What do a soccer game, a poem, and a fund-raising project have in common?
The answer is America SCORES Cleveland, an after-school, tri-curricular program that serves urban students in Cleveland. Through a curriculum of soccer, poetry, and service-learning, the students engage with each other to develop skills that strengthen their minds and characters, as well as their bodies.
But why, specifically, soccer, poetry, and service-learning?
“As a popular sport requiring minimal equipment, soccer is accessible to children regardless of economic status,” shares Britney Rzucidlo, Program and Communications Manager. Soccer engages youth with their peers in physical activity and provides a platform to teach fitness and nutrition. Youth who play soccer also learn the values of teamwork.
Fostering creative thinking is also an important aspect of the curriculum, helping students to develop vital problem-solving skills. In addition, young people gain public speaking skills through performing, while creative writing such as poetry encourages a personal connection to books and reading.
The third and equally important component of America SCORES is service-learning. As their website explains, through volunteer work, children learn “a sense of compassion, social responsibility, and personal worth,” and by participation in community projects, they “develop leadership skills and collaborative experience at an early age.”
Formed in 2004 as a branch of the national organization, America SCORES Cleveland has grown to include over 1,000 students. This spring, 4 schools will add it to their after-school programming, making the total number of Cleveland schools participating 16.
Executive Director Debra Pence-Meyenberg explains that “80% of the coaching is made up of staff from each individual school, furthering the team atmosphere within each school’s program.” All students in kindergarten through eighth grade who attend the participating schools are invited to join the America SCORES Cleveland teams free of charge.
Students flourish both academically and personally through participating in America SCORES. Dr. Lee Buddy, Jr., principal at Wade Park Elementary, offers the story of one student’s success, describing a shy, reserved student, Ayanna, who struggled to speak in class. Since getting involved with America SCORES Cleveland, though, Ayanna has become outgoing and enjoys performing on stage and sharing in class. “I was really shy before America SCORES. I didn’t have any friends, but now we are like a team,” Ayanna says with a smile.
Ayanna is not the only student to thrive in America SCORES. Dr. Buddy sees positive results with all of the program’s participants who attend his school, noting that “looking at their data, how they interact with other students, how they are doing academically, we have seen a positive difference in our scholars.”
Each school year, 22 weeks of programming are offered. The fall season offers 10 weeks that include soccer and creative writing/poetry. Two days per week, poet athletes meet with their writing coaches for creative writing workshops. Three days per week, poet-athletes meet with their soccer coaches for soccer practices and games. The season concludes with the poet athletes participating in a Poetry SLAM.
This year’s SLAM was held on November 1, 2019, at Cleveland State University and the event was hugely successful. The top three participants will go on to compete at the regional level in Chicago; the top three poet athletes from each region will then go on to the National America SCORES Finals in Washington, D.C., in February.
Spring programming consists of 12 weeks spent in students mastering their soccer skills and performing service learning projects. Curriculum and programming depend upon the grade levels of the students.
For poet athletes in lower elementary grades, the focus is “My Community.” Objectives are exploring communities, recognizing available resources, and identifying needs. These objectives have a two-fold purpose: to increase enthusiasm and interest in reading and writing and to build confidence through public speaking and sharing their writing in front of peers.
Poet athletes in the middle-level grades use the skills they learned in the lower levels and build on them to focus on “Writing for the Community,” which uses multidisciplinary texts and writing prompts to learn about issues affecting their communities. The curriculum includes using writing as a positive tool to discover, celebrate, and improve their community. Students learn to find ways to use teamwork and communication to make positive change, setting goals and developing strategies to achieve those goals. They are then charged with completing meaningful and relevant student-led community service projects. Past examples include a walk-a-thon to benefit victims of domestic violence, a hygiene drive for Laura’s Home (a Cleveland shelter), and a fundraising project to replace garbage cans in their community.
Finally, the poet athletes in the upper-level grades spend their final 12 weeks working on their soccer skills through practice and games. For their service-learning project, they use a program titled One Hen. Through the award-winning children’s book One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference and a website of games and activities, One Hen challenges them to start their own small business. In the process, the poet athletes acquire skills in business, finances, and social entrepreneurship. Learning objectives include the importance of giving back, leadership, and initiative. All funds students make through this project are donated to their communities.
You can get involved with and support America SCORES Cleveland in a variety of ways. The SCORES Cup, for instance, will feature 24 teams sponsored by local businesses and bring together over 300 players for a day of soccer. A company sponsorship of this team-building experience provides the opportunity to network, have fun, and build camaraderie among employees while also giving back to their community. The SCORES Cup will take place on Saturday, April 18, 2020, at Force Sports in Rocky River.
You can also provide sponsorship to another upcoming America SCORES Cleveland event, the Red Carpet Poetry Slam Gala, which will take place at the Ariel International Center in Cleveland on Thursday, June 4, 2020, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Here’s your chance to mingle with America SCORES supporters at a cocktail reception, listen to dozens of talented poet athletes perform, participate in raffles, and bid on silent auction items.
Individual tickets to the Slam Gala will be available through the website approximately two months before the event.
For information about these and other America SCORES events or to donate, visit here.