Houston Elementary School Poet-Athletes Promote Community Health and Well-Being Through Service-Learning Project
This story is part of a series celebrating the #PoetAthleteImpact and DC SCORES’ Spring Day of Giving campaign. Learn more about the campaign and donate here.
Brothers Cordey and Pablo are sitting cross-legged on a bench on the sideline of their school soccer field. Their palms are pressed together and they are breathing deeply in and out.
The Houston Elementary School students are demonstrating the meditation exercises they sometimes practice together as part of a healthy lifestyle. “I like to eat brocolli for my body and meditate for my mind. It’s good to be healthy,” says Cordey, as his brother nods in agreement. “It means a lot for a happy life.”
On May 18, the brothers passed on some of their tips to their classmates during a health and wellness expo their DC SCORES team hosted for the Houston community as part of the program’s service-learning curriculum.
“We asked, now that you are experts in identifying, researching, and discussing problems in our community, what is one service-learning project you all can agree on that we could do to improve the school community?” says Tracey Thomas, a DC SCORES Coach and Houston 3rd-grade teacher, as she describes why the team selected the expo as their service-learning project.
She continues, “The poet-athletes wanted to show their expertise in physical and mental health. They knew they would have fun teaching their peers all about the topics.”
“Being part of DC SCORES makes me happy and healthy,” says Pablo. The expo was a way for him and his teammates to support others, he explains, “A lot of people have given back to us, so we should give back to our community.”
Houston poet-athletes Pablo and Cordey demonstrate the meditation technique they use to destress. Photo: Brian Anderson.
“What Are We Experts In?”
Every year, alongside more than 3,000 of their fellow poet-athletes, Houston students participate in soccer, poetry, and service-learning programs through DC SCORES’ award-winning curriculum.
As part of the program, poet-athletes design a student-led service-learning project, which is funded through mini-grants from DC SCORES.
“We began discussions about what we could work on for service learning and the students said, ‘We eat a lot of junk food, you know, we definitely don’t have the rainbow colors on our plate, like dairy, protein, grains, vegetables, and fruit.’” recalls Thomas.
The team also talked about other health topics. “So, I said, ‘What can we do about eating and drinking unhealthy foods and drinks, and being mentally and physically fit?” she says.
DC SCORES coaches Tracey Thomas (left) and Kevin Wright (right) worked with students at Houston to create the health and wellness expo. Photo: Brian Anderson.
The team conducted research into various health topics and selected the advice they most wanted to share with their peers. Modeling their expo on fairs and carnivals where patrons can go on lots of different rides in one place, the students decided to use their soccer field to set up wellness stations to teach their classmates about everything from dental hygiene to mobility exercises.
Organizing an event with so many components was a big challenge for the team, says 5th-grader Tahirah, who ran a station making calming glitter jars. “I learned you have to have preparation, you have to have everything in order and handled so that you can proceed,” she explains.
But, the hard work was worth it, she adds, “You know, there are a lot of things going around in the world that can stress people out. It’s good to help people who are having a hard time.”
Houston students Martana’e (left) and Tahirah (right) say that being on the DC SCORES team has helped to improve their own health. Photo: Brian Anderson
An Investment in the Community
Sharing their personal health and wellness experiences was key to the Houston team’s success. 4th-grader Martana’e, who ran a station demonstrating simple at-home workout routines, shared how regular exercise has improved her own health. “When I first joined DC SCORES, I had bad asthma,” says Martana’e, who is in the 4th grade at Houston, “but now I don’t get that much asthma no more because I’m used to playing soccer.”
While the students chose to focus on how to make healthy, personal choices, Thomas is clear that community well-being also requires collective investment in programs and policies that empowers individuals to be healthy. The DC SCORES team itself is evidence of that.
“Before DC SCORES, our school did not have any official sports programs,” she explains. “The kiddos are natural athletes. However, it took a program like DC SCORES to bring out their athletic qualities.”
Martana’e teaches her classmates how to do squat jumps at the Houston Elementary DC SCORES Health and Wellness Expo. Photo: Mairead MacRae.
The Houston team has been enormously successful in the two short years it has been part of the DC SCORES program. Last year, its girls’ squad won the non-profit’s elementary school soccer championships and was selected to walk out with the U.S. Women’s National Team during an Audi Field friendly against Nigeria in September.
This year, both the boys and girls teams are in contention for the championship and will play their quarter final games on May 23. However, the real marker of the team’s success has been off the field, says Thomas. “The poet-athletes’ teamwork, communication, leadership, and decision-making skills on the field have transferred in their lives in the classroom and throughout the school community” she shares. “I have heard teachers share that some students’ behavior in school has improved since they have become a part of the SCORES program.”
The Houston DC SCORES team opens the expo for their peers in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. Photo: Brandon Williams.
The DC SCORES program has also enabled students to serve their communities, a practice Thomas says will stand them in good stead in the future. “DC SCORES has made them aware that they can give back to the community, that they can help out where there are problems. They’ll carry that on for the rest of their lives,” she stresses.
That sense of commitment to the wider good is one that the Houston poet-athletes have already taken to heart. “It’s important to give back to my community because everybody needs people to show them that they are loved,” says a 4th-grade student, Landon.
His classmate Martana’e chimes in, “This is not just about one person, or our team, this is about the whole community!”