What happens when you combine soccer and creative writing?
According to the affiliates of the DC Scores program, the result is a well-rounded student who realizes that teamwork, competition and hard work are as important in the classroom as they are on the field.
"It's not hard to get kids engaged in sports. We'd like [our students] to learn how to transfer skills into the classroom," said Thomara Speight, education director for DC Scores. "We'd like them to realize that efforts in the classroom are just as important as efforts on the field."
DC Scores, a chapter of the private, nonprofit America Scores, was founded as simply a soccer program, said Executive Director Natalie Gordon.
"Our founder decided that participating in creative writing helped the kids reflect on the positive and negative of playing soccer. The two activities require many of the same social skills," Gordon said.
Speight organized the creative writing program so that at the same time students work toward that day of soccer competition, they also work toward a competitive poetry slam.
"The slam is the finals, playoffs, championship for creative writing," Speight said.
Dawn Fox, whose 8-year-old daughter participated in the slam last month, is pleased with the DC Scores program and enjoyed the poetry competition.
"She has learned to work as a team. She was so independent," Fox said of Sharonda, a third-grader at Powell Elementary in Northwest Washington.
D.C. public school students from 16 elementary schools participated in the 1999 poetry slam.
Speight believes the annual event helps children build public speaking, writing and decision-making skills.
"She wanted to join the soccer team," Fox said of her daughter. "When it's not the season for soccer, they do other things with the kids. I really appreciate it."
For a $10 annual fee that covers the entire school year, students spend two days practicing soccer, two days participating in the writing program and one day competing on the field.
Speight said the children requested that the slam be a competition. "They compete on the soccer field," she explained. "I told the judges that this was competitive fun, but their first instruction was to remember that the children's participation was their success."
Eighty children participated in the open-mike event, reciting their original poems on stage in front of family members, teachers, competing students and friends at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library in downtown Washington.
Five of the city's eight wards participate in the DC Scores program, Speight said. The program plans to add eight more schools by September of this year.
"There are some really talented students," said Reginald Jones, a soccer coach at Ann Beers Elementary School in Southeast.
The students "practiced their work; they decided who would perform. Only some were actual performers in the slam, but they were all a critical part in the success," Speight said. Students recited and "performed" their works using props, drama, dance and other forms of interpretation. Several students, as well as parents and other volunteers, worked behind the scenes to prepare for the event.
Christmas, guilt, food, siblings, soccer and butterflies were among the many diverse topics the children chose for their poetry. The students also accepted the responsibility of addressing more serious issues, such as race relations.
"One poet made great use of figurative language in her piece about human reactions to homelessness and other social ills," said Yolonda Coleman, a published poet who attended the slam.
"It was a powerful experience for me," Gordon said. "So many of them did so well."
Speight, who organized the event, agreed. "I've gotten positive feedback from judges, teachers and participants. The library has already asked us to return next [school] year and make this our annual location for the event," she said.
Gordon said this year's student participation in the slam was double that of last year's. "There were so many people involved in making the program a success," she said.
DC Scores is funded primarily by grants and donations from area sponsors. The student fees help provide soccer uniforms and writing supplies.
Prizes for the children were donated by the library; McDonald's Corp., which provided gift certificates; and DDTP World, a clothing store, which donated sweat suits for the first-place winners, as well as T-shirts, caps and ear bands.
Although the winners received many nice gifts, Speight does not believe the prizes were the motivation for the children's hard work. Some students even left the event without receiving their gifts, which Speight said proved that the program had accomplished her main goals: "to show the children how important their work really is and for them to enjoy themselves, so they'll fall in love with learning."
CAPTION: "The Heat," four students from West Elementary School in Northwest Washington, took third place in last month's DC Scores slam poetry contest. They are, from left, as they recite the slam poetry, Jamal Crawford, Joshua Austin, Donte Young at the microphone and Marc Tapp Jr. on the drum. DC Scores began as a soccer program before poetry was added.