Tuesday, February 25, 2014

From Colorado to DC, Learning About Education Means Stepping Outside the Classroom

I was born and raised in FortCollins, Colorado, across the country, seventeen hundred miles away from DC. My childhood was lived on a college campus. My dad is a college professor. I went to preschool on campus, spent school holidays in lecture halls and learned how to organize engineering exams as soon as I learned the alphabet by laying in the living room with hundreds of papers surrounding my dad, sister and I…alphabetically by last name, and then first.
The importance of education has always been a huge part of my life, it was assumed early on that I would attend and finish college, and it was this way with most of the people that attended grade school to high school with me. The dropout rate of the school district I attended was only approximately 4.1%.
This is an exceptional statistic that does not mirror the rest of the country, or even state. I started to get into journalism in High School because it let me explore out of the bubble in which I was living. The bubble in which education was the norm, middle-income peers were all around me and tree-and- flower beds lined most streets. While writing on my high school newspaper, I finally had a reason to explore past all this, to tell stories behind what most see. Everyone has a story, and most don’t get told.
          One of these stories I learned through writing is that the city I thought I knew so well, had a second face that was rarely talked about. According to the 2009 census, over 25% of Fort Collins residents live below poverty line. It took me until I was 18 years old to learn that statistic, and many live in Fort Collins their whole lives without truly understanding the challenging aspects of the town. Sure there are great organizations working to help families struggling, but public awareness of the poverty level seems virtually absent.
      I then went to college in Fort Collins for Communication Studies and I made it a goal that I would use the writing, digital media and outreach skills I was learning in the classroom, out of the classroom to help those that need a voice. When my dad started a project in DC for work, it was astounding to me to learn that our nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. had the highest rate of high school dropouts in the nation, at almost 60%. And, in all the media coverage of the area, political news overwhelms public perception about the area and the education and poverty levels aren’t given close to enough national attention. It didn’t seem right to me.
         I had a hard time focusing in my classes on just textbook work. I would write all my papers on literacy in America, dropout rates around the nation, and economic disparities around me. National Public Radio did an extensive series on how the economy is affected by just this. The series originated with WAMU, the leading public radio station in the greater Washington, DC area by education and poverty Special Correspondent Kavitha Cardoza. Her article "Adding Up The Cost Of Low Literacy Among Adults"  drew me to The Hope. Her story later became a full documentary series called "Breaking Ground".
        I decided it was time I take a break from schooling and further understand my passion for community development and education communication. I learned about Academy of Hope through the NPR piece. I now am working on putting students and teachers stories on the blog, social media coverage, data input and anything else AoH needs help with. I am truly excited and humbled to be able to learn about such an amazing organization that is giving students their own voice, to tell their own story, everyday.

- Mary Willson, Communication and Data Intern 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting 'A Kick Out of Fractions', And An Award From The Mayor

Imagine my surprise when I received an email one day recently from the Mayor’s Office of Volunteerism informing me that I was this year’s recipient of the Mayor’s Community Service Award in the category of Education. I received my award, a crystal obelisk of the Washington, Monument, at a ceremony held in the beautiful Mayor’s Ceremonial Room in the Wilson Building.  Mayor Gray spoke about the importance of volunteerism and how it brings the city together. I am still amazed and thrilled that I could have been chosen for such an honor.
 For the last few years I have been a volunteer tutor and math teacher in Academy of Hope’s daytime program.  I’ve taught the basic course in whole numbers, and the course in decimals, but my real favorite is fractions, which I teach now. I’m not sure why I get such a kick out of fractions, but it may be largely because so many of my students approach it with apprehension and that makes it very satisfying to help them overcome this attitude. For many, understanding fractions was something they were overwhelmed by in school, and their failure to master it may have been a turning point in their education.  Conquering fractions gives them the confidence to move on toward high school level math and eventually to the GED.

Certainly, the greatest satisfaction one finds in teaching is the memory of those unexpected moments when students suddenly “get it” and realize that can understand math.  To have the AoH faculty write up a description of my efforts, to have those words chosen for recognition, and to have them read out in a public ceremony, was a pretty awesome event that I will never forget.  It was a highlight for me and I will always be enormously grateful.
- Dilys Lande, longtime volunteer 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Local Leaders Carry on MLK Jr.'s Dream

Last month we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a day we pay homage to our society’s ability to see past life’s limitations and disappointments and honor the most noble aspirations that live in us both individually and collectively.  Today we remember and pay respect to a world without gross inequality, where all humans are valued for the potential they hold regardless of social status or background.
Lecester Johnson stands with AoH Graduate

We also honor the brave individuals who have made it their life’s purpose to turn these dreams into reality.  Leaders whose actions, words, and examples embody the principles that Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for – equality, justice, and hope.  Leaders like Lecester Johnson, Executive Director of Academy of Hope, recipient of Georgetown University’s Legacy of a Dream Award for 2014.

Academy of Hope provides adult education, employment resources and tutoring. But in fact, its founding vision is building hope in the hearts of those struggling to overcome life’s most obstinate challenges – poverty, underemployment, and disempowerment.  Academy of Hope provides a nurturing environment for dreams to take root and the tools for its learners to actualize them little by little – to find steady work, set a good example for their children, or challenge themselves to live more fulfilling and productive lives.

We honor Lecester Johnson and others who have brought the Washington, DC community one step closer to King’s dream.  Because the purpose of MLK Jr. Day is not to revere a great leader who once gave a great speech, who is now just a black and white figure in our history books and our calendars.  The purpose is to remember the great cause that he stood for – social equality – and to celebrate those who advancing this same cause to this day.

Places like Academy of Hope ensure that dreams like King’s stay alive and build the foundation for a more just and loving society.  We applaud Lecester Johnson, her staff, and the volunteer teachers for the work that they do and honor her alongside those pursuing their dream for a better world.