Last week, Lindsay Marcal from our membership team made it over to FHI 360’s space in Washington, DC to join the DC Metro chapter of IS member Higher Achievement for an hour-long morning program. Throughout the hour, participants heard from individuals involved with Higher Achievement program in a number of roles—mostly students—and also learned what they can do to help boost academic success in the region.
The crowd of some 100 participants—consisting of donors, supporters, and local education leaders—were engaged before the formal program started with individualized handouts at every seat. Each handout contained a story of someone involved in some capacity with Higher Achievement programming. The largest number of those touched by their programs are middle-school students in communities that lack opportunity, whom they refer to as scholars. For the DC chapter, the demographic makeup of that scholar population is 75% African-American and 12% Latino. Some of the other roles of individuals highlighted in the unique handouts included mentors and center directors.
To begin the program, 5th grader Griner Cumming cited “new relationships and learning” as his favorite aspects of being a Higher Achievement scholar. Cumming was followed by 6th grade scholar Stephanie Hamlin, who read a poem she had written. Powerfully and with a wisdom beyond her years, Hamlin’s poem declared her confidence in being a young, capable, and intelligent black woman.
Following the appearances from the two young scholars, Thalia T. Washington—executive director of Higher Achievement’s Washington, DC chapter—explained Higher Achievement’s belief that “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not”—a notion that guides all their programming. Washington went on to list their program’s “three Rs”: Rigor, relationships, and right timing. Washington put special emphasis on the third R, which alludes to both the many hours scholars commit to their programs, as well as the significance of middle school as a time to help students start on a path to success.
Lindsay—our colleague who attended—also noted that beyond academic preparation, one of the scholars felt that the program instilled in them their ‘own sense of social justice.’ Moreover, the scholars expressed that more important than their responsibility to go to college and get a job, is “to have a purpose in the world for those coming behind you.”
Higher Achievement program alumnus Joe Ferguson recalled his experience in the program as a place where kids could be kids, and at the same time, not feel bad about being smart. For Ferguson, the role models he met through the program inspired his career trajectory into the nonprofit sector and gave him the confidence to start his own business on the side.
The final program participant to speak at the breakfast was 8th grader Sandra Matthews, who spoke warmly about Higher Achievement as her second family. Incidentally, Lindsay sat down at the same table as Matthews’s mentor, Miss Amy, who was visibly affected when Matthews went on to say her mentor was like an aunt to her.
Higher Achievement operates in four locations – Baltimore, DC Metro, Pittsburgh, and Richmond. This event focused on the program in DC. Learn more about Higher Achievement’s work in each of these four communities at https://higherachievement.org/locations/.
Special thanks (once again!) to Lindsay Marcal for making it out to this member event, and for sharing photos and highlights to help us bring you this installment of IS on the Road!