Kicking a soccer ball might feel a bit like poetry—the power of your foot sending the ball curling through the air to a teammate or into the back of a net.
Washington, D.C., teacher Julie Kennedy has for the past 20 years paired verse with the world’s most popular sport to provide an edifying, after-school safe haven for thousands of urban students across the nation.
It started as a way for Kennedy to keep her young female students safe when they left school in the afternoon. She invited them to play soccer on school fields during warmer weather. When it turned cold, she introduced them to writing and reading poetry indoors.
A local school league was created and grew into what would become America SCORES, a national nonprofit that now serves 8,000 male and female students in more than 150 schools in 14 cities. The chapters are funded by public and private community organizations.
Moreover, students now learn leadership skills through a community service component that has been added to the school program.
America SCORES’ chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area serves more than 1,400 students in grades 1 through 8 at 50 low-income elementary and middle schools. Seven “Field of Dreams” projects have transformed pavement into green play spaces since late 2013. Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco USD built its multisport turf field with help from the area’s professional soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes; Major League Soccer; and banking giant Wells Fargo, says Colin Schmidt, executive director of America SCORES Bay Area.
Last year, 88 percent of the students involved nationally in the program reported greater self-confidence and 55 percent moved from an “unhealthy” body mass index to the “normal/healthy” range, according to SCORES’ data.