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.