Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reaching new heights

Last week Kate and Jim, Academy of Hope volunteers, took their reading class on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol. Kate wrote about this experience in her own words.

 I work on Capitol Hill.  Of the hundreds of Capitol tours I have given over the years, none have meant more to me than the one I gave to Diane, Sharon and Charles.

At the beginning of the term, we set a goal to read an entire book cover to cover—an accomplishment some of our students had yet to achieve in their lives.  For the past 14 weeks, we have been reading together "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," a story about post-slavery racism and discrimination.  All of our students shared stories of their ancestors being slaves, their perceptions of racism today and how they can face their own struggles with courage and hope.

We finished the book two weeks ago and to celebrate this monumental achievement, I took them on a tour of the Capitol—a place they had never visited even though all three of them were born and raised here in DC.

I took them to the Old Supreme Court Chamber where the Dred Scott case was argued and handed down.  I took them to the Old Senate Chamber where Senator Charles Sumner was caned, and where most of the slavery debates prior to the Civil War took place.  And finally I took them to see the new statue of Rosa Parks in Statuary Hall.  My eyes watered as they talked about what freedom in our country means to them.

People sometimes ask me how I make time each week to teach at AOH.  But how could I not?  I learn more from them than they could ever learn from me.  I may be teaching them how to read, but they are teaching me to be more compassionate, more kind and more charitable.  It helps me to be a little more grateful for all of the blessings in my life—including the ability to read this email without any assistance.  I’m reminded that some of our neighbors aren't as fortunate.

And that’s the story of our Capitol tour!

-Kate, Academy of Hope evening volunteer

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bringing to life many GED and life skills concepts

“Peppers start off green and get redder as they get riper,” Shaniqua instructs as she holds up a juicy bell pepper, fresh off the vine.  Quickly another learner chimes in to voice his disapproval, insisting that peppers start red and become green. Shaking her head, Shaniqua fires back gracefully, affirming her statement with solid proof: she has seen a pepper—this pepper, in fact—make its chromatic transition across the spectrum and is here to set the facts straight.

Since April—when Academy of Hope began its cooperation with Wangari Gardens—learner-led interactions at the garden have been the norm, bringing to life many GED and life skills concepts that had formerly functioned merely as page-bound test items. The program has started as a small effort with several students and faculty focusing on mastering raised bed gardening, but has larger aspirations, according to Academy of Hope instructor and garden coordinator, Meghan Snyder.

“I’d like to see these few garden beds really change the way Academy of Hope classes function,” she says. “Our learners have had issues in traditional classroom settings, so opportunities to transform the way students think about what learning looks like are always positive.” 

And while the program is growing gradually, the vegetables are shooting up.  Summer harvests included tomatoes, squash, lettuce, rosemary, cilantro, jalapeno and bell peppers. The tasty haul was distributed equally among the gardeners, but Meghan says she hopes to expand this element of the program as well. “Many of our students do not have regular access to healthy, fresh food. If we can expand our harvests, I hope we’ll be able to distribute healthy snacks during school store hours. Starbursts and Doritos probably can’t sustain you through a four-hour GED practice test,” she laughs. 

Whatever the future of the garden holds, students like Shaniqua are sure to be involved. As she collects the squash, tomatoes, and lettuce that she has harvested, Shaniqua seems content. “That was fun,” she shouts as she walks away, “When do we get to come back?”

--Meghan Snyder, Academy of Hope Instructor

Interested in supporting the Academy of Hope garden? If you would like to donate items to plant please contact Meghan at To make financial contributions you can give securely online here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Changing GED Could Mean Greater Barriers for Area Women

Last week Jessica Zetzman, Washington Area Women's Foundation, wrote about the challenges and barriers that the changes to the GED could mean for adults looking to pass the test. Jessica also highlights our work on this issue including our  most recent forum "What does a changing GED mean for DC adults ?" held on July 17th. Check out Jessica's piece below as we continue the discussion of the GED and DC adults. To view pictures and videos from the forum check out our Facebook and Youtube pages here. And a special thank you to Jessica and the Washington Area Women's Foundation for their continued support!

I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be a volunteer teacher at Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s Grantee Partner, The Academy of Hope, and can speak to the hard work of the learners who step through their doors each day. This innovative organization provides basic education to adult learners. Though most learners have jobs, families and a myriad of other responsibilities that compete for their time, they still make their studies a priority. In spending time with the learners there, I’ve come to see that the value of a GED or high school equivalency diploma goes beyond the increased job opportunities and higher wages associated with obtaining that level of education (though these are extremely important). Their value is also in the confidence gained by the adults who walk across the stage at graduation, in a mother who is more equipped to help her children with their homework, in that member of society who is more prepared for civic engagement and in immeasurably more ways. In January of 2014, however, the GED is undergoing significant changes that will likely make it considerably more difficult to obtain.

While there are several changes coming to the GED, three of the most significant shifts are the transition from paper-based tests to computerized-only exams, the jump from a $50 testing fee to a fee of $120, and an increase in the test’s difficulty. These changes have been widely debated, and Academy of Hope has been tackling the tough questions around this transition through a series of panels and continuing dialog on this issue. Most recently, they hosted local experts for a panel discussion on July 17th, in partnership with the Moriah Fund and PNC Bank, to discuss the implications of the changing GED for DC adults.

The panel raised several great issues, discussing the challenges and barriers that the changes to the GED could mean for adults looking to pass the test, and balancing these with comments on the need for the GED to remain relevant at a time when many jobs demand higher levels of computer literacy and “soft skills” such as listening, critical reasoning, and inductive reasoning. For me, one of the most relevant comments came from Nicole Smith, a research professor and senior economist at the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. She noted that her research has shown that women need an entire layer of education higher than men to obtain the same salary, meaning that when a woman obtains her GED she would still need at least an associate’s degree or certificate just to earn what a man with a GED alone would be able to earn; women with the same educational attainment as men earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts over a lifetime. For the new GED, with the increase in difficulty, greater need for computer literacy and higher financial burden just to take the test, women will face an even more difficult road to higher education and family sustaining wages.
In a city where, in 2008, 14% of girls did not complete high school, the ramifications for this are serious. The GED test is the most widely recognized alternative to a high school diploma and a gateway to higher education opportunities. The changes to the GED will likely increase the time commitment of adults studying for the test, and will mean a tremendous amount of work for organizations that prepare adults in the Washington area for the GED, as they will need to revamp and adapt their programs to the new standards. At the panel discussion, NPR’s Kavitha Cardoza remarked that with the coming changes in the GED, “this is a really scary time for adult educators and adults in DC.”

As the barriers to higher education for women in the region increase, so, too, do the barriers to better jobs and more opportunities for women and their families to find economic security. This is why The Women’s Foundation funds programs like Academy of Hope and appreciates their commitment to continuing the conversation with great events like this panel!

For more information on what the changes to the GED could mean for area adults, click here for a policy brief courtesy of The Working Poor Families Project.
You can follow Academy of Hope as they continue the discussion on twitter at @AoHDC and on Facebook.

By Jessica Zetzman (To view this post on Washington Area Women's Foundation just click here.)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Help support adult literacy today!

What is it? A city-wide one-day organized fundraising challenge. The Academy of Hope will be competing against other non-profits in the region during the 24-hour period.
What is the purpose? Academy of Hope is attempting to raise money for the General Educational Development (GED) tests, because in early 2014, the cost will be rising from $50 to $120 to take the test. With this high school credential, adults are able to find better-paying jobs to support their families and they are more likely to support their children with their education endeavors. Academy of Hope’s goal is to reach $5,000.
What amount? $12 supplies a calculator for one learner, $24 helps a learner purchase a GED study book, and $48 helps advanced computer learners purchase textbooks for the IC3 (Internet and Computing Core Certification) class. And more is always welcome!
Why June 6? Non-profits are racing against each other for prizes and donations only count if they are received on June 6. Awards include:
 Most Donor Awards
•Most Donors for the Day: $15,000
•Most Donors at ½ Day Mark (12:00 pm on June 6th): $5,000
•Most Donors by Sector: $2,500 each
Most Dollars Raised Awards
•Most Dollars Raised: $5,000
•Most Dollars Raised by Sector: $1,000 each
“Best In” Awards
•Best in Social Media: $7,500
•Best Co-Branded Marketing Campaign: $7,500
•Best Do More 24 Event: $7,500

Please give today to help support our learners and reach our $5,000 goal for the day! Tell your friends and family!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Putting Literacy at the Head of the Line in D.C.

Opinion Editorial published in The Washington Post on May 10, 2013

Darnetta Hollis, a mother of four, survived domestic violence and overcame homelessness to earn her high school diploma at age 29. One of 36 graduates from Academy of Hope’s adult education program, Hollis told fellow students at their recent graduation: “We accomplished a goal that seemed at one time impossible. By taking our education seriously, we are saying we take our lives seriously.”  Today, Hollis is working as a temp for nonprofit organizations and taking classes toward certification as a paralegal, with the goal of a career in the legal profession — a far cry from the two low-wage, dead-end jobs she was juggling before she earned her high school diploma.

More than 64,000 D.C. adults lack a high school credential. With limited basic math, reading and digital literacy skills, these residents have difficulty following written instructions, completing paperwork, communicating effectively with colleagues or helping their children with homework. This undermines the job security of workers, the economic viability of local businesses and the well-being of families.
That is why we must do more to help men and women in our community improve their basic skills. The looming overhaul of the GED exam — which will include major changes such as moving from a paper-and-pencil test to a computer-based exam, as well as significantly more difficult questions — makes this an especially critical time to support adult education.
But funding for adult literacy has decreased steadily in recent years and falls far short of the need. The proposed budget of $4.3 million for fiscal 2014 would allow some 20 nonprofit organizations to serve approximately 3,100 adults. We are asking the D.C. Council to approve a total of $8.3 million($4 million from the mayor’s contingency wish list in addition to the $4.3 million that is in the budget) to push that total to 4,100 adults and to help nonprofits update curriculum and train teachers to prepare for impending changes to the GED.
Given all the demands on the city’s budget, why should literacy be a higher priority?
Literacy is one of those root problems that, if addressed with serious investments, will pay off in multiple ways. For instance, earning a diploma is not only good for adult students; it also is good for their children. Parents with strong literacy skills can better help their children do homework, study and succeed in school. And young adults whose parents have a high school diploma are more likely to complete high school than are those whose parents do not, according to a 2012 Urban Institute report.
India Clegg, a mother of three and participant in Southeast Ministry’s GED program, illustrates the key role parents’ literacy plays. She says, “I want my children to learn from me how important an education is. I know obtaining a GED is not the only thing that will improve our future, but it will give us options.”
In addition to improving children’s educational outcomes, a high school equivalency diploma is critical to helping residents of our region succeed at training and finding work and breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
With close to 80 percent of jobs in the District projected to require skills beyond high school by 2018, we can and must do more to support our residents’ most basic educational needs. The District can no longer afford to skimp on its investment in adult education; otherwise, a large portion of its residents will continue to be unprepared to fill future jobs and will be left out of the city’s well-being and growth.
As a community, we must come together to provide our residents with skills, but also hope. As Darnetta Hollis put it, “Graduation, for me, was not an end, but a beginning.”
Lecester Johnson is executive director of Academy of Hope. Terri Lee Freeman is president of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.
Click here to view this op ed as published in The Washington Post.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"I am a Mother in school"

My name is Mary and I’m 43 years old and I am a high school graduate. I was born and raised here in Washington, DC along with three other siblings. I attended DCPS [District of Columbia Public Schools] since the age of  five. I didn’t graduate from high school, because I became pregnant with my oldest child. I began going to Academy of Hope in 1996, and I started with the GED program. I ended up struggling with that program so in 2008 I switched to the NEDP [National External Diploma Program]. On June 14, 2012 I graduated and received my high school diploma which I was happy about.

When I told my oldest daughter that mommy was going back to school she was happy for me, and she said, “Mommy now you enter the world with us by being a high school graduate.” I just sat back and smiled because I knew that she was proud that her mommy finally has her high school diploma. Even my mother was happy–she was in tears when I mentioned her in my speech. I graduated two weeks before my mom’s birthday and so my graduation was my birthday gift to her.

Now, my dream is to attend college and receive a degree in early childhood education. I’m making a step already to make this dream come true. I’m taking up College Prep in the spring to help me prepare for college. In 2014 I should have the funds for college or maybe a scholarship, and then hopefully I can attend UDC [University of the District of Columbia] community college.  At the moment I am doing a refresher before I start my college prep classes. I enjoy studying alone and with no music and no TV –just nice and quiet. I like to study about 1 1/2 hours and then read for another hour.I have a schedule that I organized how to plan all my study time.

Now since I am a high school graduate I feel happy, joyful and praising God that I made it. Now I can fill out applications and I don’t worry about the part: “Name your high school.” I can now say I graduated in 2012. I am a graduate along with my four children. I enjoy helping my niece with her homework and she also enjoys our reading sessions. We have read over 30 books in two weeks. I remember I didn’t enjoy helping my sister with her algebra because I didn’t understand the concepts, and now I can understand algebra. I’m happy that I did make a change for myself and with the high school diploma I have so much opportunity that awaits me.

By Mary Crumble, Academy of Hope Graduate & College Pathway Learner

Mary was 1 of 12 individuals selected from over 260 applicants to the World Education Mother's Day Stories announcement. Congratulations and thank you to Mary for sharing her story and thank you to World Education for posting this story as one of your Mother's Day Stories.

To read the original post on World Education click this link.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"High Price for Low Literacy"

Last part of WAMU 88.5's series "Yesterday's Dropouts". Listen here to Special Correspondent Kavitha Cardoza's report.

To donate to Academy of Hope and help adult learners like Claudine Edwards, click here.

"At 13 years old, Claudine Edwards had a baby and dropped out of school. When she did, her dreams of becoming a nurse evaporated. Now she's 53 and has come to Academy of Hope, a nonprofit in southeast D.C., to ask about classes.
Edward's motivation for coming back to school is to be able to read baby books to her neighbor's grandchildren. This is the third time she's enrolled in adult education classes. She stopped coming the first time because of an abusive relationship; the second time was after she took the GED test — and failed.
“I went to school everyday,” she says. “It just felt like my heart dropped. To this day, I could cry.”
Edwards is like many adult learners who are very fragile, with little confidence. They are already so discouraged that any setback can be devastating. It's taken Edwards three years to summon up the courage to try again.
"I think about all these years where I could have probably been. A lot of my goals could've been accomplished. But I'm not giving up."
She lost her job as a cleaner during the recession, and for five years she's been unemployed. Edwards relies on food stamps, and her daughter pays her rent.
When Cathy Walsh, a staff member at Academy of Hope, brings up money, Edwards tenses up. When she hears fees costs $10 for three months, Edwards looks relieved. But then a moment later, she inquires about volunteer work.
“Can you give me a copy of this, so I can show it to a loved one ‘cause I’m not working.” she asks Walsh.Walsh explains the school's "service hours" payment system, in which Edwards can volunteer after class to put away chairs and clean the whiteboard. That way she'll only have to pay a third of the fee — $10 for three months of classes. But Edwards can't afford even that. She stares at the papers.
Mismatched Skills
D.C. boasts a higher percentage of advanced degress than any of the 50 states. But there are also 85,000 people like Claudine Edwards who can’t read and write very well, and who are largely invisible.
Most of these dropouts pay a higher price for low literacy. Two out of every three adults without a high school diploma in D.C. don't have jobs.
Emily Durso, with the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE), says adult education is the first step toward employment. She gives the example of Costco opening in D.C. a few months ago.
The Department of Employment Services had 800 people to apply for 165 jobs. The biggest barrier for people to apply wasn't willingness to work, she says, but to go through a screening process and read and comprehend Costco's literature.
For those who do get hired, it often means low-end jobs — part time or seasonal — with no hope of advancing. In tough times, they're often the first ones laid off.
Limited skills affect the economy
Stephen Fuller, an economist with George Mason University, says the whole region suffers when so many adults have limited skills.
“You train a worker, they go to work, earn money, spend their money, support other jobs, they pay taxes, earn a living,” he says. “So the return on investment, if done right, is extremely high, and it surprises me that we haven’t taken control of this.”
He says most of the unemployed workers looking for jobs just need some training to get back in the workforce. They have skills, but may not have the right skills.
In D.C., the government spends $4 million a year on nonprofits that educate adults. That's half of what it spent back in 2007.
Some adult educators say improving adult literacy rates would not only make for a more prosperous city, but also a healthier one.
Low literacy affects health
Students in a health class at St. Mary's Center in northwest D.C. are learning different body parts. This helps them tell a doctor what hurts during a visit to the clinic.
Alis Marachelian runs the health education program at St. Mary's, whose clinic serves approximately 25,000 patients each year. Marachelian says the barrier between caregivers and patients who can't read, write or speak is a "huge problem, every day."
“We use illustrations for medicines, we would draw the sun and the moon as to when to take the medicine,” says Marachelian. “Which one you take with food, with an icon of a food item. Sometimes we help them put it in a pillbox because they can’t count either.”
Marachelian says for some common conditions such as diabetes, the least compliant patients are the ones with low literacy. It's not that they're resisting medication; they just don't know how to measure the amount of insulin or understand the potentially fatal consequences of a wrong dose. And often, she says, a parent's low literacy affects their children's health.
“For example, giving cough syrup, measuring how much they might be overdosing their children and it’s absolutely unintentional. For asthma, some inhalers have the same color, so confusing the ones that are long acting or short acting is a problem.”
Marachelian says when children's symptoms fail to improve, doctors may increase the dosage or change the medication, thinking it's not working. There are more emergency room visits. Children have to miss school and parents take off from work. With a chronic condition, she says, this could mean the child falls behind academically or the parent gets fired.
Teaching the next generation
Parents who don't read well themselves also have a hard time helping their children in school.
"There is a sense of humiliation that they're somehow going to be embarrassed if they approach the school, because of what they don't have and don't know," says Valarie Ashley, who runs Southeast Ministries, an adult education center in D.C.
Research shows parental involvement improves a child's academic performance, resulting in higher test scores, better attendance and improved graduation rates. And Ashley says she's seen that happen in her own family. She was 10 when her mother went back to school at 37. Overnight, they started to sit around the dining table every evening and do homework together.
“The point came fairly quickly, where she could then supervise and help us with some of our homework,” says Ashley. “She also started to advocate for us in school, and she didn’t do that before.”
But perhaps the biggest cost is one that can't be measured. It's the invisible cost of what might have been. John Bridegland, with Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm in D.C., calls dropping out a "dream buster." Students who drop out usually don't vote and don't volunteer.
“With millions of students dropping out every year, it’s like generations of talent needlessly lost,” she says. “You think about the civic fabric of our communities and what life could have been like. You realize the dropout epidemic is a huge loss to our nation.”
It may have seemed easy to drop out of school, but the path after that is hard -- a lifetime of dreams that lie just out of reach. It means a business not started, a song unwritten, a bedtime story never read.
Even those who go back to school often struggle to earn a diploma and hold a steady job. But for many of yesterday's dropouts, there's something else at stake as well: something less tangible but no less significant: A chance to emerge from the shadows and finally be seen."
Go to WAMU 88.5's 5-part series, "Yesterday's Dropouts", for more reports, videos and resources. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Listen to Our Learners on WAMU 88.5 on Wed. 4/17 @ 6:50am & 8:50am

The national debate around education usually focuses on children. But what happens when those children grow up and try to make their way into the world? WAMU 88.5's new five-part series, Yesterday's Dropouts, takes a look at the struggles adults face long after they leave school without a diploma. This series includes interviews with Academy of Hope's community and adult learners.

Tune in 4/15 through 4/19 at 6:50am and 8:50am. Each report will also be re-broadcast on consecutive Fridays on Metro Connection at 1pm and Saturdays at 7am.

Listen and connect here:

Also check out this slideshow that WAMU 88.5 produced of our recent graduation and listen to some of our graduates' voices.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Academy of Hope featured on CBS News and on WAMU 88.5's Community Minute

CBS News
Earlier this year, a CBS crew came out to Academy of Hope to film for a segment about nonprofits "you should know about". Susan McGinnis, CBS reporter, talked to an adult learner and to our Executive Director, Lecester Johnson.  CBS was also present during Academy of Hope's recent graduation on February 1st, where they captured great moments of the emotional event and words from one of our graduates, Darnetta Hollis.  The segment was aired on various CBS channels and affiliates over the weekend of February 15.  We're so happy to share this video with you!

Non profit bringing hope to adult learners

Thank you CBS for this fantastic piece!

WAMU 88.5
Academy of Hope was also chosen to be featured on the Community Minute segment produced by WAMU 88.5.  Each month, Community Minute highlights community organizations that are working to improve the lives of people in the DC metro region.  Lecester Johnson, Executive Director, spoke for Community Minute.  Listen to Lecester throughout March on WAMU 88.5 or by following the link below:

Community Minute: Basic adult education services in Wards 5 and 8 in D.C.

Thank you WAMU 88.5!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Academy of Hope is offering College Readiness Classes

Interested in taking College Readiness Classes?

Academy of Hope's Bridge program seeks to support adult learners as they prepare for college coursework. Students will attend academic classes in math, writing and grammar, build computer skills, receive assistance in completing college essays and financial add documents as well as receive individual advising and career counseling.

Apply by March 18th, 12pm.