Around Town: DC Scores Poetry Slam

The nonprofit organization held its 20th annual slam. 

Photo by Rachel Kalusin

DC Scores held its 20th annual poetry slam at HD Woodson and Roosevelt High School in November. During the two-day slam, 1,200 talented elementary and middle school students from D.C. public schools performed their poetry.

Three days a week, kids in D.C. public schools play soccer with their classmates and write poetry with them two days a week. The after-school program teaches students different structures of poetry, how to utilize it and then, over time, how to build their own poetry. The program leads up to the large slam poetry event at the end of the year.

Emcee Charity Blackwell asked the mostly student-based audience what DC Scores taught them about sportsmanship. Students shouted out “respect”, “teamwork” and “leadership,” three topics that were very prevalent in their poetry.

According to DC Scores executive director Bethany Henderson, soccer and poetry work well together because of the team-building aspect of soccer. Because of the bonds they build on the soccer field, they are more willing to be vulnerable and expressive with their peers.

“We really create neighborhood teams that help build resilient kids. That helps them succeed in the soccer field, in the classroom and in life. What makes it so beautiful is its not just part of their identity in sports, or arts, it’s truly their team, their home base. It allows kids to find things they’re good at, to find peers and find a support network.,” Henderson said.

Photo by Rachel Kalusin

DC Scores was launched when a Teach For America Corps teacher noticed a need for after-school activities to keep her students out of the streets. This teacher invited her students to play soccer with her after school, but when the weather got cold, she needed another activity. This was when she introduced poetry.

One school that stood out for Henderson among the middle schools was KIPP KEY Academy. Students Jermoni B. and Kenniya C. performed a rap battle, but instead of battling each other, encouraged each other through every line. The thirteen-year-old students won third place in the middle school competition.

DC Scores board member Loren Angelo said he is extremely impressed with the elementary school children.

This is some of their first time going on stage,” he said, adding that he’s thrilled to see “their level of memorization, level of creativity they put in, their enthusiasm, the excitement they’re getting, but also being awarded by their entire community. I think that’s such a great foundation that they’re able to build through this type of organization.”

According to Henderson, most kids that join DC Scores never leave the organization. A kid that joins in third grade is likely going to stay until eighth grade and even after will come to alumni events and visit the DC Scores office frequently because the organization becomes part of these students’ identity.

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