Last spring, I chaperoned the eighth grade class at Slam the Exam — the largest academic pep rally in the country — and I was in awe of the team that had pulled off an event requiring so much planning and coordination. All I could think about as I looked at the thousands of cheering scholars and teachers in the Fort Washington Avenue Armory was, “I’m so glad I’m not the one who has to organize this.”
Fast-forward to 2016. I had been promoted to the network operations team — and it was now my job to plan not one but two back-to-back Slam the Exam rallies. I had the perfect partner to help me with this challenge: TeShia Robinson, another new member of the network operations team. Having started our careers in the schools, we both saw this project as an opportunity to serve our scholars in a new way.
Having started our careers in the schools, we both saw this project as an opportunity to serve our scholars in a new way.
Like me, TeShia was also a community relations coordinator. She had planned many successful and popular elementary school events while working at SA Harlem 4, as I had done during my two years at the high school. She also had chaperoned scholars at every Slam the Exam rally since the first one in 2012. I knew her experience, creativity, and institutional knowledge would be invaluable on this project.
TeShia and I spent months planning a celebration that would truly be about our scholars. I had at times heard our high schoolers complain about feeling left out of the celebration. This was a chance to incorporate their ideas and get them more involved. We decided to book a smaller venue and have two separate rallies — one for elementary scholars and the other for middle and high school scholars — so we could tailor the programs to their ages and interests. TeShia booked DJ Sweat and gave him a list of songs popular with the kids. She also invited the network dance team to perform — their eye-popping moves and epic dance-off during the second rally had everybody on their feet, cheering and dancing.
To make sure staff and scholars were ready to perform their cheers at the celebration, TeShia and I spent a lot of time in the schools. I had fun going back to the high school and watching the cheerleaders teach every homeroom a cheer called, “I’m So Ready,” based on the song “I’m So Wavy” by hip-hop artist Ty Dolla. After the rally, the scholars told us that they enjoyed competing with their rival schools to see who had the most boisterous original cheer.
Another change from previous years was to fully recognize all the scholars who were finalists for the academic awards, instead of naming only the winners. Seeing the looks of surprise on some kids’ faces when their names were announced was priceless. TeShia and I were also pleased to see the warm and enthusiastic reception every nominee received from the entire community. No one felt left out, and that was important to us.
I was especially proud to see three Slam the Exam veterans — high school sophomores Lexi Torres, Deeyonna Cooper, and Aida Bathily — take the stage to motivate and inspire their peers. Lexi and Diana did a phenomenal job recognizing all the award nominees, and Aida delivered a powerful message, encouraging her classmates to do their best on the upcoming state exams.
Searching for a venue, scheduling transportation for 4,251 scholars, and planning two back-to-back rallies that included cheers, awards, pump-up speeches, and more — all in celebration of our scholars’ amazing efforts this year — was no easy feat. TeShia and I could not have done it without the support of the staff from 28 schools and the 130 network employees who volunteered. We are so grateful to everyone who helped with this year’s celebrations. We’re totally exhausted, but we can’t wait to do it again next year!