The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to rethink how they operate and America SCORES Cleveland is no exception. Until March 2020 our programming was solely in-person programming put on after school at 16 different Cleveland Metropolitan schools.

When Governor DeWine shut down the state causing all schools and activities to become virtual, we had to get creative. Our primary concern was how to continue to provide a safe space for our students to be active in body and mind in this new solely virtual world. How do you hold soccer practice when we can’t be in the same space and students don’t have a soccer ball? How do we teach poetry and complete service projects as a team when we have to stay at home?

During the initial stay at home order we created tutorial videos for our students to follow. These included instructional soccer videos that detailed how to practice skills such as dribbling and passing using drills and exercises designed to be completed at home. We also provided instructions on how to create your own soccer ball from socks or other things you might have around the house.

For poetry and service learning we provided step-by-step guides on how to write different types of poetry, how to use different elements of poetry such as verbs and adjectives, and how to create simple projects such as cards to give out to friends and neighbors.

We also utilized the tools we had such as Instagram Live to interact with our students. We provided live soccer lessons and worked together to write poems, tongue twisters, and our own mad libs.

As the initial 6 weeks passed and we realized COVID and its restrictions would be around for a while we started working on how to create a full virtual version of our writing program and set up safe regulations for in-person soccer practices.

Our Fall season was our first chance to pilot this new hybrid program model, part virtual, part in-person. Students had the opportunity to take part in SCORES poetry lessons online through Zoom or to join us for programming at one of the community spaces that offering in-person learning opportunities including; Boys Hope Girls Hope, Bellaire Puritas Corporation, Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Association, Jones Road Family Development Corporation, Lexington Bell Community Center, Merrick House, St. Adalbert and Center for Arts Inspired Learning.

For poetry this new SCORES program model saw students in both virtual and in-person practices meet twice weekly. All virtual lessons were led by our dedicated coaches on Zoom using an online learning site called Nearpod to keep the lessons engaging and interactive. All our students (whether in-person or online) worked on the fundamentals of poetry and wrote their own individual poems. All students had the opportunity to submit their poems to be part of our annual Poetry SLAM. Poems were scored by nine community members (including artists, writers and educators) who served as voluntary judges. Winners received gift cards and their poems were included in a special highlight video. You can watch the highlight video on our Youtube page.

For the soccer side of our program we also provided virtual and in-person options. At the eight in-person program locations, we held soccer practice in a COVID safe manner. Students were provided their own soccer balls that were numbered, they completed individualized skill drills, and practiced in their own space at least 6 feet from other students.  Everything was carefully sanitized and cleaned between each lesson and masks were required throughout practice.

For those students who were unable to attend our in-person lessons we created instruction videos. We worked with a local videographer named Devin Cathcart of Cathcart Creative to create professional soccer video lessons. Our Soccer Director and other program staff members shared tips and demonstrations on a variety of skills. Students were then encouraged to practice the lesson topic themselves and submit their videos via an educational site called Flipgrid.

Throughout the Fall season we served 197 students and learned a variety of lessons along the way. We took what we learned during the Fall and designed our Spring program model which began in January.  This season brought a new challenge: how do you complete team community service projects when students aren’t able to safely get together in groups?

Pre-COVID our students spent the 12 weeks of Spring programming learning about their community, identifying a problem, researching that problem, and then creating a project to solve their chosen issue. We have had students hold walkathons, set up donation drives, clean up their neighborhoods or their school, and hold awareness campaigns.

We spent time reviewing our curriculum and found ways for our students to complete mini-projects that could be done individually. Instead of one large project done over 12 weeks, students will spend the first 6 weeks learning about their community and how to identify problems and the second 6 weeks completing one-week mini-projects. Keep an eye on our social pages to see some of the completed projects.

These projects include writing letters or cards for local community members, writing their own newspaper articles about local or global issues, creating posters to raise awareness about an important cause, writing their own comic strips, and filming their own PSA videos. Every project allows students to identify a problem in their community and come up with a way to solve that issue. We hope that they see that they can make a difference no matter their age and no matter the size of the project. Even something as simple as a card can make someone’s day!

While our program may look different, virtual and more individual-based, we are glad that we can still provide a safe space for our students to learn and grow. No matter the space, the atmosphere or whether virtual or in-person, we will always work towards our mission of inspiring Cleveland youth to lead healthy lives, be engaged students and have the confidence and character to make a difference in the world.