By Xiao Liu, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service   Published Sep 20, 2019 at 4:01 PM

Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service series that highlights groups and people worth knowing in Milwaukee. To nominate a person or a group, email  and put "Spotlight" in the subject line. 

On a spring afternoon, 12 students from third to fifth grades at Hayes Bilingual School gathered after classes for a 90-minute extracurricular activity course.

Several small desks had been put together as a big conference table. Children sat in chairs, chatting with each other until their writing coach, Sylvia Banda, stood in front of the blackboard and settled them down.

Before the course, the students had brainstormed ways to rid the campus at 971 W. Windlake Ave. of graffiti.

"It’s sad if you were that person" and someone is saying "you are ugly," said one student, referring to the graffiti on walls. "That would be sad for you that you and your name were on the wall. It’s not that nice," another added.

This course is a project of America SCORES Milwaukee, part of a national nonprofit program started in Washington D.C., in 1994.

America SCORES Milwaukee is the community outreach program of the Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club and serves the children of Milwaukee’s Central City.

SCORES students participate in 90 minutes of after-school programming five days a week for 20 weeks throughout the school year.

In the soccer portion of the program, the kids practice two days a week. Then every Friday they travel to a community park and have competitive games. In the portion taught by writing coaches, they spend two days a week learning how to serve communities or to appreciate and write poems.

Kate Carpenter, the executive director of America SCORES Milwaukee, was a soccer coach before she established the organization in 2004. She noticed that although her own children had plenty of extracurricular opportunities, other students were not as fortunate.

She said her program teaches students more than just soccer.

"Building teams"

"It really is the concept of building teams, not specifically the sport. For many, this is the first-time kids are introduced to being a part of the team," she said. "In these teams, children learn … how to make responsible decisions and conflict-resolution techniques. For some, lifelong friendships are formed."

In addition to Hayes Bilingual School, students in five other elementary schools are involved in the program: ALBA Elementary School, Browning Elementary School, LaFollette Elementary School, Lincoln Avenue Elementary School and Riley Elementary School.

"Once we start in a school community, we try to stay there as long as the school wants us, and a lot of schools have been with us more than 10 years during this program," Carpenter said.

In addition to overseeing the service-learning project, Banda also taught poetry last fall. After the training, the students’ poetry was shared in a celebration at Hayes.

All SCORES programs are based on the model: "Soccer + Poetry + Service-Learning = Success."

"When they (students) were writing and they were working, they were taught to work together. They were taught respect, and they were taught leadership," Banda said. "They were taught all of these different pieces. We’ll help them when they are working, when they are playing and working together as a team."

Coming up

America SCORES Milwaukee will host a fund-raising event on Nov. 1 titled "The art of poetry soiree" at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. You can purchase tickets here.