“Whose center is this?” asked Center Director Mr. Richard Trent to the cafeteria full of scholars at the end of gathering time, the final component of Higher Achievement’s Afterschool Academy.
“It’s ours,” was the enthusiastic reply. Gathering time is one of the corner stones of Afterschool Academy and is led by a select group of scholars each night. The intention is to promote among other things public speaking skills, confidence, and unity among scholars. During this time scholars are given the opportunity to share what they learned that particular night as well as to give “shout outs” to peers and their mentors. Mentors have the option of giving shout outs as well.
On Monday Oct. 7, Higher Achievement kicked off its 2013-14 year at its Alexandria center located at the Francis C. Hammond Elementary School. Higher Achievement which also has centers in multiple Wards within the District of Columbia, allows mentors from all walks of life and professions to volunteer one or more nights a week to teach and build relationships with scholars spanning grades five through eight. The goal is to encourage and provide role models for the scholars, and also to encourage academic achievement and matriculation to college.
Scholars attend Higher Achievement three nights a week after school and are taught lessons in the areas of reading, mathematics and seminar each night. Seminar can be any number of topics including science, current events, financial literacy and range of other topics.
Afterschool Academy starts immediately after the scholars finish their day at their respective middle schools. From 4 to 6 p.m., they have study halls to do their homework and can then participate in an extended study hall, or attend sports elective.
Once mentors arrive at 6 p.m., Community Meeting starts where scholars participate in group activities and discussions on topics ranging from current events, politics, health and hygiene, cultural awareness, to creative writing exercises. On some nights scholars play fun educational games involving geography or US history, and on other nights professionals and artists from the community come and talk about their careers to the scholars. From 6:30-7:30 p.m. the scholars break off into individual groups with their mentors.
“Can you give me a thumb reading?” asked Assistant Center Director Ms. Emma Klingenstien at Mentor Lounge at the end of the night. “Two thumbs up means the night went well. Two thumbs down suggest that it didn’t go so well. Two sideways thumbs indicates that it was somewhere in between.”
At the end of every night, there is a debriefing session with the mentors to discuss the scholars and the night. This year, mentors will give their nightly feedback using the smartphone application Trello.
While academic achievement is strongly encouraged, another important component of the program is the formation of relationships between scholars and mentors which is especially important during the formative and impressionable ages where scholars are transitioning into adolescence and puberty.
My involvement in Higher Achievement started by word of mouth through the University of Michigan’s Washington, DC Alumni Chapter. Going into my fourth year with my scholars, the experience has been both personally rewarding and educational. If you are in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, like working with young people, and want to make a difference, visit Higher Achievement’s website for details about volunteering and being a mentor.