service-learning (spring season). Our holistic after-school program helps DC SCORES students improve their fitness levels by playing soccer; develop their literacy skills and capacity for self-expression by writing poetry; and establish deep community connections through service projects; all while developing closer bonds with teachers and peers.

Our program follows a school-based model for after-school programming by hiring and training teachers (called our “SCORE Corps” coaches) from each school. During the fall season, students spend half their afternoons practicing soccer, half their afternoons learning how to write and perform poetry, and one day a week (beginning Sept. 26 and 27) playing another school during our Game Days.

DC SCORES Calendar - We have a lot going on during the fall season. Here's a rundown of key dates:

  • Sept. 26 -- First elementary school Game Day 
  • Sept. 27 -- First middle school Game Day 
  • Oct. 26 -- Fall Frenzy, 9am-2pm, Trinity University
  • Nov. 26 -- Capital Cup middle school championship, location TBA 
  • Dec. 4 -- Westside Poetry Slam!, location TBA 
  • Dec. 5 -- Eastside Poetry Slam!, H.D. Woodson Senior High School

DC SCORES fun facts (a few)

  • DC SCORES is one of the largest after-school provider in Washington, DC. 
  • DC SCORES runs the only elementary and middle public school soccer leagues in Washington, DC. 
  • The Poetry Slam!, now in its 16th year, is the largest youth slam in Washington, DC. 
  • DC SCORES provides 270 minutes of physical activity for youth each week. That's six times the 45 minutes students receive during the school day. 
  • During the fall season, program participants will write 7,500 poems. 
  • At the Poetry Slam!, each school will perform two group pieces and a solo poem. 

Get involved! DC SCORES would not be able to continue our growth and keep alive our vision of providing a team for every child in the District lacking one if not for our wide-ranging support. Whether you can volunteer every week or at a big event, provide a pro bono service, or support DC SCORES financially, you're making an indelible impact for low-income DC youth. Thank you for being on our team. We hope to see you at a Game Day, in a classroom, or at an event in the coming months!

Poetry Slam! (Arts & Technology Elementary School)
Poetry Slam! (Arts & Technology Elementary School)
Soccer (Elementary School)
Soccer (Elementary School)


High Fives After Elementary School Game
High Fives After Elementary School Game

The 18th Annual DC SCORES Jamboree! was epitomized by its moments.

Perhaps none better defined the June 1 celebration of the spring season than the one in the aftermath of the City Cup championship soccer games that kicked off the event.

Before the Burrville Elementary School girls team received the trophy for winning a seventh consecutive title, a girl clad in her red DC SCORES uniform stood up and -- in front of DC Councilmembers Tommy Wells and David Grosso -- said that all participants from the four teams that played in the games were winners. She then walked over to the seated Marie Reed Elementary girls and the Wheatley Education Campus boys, giving out high fives.

Thus began a day that involved winning and trophies, but left all participants smiling -- and tired -- after several hours of soccer games, facepainting and much more.

The Jamboree! was, by far, the largest-scale DC SCORES event in the organization's 19-year history. Over 1,450 youth representing 45 schools joined hundreds of parents, dozens of volunteers, and a handful of awesome program partners at Anacostia Park.

To give an idea of just how large the event was, 128 elementary and middle school soccer games were played on 14 fields. And that was just the soccer. 

There were also:

  • Volunteers from DC SCORES partner Sephora running a professional facepainting booth throughout the day.
  • Longtime partner Penya Barcelonista running a soccer shooting station where kids from each school split into three teams and tested out their accuracy. The prize for those most on-target? Awesome Penya scarves!
  • Hundreds DC SCORES parents watching their kids play soccer, then filling out surveys about the program and receiving water bottles and bags from Modell's Sporting Goods in return. Many parents don't get to see their children in action during the season, making Saturday a great opportunity to finally watch them proudly wear their school uniforms.
  • The service-learning display and contest. Saturday marked the culmination of a season not just defined by soccer, but by every DC SCORES school creating and implementing a project to better their school or surrounding community. Each school brought a poster board visually documenting their project, and staff members voted these the top three projects:
    • Kelly Miller Middle School won Most Creative Project for visiting a retirement home and teaching the elderly how to use technology (blog).
    • Bancroft Elementary School won Project with the Greatest Impact for raising over $1,000 for homeless animals.
    • Seaton Elementary School won Best Board Design for not only creating a beautiful array of pictures from their school garden, but bringing fresh radishes, chard and other vegetables to display!
    • Members from the U.S. Soccer Athlete Council coming out on the 100th anniversary of soccer in the United States to run soccer relay races and drills with kids. Former U.S. Women's National Team members including Angela Hucles, Heather Mitts and others had a great time teaching DC SCORES students skills and playing games with them.
    • Revolution Foods, the event's lunch provider, teaming up with DC Hunger Solutions to lead a station where students created nutritious snacks -- such as a yogurt parfait with peaches and berries -- to keep them feeling good during the long, hot day of soccer.
    • DC SCORES partner The Century Council giving away to both kids and parents cool sunglasses, T-shirts, and bilingual literature about the dangers of underage drinking and drinking while driving.
    • And, of course, DJ RBI spinning tunes to help keep everyone energized on a blazing-hot day under the sun, and Sport and Spine Rehab expert trainers available for anyone who needed medical attention.

Did I mention the 128 soccer games?

They began with the City Cup championship games at 8:15 a.m. The Burrville Eagles girls team -- a DC SCORES dynasty -- listened to the constant urgings of "PASS! PASS!" from their coach Daryl Forte and used teamwork to defeat Reed in the girls game. In the boys game, Reed -- DC SCORES' flagship school where the program began in 1994 -- defeated first-time championship game participant Wheatley.

All four teams received trophies from Executive Director Amy Nakamoto, and special guests Wells and Grosso hung medals around the students' necks.

The championship games complete, the Jamboree! kicked off for everyone -- with seven elementary school games and seven middle schools games played simultaneously for over 5 hours. Teams were guaranteed three games, and some played as many as seven. The games were all refereed by DC SCORES volunteers, who could be spotted in their neon yellow T-shirts all over the park grounds throughout the entire event.

After losing two of their first three games, the MacFarland boys -- playing as a DC SCORES team for the final time -- rallied to win two consecutive games. Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, which is also closing at the end of the school year, had a magical four-game streak that ended just short of the boys championship, won for a third straight time by Paul Public Charter School.

On the middle school girls side, Capital City Public Charter School participants thought their day was over after a loss and began walking to the parking lot. But it wasn't. The tournament's double-elimination format gave them a chance to keep playing, and they did just that all the way to the championship to cap off the school's first year as a DC SCORES program participant.

By 3pm, the music died down, the last games were whistled complete, the final trophies were rewarded, and kids from 45 schools boarded buses content and exhausted from a day that perfectly encapsulated everything the DC SCORES spring season is about and included many of the people, partners and volunteers who make it all possible.

Burrville Elementary Wins Girls Championship
Burrville Elementary Wins Girls Championship
Orr Elementary Boys Take a Break
Orr Elementary Boys Take a Break
DC SCORES Alumni (High School) Volunteer Referee
DC SCORES Alumni (High School) Volunteer Referee
Volunteers Help Make Jamboree a Success!
Volunteers Help Make Jamboree a Success!


Indoor Soccer Clinic and Game
Indoor Soccer Clinic and Game

 DC SCORES’ winter season takes place over 8 weeks, at select DC SCORES schools across the District. During this break from the regular soccer, creative writing, and service-learning progaming, AmeriCorps members teach youth about healthy eating and how to navigate the aisles of a grocery store using the USDA’s Power of Choice curriculum. Aside from the knowledge and skills students gain during Power of Choice, they continue to form positive relationships with their peers and coaches, and stay active during the time of year when many youth resort to eating larger portions of unhealthier foods and spend their after school time at home on the couch.

The DC SCORES winter session came to an end on Friday, February 22. On one of the final days of programming, I joined the Thomson Tigers as they reflected on best practices and lessons learned:

I sit down with Stephanie, as she waits her turn to warm up. She tells me she's improved in her dribbling abilities, and she’s better at passing back and forth. I ask her for advice — if she were to pass on one recommendation, gleaned from her experience during the Power of Choice program, what would it be? 

“I’d say, get healthy, get energy-ed, get exercise.” 

I get a sense of that energy when, a moment later, Coach Marco blows his whistle and Stephanie takes off, running the entire span of the gym within 30 seconds.

Just watching her tires me out. I clearly need to get “energy-ed.”

During the team break for water, I ask Daniel C. if he's changed since the beginning of Winter SCORES. He thinks for a moment. 

"I'm taller," he reflects.

"Is that because of all the healthy food?" I ask.

"Yeah … the broccoli."

I ask Daniel if he has any recommendations for a healthier lifestyle, any major takeaways from the season.

"People have to look at the back of what they’re buying … you have to eat more healthy things.”

Luis has changed, too — some of his habits are different today, thanks to the Power of Choice program.

"I don't drink so much pop. I drink a lot of water now. I'm a better soccer player too."

Just in time for spring training, Sebastian's learned that teamwork is the way to go.

"We can do more together than we can do by ourselves," he explains. "It's better to work together."

The Tigers have improved their soccer skills, developed their notion of teamwork, and expanded their understanding of nutrition to best fuel up for the field. From where I'm sitting, (on the bleachers, avoiding the ball) they've built a strong team that is well prepared and ready to take on the toughest competition.

Their hard work has made me want to change, too, and shown me the value of taking small steps to being a healthier person and teammate. In this spirit, before we leave, I ask these experts to advise me on the healthiest way to spend my evening.

"Get exercise, and you'll be more energized," Juan Carlos says.

As for dinner?

"Vegetables .. .tomatoes and broccoli," says Daniel. "A medium amount." 

Juan Carlos adds, “Apples, bananas, grapefruits … a lot of fruit.”

A final suggestion from Luis: “soup with vegetables, maybe some chicken. And carrot juice.”

I take notes. Shopping list in hand, my night becomes exponentially more nutritious. With knowledge and practical know-how like that, it’s clear the spring soccer and service-learning season will be successful for the Thomson Tigers. In just a couple short weeks, they’ll be back on the field putting the winter session of preparation into action. 

I can’t wait to see them shine some more.

Cooking and Nutrition Workshop
Cooking and Nutrition Workshop
Cooking and Nutrition Workshop 2
Cooking and Nutrition Workshop 2
Indoor Soccer Practice
Indoor Soccer Practice
Veggie and Hummus Sandwich - Group Project
Veggie and Hummus Sandwich - Group Project


JC Nalle Elementary School - Poetry Slam!
JC Nalle Elementary School - Poetry Slam!

Last week marked the completion of the 18th fall season of DC SCORES programming. 

Hard to believe, right? 

Was it really that long ago that Julie Kennedy, a teacher at Marie Reed, introduced the game of soccer and then -- on a rainy day -- the art of poetry to her students?

The program, of course, began with that one group of youth and quickly grew. In 1999, it led to the birth of America SCORES, which now has 14 affiliates throughout the U.S. from Boston and Atlanta to Seattle and L.A.

And to this day, the Arts-Athletics-Academics model -- as simple as it sounds -- makes an indelible impact on the lives of thousands of youth. If ever there was a lack of interest in our program or the necessity of what we provide waned, we might have to change.

Instead, we grow -- serving over 1,450 youth at 42 schools -- and continue to strive to serve any youth in the District who wants to be on a team.

Just last week, we saw how important that is to our students. At our 15th Annual Poetry Slam! on Wednesday and Thursday, teams of students showed incredible pride in their schools and communities through self-expression. 

One of the dozens of impressive and courageous performances came from a Wheatley Education Campus student who, with his teammates at his side and his lips quivering, read a touching and powerful poem about his father's infidelity. Without DC SCORES, those feelings likely would have remained inside him.

The official soccer games season concluded with the Capital Cup championship games on Nov. 20, but last week demonstrated the importance to youth of having an outlet through which to play. On Friday, the last day of the DC SCORES season, Sacred Heart Bilingual School traveled to MacFarland Middle School to play the Crusaders in a make-up game.

The game had no meaning in the standings. A win wouldn't lead to another game. Yet the kids showed up excited for the chance to play a real game with a referee against another school. It was a big deal to them -- and an opportunity they only get through DC SCORES.

Hearing about Friday's experience reminded me of a DC SCORES game day from earlier in the season involving Perry Street Prep and Wheatley. In a rare mishap, we didn't have goals at Wheatley that afternoon. I thought the students might be disappointed. 

Instead, they barely noticed the large orange cones the coaches and I set up. There was an infectious enthusiasm on the field that afternoon, a joy derived from the basic opportunity to run up and down a field kicking and passing a soccer ball. 

That, to me, demonstrated what DC SCORES -- and our affiliates nationwide -- means to the students involved. They don't care about manicured fields. Just give them a ball, teammates to pass to, and some green space, and they'll have a great time and improve their physical fitness in doing so.

Give them a $1 composition book and a pen, and they'll feel the freedom to write down their innermost feelings. Then give them a stage on which to express what they've penned and a microphone, and they'll feel empowered.

Eighteen years since this program started, it's amazing to see how effective the SCORES model still is and the impact it has on thousands of youth. We can't wait for next season!

Johnson Middle School - Poetry Slam!
Johnson Middle School - Poetry Slam!
CW Harris Elementary School - Poetry Slam!
CW Harris Elementary School - Poetry Slam!
Oyster Adams - Girls Capital Cup Champions
Oyster Adams - Girls Capital Cup Champions
Paul Middle School - Boys Capital Cup Championship
Paul Middle School - Boys Capital Cup Championship


Nana helping campers tie-dye
Nana helping campers tie-dye

August 6, 2012

With summer camp coming to a close last week, I took the time to reflect on the summer’s best moments. Nothing has been more valuable than the alumni’s dedication to community service, a passion first introduced to them when participating in DC SCORES as young poet-athletes.

This summer there were over 15 dedicated volunteers who came out as coaches, camp counselors, and all-around DC SCORES enthusiasts. We want to take the time to personally highlight a few extraordinary individuals who went above and beyond in donating their time to our program.

Nana, a rising junior at Wilson High School

Saul, a rising senior at Bell Multicultural

Rachel, a rising junior at Wilson

For Nana, he wanted nothing more than to "spend the summer showing kids why DC SCORES was so important to me when I was their age." As a leader on the soccer field, he took ownership of his soccer skills. He showed the campers that if you work hard enough and play with heart instead of just your mind, than you can grow into an amazing athlete.

Saul said it wasn't difficult to find an incentive to work at camp, even though his peers were being paid through our Summer Youth Employment Program. "Seeing the kids every day, and hearing them chant my name at camp was more than enough,” Saul said. “I made some great friends on staff too, friends that have lived near me this whole time and I had no idea!"

Our staff camaraderie was also one of the things Rachel looked forward to when returning to volunteer for a second summer: "This is what I love to do, and I've made great friends along the way!" When asked what her favorite part of the camp was, she replied, "I have to choose just one?!"

Nana's favorite part was "seeing how the kids could develop better skills over the summer. I think they really did get better!"

Saul, on the other hand, said, "Seeing the program change from when I was a camper; it's really cool to see."

The interactions between these high school volunteers and elementary aged campers have been interesting to watch! By the last week of camp, Saul walked the campers from his neighborhood home day after day because their mom works in the evening. And he was invited to this neighbor’s family cookout!

Nana has become a bit of a soccer legend in these parts, counting down the days until he can follow in fellow alum Josselin's footsteps in the Nike Chance Challenge. He now has 40 young campers rooting for him all the way!

Rachel says she can't wait to come back next summer, even though the kids still remind her of that time she fell on her face during soccer practice.

To the high school students who volunteered their summers full of pool days and beach trips to make our camps the best they could be: I will always find your commitment inspiring.

To all of our volunteers this summer: we extend a gracious and sincere thank you in the form of a very, very high-five!.

David and Dennis (DC SCORES alum and volunteers)
David and Dennis (DC SCORES alum and volunteers)
Soccer camp coaches, alumni volunteers and campers
Soccer camp coaches, alumni volunteers and campers



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Washington, DC United States

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