Hart Middle School Poet-Athletes Fight Period Stigma Through Service Learning

Hart SL 2024 Header Image.png Poet-athletes Rayonna (left) and Zyioa (right) and coach LeNia Samuels (center) share how team spirit helped make their “Women of Hart” project a success.

This story is part of the SCORES Community series, focusing on how members of the DC 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.

Like most teachers, LeNia Samuels is never completely off duty. She supports her students as much as she can, which often means helping them with issues that fall outside her regular duties as an art teacher and DC SCORES coach at Hart Middle School in Southeast D.C.

Samuels, who recently won DC SCORES’ Rookie of the Year coaching award, is happy to help with whatever her DC SCORES poet-athletes need, even on the weekends, but one regular request from girls on her team started to worry her.

“A lot of them would come up asking for hygiene products, like a pad, for a friend,” she says. When Samuels inquired why their friends didn’t ask for help directly, she was told that many middle school girls were too embarrassed to ask a grown-up for period items.

Sensing an opportunity to help their classmates, this season Hart poet-athletes have been collecting donations of pads, tampons, deodorant, underwear, and other hygiene products to make available to students who need them. The initiative is part of their DC SCORES spring service-learning curriculum, which complements the organization’s soccer and poetry curricula and encourages poet-athletes to work together as teams in their communities.

3-a57698.png Hart has had a DC SCORES team since 2012.

What makes the team’s “Women of Hart” project particularly impactful is that students can either get what they need directly from the squad’s supply or discreetly ask a DC SCORES poet-athlete to collect it for them, no adults involved.

“That’s why we wanted it to be student-led,” says Samuels. “So that they can feel more comfortable asking another student.”

“We’re Helping Each Other”

The idea for the project was sparked in March when poet-athletes in Samuels’ art class made a book in honor of Women’s History Month. The piece celebrated women teachers at Hart and, inspired by their stories, the DC SCORES team decided they wanted to work on something that met the needs of girls at their school.

Period poverty — defined as having inadequate access to menstrual products as a result of financial limitations or social stigma associated with menstruation — is a widespread issue across the United States. Nearly 1 in 4 students report that they have struggled to afford period products, while 44% of teens say they have experienced stress or embarrassment due to lack of access to period products.

This reality is reflected in the experience of many students at Hart.

“Girls are unprepared because [getting their period] was what they was least expecting,” says Zyioa, a 6th-grade poet-athlete on the team. “Kids, they don’t really like to go to adults. They come to kids more often because we’re closer to them. They think adults might embarrass them,” adds her teammate and fellow 6th-grader Rayonna.

By creating free, peer-to-peer access to hygiene products, the Hart poet-athletes successfully removed two of the biggest causes of period poverty: lack of financial resources and the feelings of shame that can prevent young people from asking for what they need.

Spring Giving  Social (Twitter Post) (1).png The Hart team collected essentials such as pads, tampons, wipes, and deodorant for students who need them.

Since the project started, Zyioa, Rayonna, and their teammates have been making regular deliveries of supplies whenever a classmate needs them, including during lunch and recess. But neither poet-athlete regrets giving up their breaks.

“It’s important to help out others in need,” says Rayonna. Zyioa agrees. “Instead of bringing each other down, we’re helping each other,” she says.

Award-Winning Spirit

This dedication to one another comes from being part of a close-knit group of friends on the DC SCORES team. Rayonna joined the squad as soon as she started at Hart in the fall, after playing on the DC SCORES team at Malcolm X Elementary School. “I really didn’t know nobody when I first got here,” she says. “But now I know lots of people from the team.”

Unlike Rayonna, Zyioa is not a keen soccer player and instead serves the team as a junior manager, helping out with practices, gamedays, and service learning. “I like seeing the team compete against other people [on gamedays] and not get mad if they lose. And I like seeing them interact with each other more often,” she says.

Learning to productively channel emotions is one of the biggest changes Samuels has seen in the poet-athletes, too. “We lost our first soccer game of the season and it was so hard on them. They just couldn’t do anything,” says Samuels. “But now if we lose a game, they come together and ask, ‘What can we do better the next game?’ They take it as a responsibility and not a burden.”

4-f87631.png The Hart team has won the Spirit Award for the past two DC SCORES middle school poetry slams.

Camaraderie defines the DC SCORES team at Hart. For the past two years, the squad has won the Spirit Award at the organization’s middle school poetry slam in recognition of the school pride they show in their performances.

Looking out for each other and sharing the spotlight comes naturally to the team. When asked what she most wanted people to know about her DC SCORES experience, Rayonna gives a typical answer for a Hart Jet: “What I really love about DC SCORES is how I made so many new friends.”

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