OST Voices Episode #12: DC SCORES
By Lorena Palacios, Communications and Engagement Manager, DC SCORES
When COVID-19 shut down the world, out-of-school-time (OST) providers had to quickly rethink and adjust their whole way of operating to continue meeting the needs of the populations they serve. Now as the world is reopening, it’s time to readjust once again.
DC SCORES is one of the largest youth development organizations in the District, serving 3,000 first- through eighth-graders annually in Title 1 schools and recreation centers throughout the city. Each year, our kids play hundreds of soccer matches, write and perform thousands of poems, and design and carry out dozens of service projects. The programming that DC SCORES provides improves kids’ physical and social-emotional health, and the sense of belonging that comes with being part of a team. The combination of poetry and service-learning—writing for expression and writing for action—gives our participants, also known as poet-athletes, the skills and the platform to speak up and act out against injustice.
Adjusting during the pandemic to a completely virtual space was an immense challenge, especially ensuring that we provided equitable access to DC SCORES programming to every poet-athlete. Our programmatic North Star throughout the pandemic has been keeping kids feeling safe, supported, connected, and hopeful. We know that virtual programming surely doesn’t look the same, but DC SCORES remained committed to making it feel the same for our poet-athletes.
During this time of adversity, we continued to prioritize the physical, social, and emotional support of all the young people in our programs and we look forward to keeping our poet-athletes, families, and school communities engaged in this upcoming school year and beyond.
A Trusted Community Bridge between Families and Schools
DC SCORES has played the role of trusted community partner in the schools and communities we serve for over a quarter century. It’s perhaps the most critical role we play, and it’s taken on new importance over the past year and half. Our poet-athletes are eager to get back on the field with their teammates, but families are understandably worried for their safety. Our partner schools have opened their doors to students, but many are struggling to connect with families to assure them it’s safe to come back. As a trusted community actor, DC SCORES is uniquely positioned to act as a bridge to span that trust gap between families and schools.
The spring we met with our principals and our families to ensure they are getting what they need from our program in a format and frequency they are comfortable with. We’ve accepted that challenge, and a couple weeks into our spring season we’re seeing the benefits: our coaches (most of them teachers) are connecting with students in person, and our families are coming to the schools for the first time in over a year.
The advocacy coaches have delivered during these transition periods have been crucial to developing our programming approach. One DCPS coach emphasized that their students needed “unique opportunities to get moving, trusted adults that can interact in creative ways with them (beyond staring at screens), and individual check-ins.” Above all, coaches have emphasized the importance of cultivating and maintaining interpersonal relationships within their team and their school community. Another coach said, “My team and I got really close. One of my favorite parts of DC SCORES was my parents' involvement with my team and the community. DC SCORES brought my team together as a family.”
By understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach does not meet the needs of our poet-athletes, we’ve been able to meet our schools where they are. For example, Aiton Elementary School families who were not yet comfortable sending their kids to in-person school were bringing them to in-person DC SCORES soccer sessions after school, led by their coaches (teachers and staff from the school) with all COVID safety measures strictly enforced. At Bancroft Elementary School, we ran programming during the school day at the request of the principal, families, and coaches, using the school’s scheduled physical education time.
Returning to Normalcy
While we won’t be hosting our traditional camp offerings this summer, we are optimistic that the new school year will bring some normalcy, both to schools and to our program. This fall we are hoping to be back 100% in person and are expecting to have full soccer seasons with games and all events, including our annual poetry slam.
Out-of-school time programs have always been crucial for our young people, and this global pandemic has only intensified the need for more available programs like DC SCORES. Deep collaboration between schools and the out-of-school-time community and building bridges between schools and families will remain critical as we work to recover from the pandemic in the upcoming fiscal year. Our principal partners and coaches remind us of the importance of this bridge building.
At the end of the day, our poet-athletes are the best equipped to express what they need and hope for as we all move forward together. Jalen H. and Taylor W. from Aiton Elementary School said it best in their poem titled “I Wish.”
I wish that we can all come back to play soccer
I wish for things to go back to normal and to sit with my classmates again
I wish for a bigger cafeteria and more space to sit and eat
I wish that the rain will stay away for all of us to go out to play
I wish for a clean and bright school with new beginnings
I wish I was back in school with my friends
I wish we did not have to wear masks at all
I wish people were able to return to work
I wish that people did not have to die to the coronavirus
I wish the pandemic was gone for good
Check out previous episodes of OST Voices: