Transforming the Next Generation Through DC SCORES: Coach Shay Blanchard at Barnard Elementary

1-2de0e9.png Blanchard is a DC SCORES soccer and writing coach at her alma mater, Barnard Elementary School.

This story is part of our SCORES Community series, focusing on how members of the SCORES community are having an impact on D.C. through soccer, poetry, and service. Become part of our movement in Poet-Athlete City by supporting our programs today.

Coach Shay Blanchard has always been part of the Barnard Elementary School community. She attended the school while growing up in D.C., and now works as a physical education teacher at her alma mater. For the last eight years, she has also served as a soccer and poetry coach for DC SCORES.

“Soccer is life,” Coach Shay says. She has played and followed the sport for as long as she can remember, and jumped at the chance to transfer her passion for soccer to the young poet-athletes she coaches through DC SCORES.

The nonprofit serves more than 3,000 kids in the District through its soccer, poetry, and service-learning programming, which is offered during out-of-school time, such as after school, before classes begin in the morning, and during summer breaks.

2-96d0c7.png Blanchard was a college soccer player at Lincoln University. Photo: Lincoln University Athletics Department.

Through DC SCORES’ soccer curriculum, Coach Shay helps her elementary schoolers improve their ball skills and build teamwork on the field. But she also understands the importance of allowing her students to build multidimensional skills.

That’s why Coach Shay loves the holistic DC SCORES program and the exposure to poetry it brings young people.

“A lot of students would not be able to come out of their shells and talk about certain topics they may be really passionate about without the poetry aspect of [DC SCORES],” she says. “It’s a judgment-free zone for them so they can say how they feel when they feel it.”

Finding New Passions

One example Coach Shay shares is of a Barnard poet-athlete who struggled with her homework and writing during school. However, under Coach Shay’s guidance and instruction during their DC SCORES sessions, the student developed a passion for poetry. Her mother even found her at home working on a poem past 10 p.m. because she was eager to present it to Coach Shay the following day!

Coach Shay’s work during the DC SCORES fall program revolves around preparing her students for their poetry slam each November. The slams provide a platform for poet-athletes to perform their spoken word poems and choreography confidently in front of friends and family. “It’s been a joy to see them bring out their feelings and creativity,” she marvels.

Together with her team of students, Coach Shay says, “Every year, we want to step outside the box. We don’t want to do the same thing that everyone else is doing. We want to be the ones going to make a trend, and we’re going to see who follows it for future years to come.”

3-9a9565.png Barnard poet-athletes perform at last year’s DC SCORES Westside Poetry Slam. Photo: Cody Cervenka.

Barnard has become a DC SCORES trailblazing school off the stage, too. Last fall, it became one of the first schools to pilot a new writing and service-learning program for Junior poet-athletes, who are in the 1st and 2nd grades.

Previously, Juniors participated only in DC SCORES’ soccer programming. However, since September, the youngest poet-athletes at Barnard have been experiencing the new poetry and service-learning curriculum designed to help all students tap into DC SCORES’ holistic model.

Coach Shay says poet-athletes are competitive regardless of their age. She tells them, “As long as you guys have fun, and the judges care about what you have to say, we [will] win.” Above all, she admires how eager her students are to participate in the poetry program.

“The Biggest Supportive Family”

One of Coach Shay’s favorite parts of her job is interacting with the diverse group of students on Barnard’s DC SCORES team. While that can bring challenges — many of the children in the group primarily speak Spanish — Coach Shay and her fellow coaches are committed to supporting every child’s participation in the program.

This year, the Barnard team brought on a Spanish-speaking coach. Together, Coach Shays says, “We allow them to write how they feel in Spanish, their native language…We want them to just be expressive of however they feel.”

Barnard’s coaches are as close-knit as the team of poet-athletes they lead. In fact, Coach Shay has kept DC SCORES in the family, coaching alongside her sister, Shanice Blanchard, a kindergarten teacher at Barnard. “We’re like two for one deal!” Coach Shay says. “The Barnard program would not be what it is today without her as well.”

4-4b8d5d.png Blanchcard coaches at Barnard alongside her sister, Shanice.

With the DC SCORES spring program in full swing, Coach Shay hopes to help her poet-athletes continue to be the best they can be, both on and off the field. In addition to regular soccer training and matches, Barnard poet-athletes are focusing on developing this year’s service-learning projects. In past years, the team has participated in clean-ups of local neighborhoods and schools and helped unhoused neighbors in their community.

Coach Shay believes valuing youth voices and providing poet-athletes with the opportunity to support their neighborhoods is building community for Barnard’s youth. “I tell them, be yourself. Your voice matters as well. Do what you have to do. If you need help, seek it,” she says. And with DC SCORES, this is probably the biggest supportive family you’ll come across.”

That mantra rings true for Coach Shay herself, who has no intention of leaving the community she has helped create through the program. “I just love the DC SCORES culture. So I think they’ll see me around forever,” she says.

5-c2bb14.png Blanchard intends to coach with DC SCORES for as long as she can.

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