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All About Community: Encore’s Healthy Play Initiative

Encore Stage and Studio

In the spirit of community, sharing, and giving, we want you to hear from four of our teaching artists that work with “the Healthy Play Initiative” (HPI), a program created in 2016 to partner with the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to provide enriching creative play for the children of families experiencing food insecurity in Arlington. Read on to find out– from those closest to the program — just what makes HPI so special.

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Mara Stewart, Teaching Artist:“HPI is one of my favorite classes to teach. I feel like I always leave with a smile and a new experience. It has taught me so much about communication. Even when we can’t speak the same language, we are able to create a positive experience and learn from one and another. For most of the kids, this is their first time in a classroom setting. Healthy play focuses on engaging and dynamic activities. We sing, we dance, we color, we play outside, and we learn about healthy food choices. We focus on transitioning from one activity to the next, sharing and expressing ourselves. This program helps us meet kids in the community that we otherwise might not ever get to know. It is an amazing experience to see these children week after week and watch them grow. The first day we meet a child, they often don’t participate or speak- and after a few weeks they blossom. They are engaged, singing, and are excited to come to HPI, and to me–that is the best part.”

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Caolan Eder, Arts Apprentice:“To me, HPI is all about community. The children who participate get a chance to play together in a safe setting and make new friends, learning to cooperate in a group as they prepare for the structured environment of school. The program also helps with communication skills. Many of the children live in non-English-speaking homes and struggle to connect with people outside of their families, so finding new ways of interacting really expands their worlds. I remember well how one child’s whole face lit up when she and I discovered that we spoke a common language and could explain ourselves to each other. The parents and caregivers build community through HPI, as well. In addition to giving them a breather from the responsibilities that come with raising a family, the program allows adults to form a network of people with shared experiences.”

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Madaline Langston, Education Programs Manager:“HPI has made me more patient. Most of the children that I have had the pleasure of serving are learning English and are trying to do their very best. In the classroom, we focus on listening, focus, and engaging students’ motor skills. HPI is a way to provide social interaction with peers. They learn how to make friends. When I first meet most of our HPI participants, I’ve noticed that they usually only interact with their families or friends. I recall one young boy who had just arrived from Peru and did not speak English. I used my cell phone to translate Spanish to him and he smiled and then slowly pronounced Spanish words to me and I spoke to him in English. So cute and funny at the same time. From that point on, he came to the classes with a smile on his face.”

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Alana Gibson, Arts Apprentice:“ I’ve become more attentive to the children as people and not just children who are unaware of their surroundings and circumstances. HPI is such a meaningful program because, for the most part, this is the only exposure to English speakers that the children get if they don’t go to classes. It’s also meaningful to Encore because it makes us more culturally aware and understanding, which helps us standout in the region and theater community. A few weeks ago, at the Arlington Mill location, we had a pair of siblings that came in because they didn’t have school. Mara, the lead teacher, told me that just a year ago, these siblings spoke almost no English. I was completely shocked because if she hadn’t told me that, I would have never known. So I’m sure that them coming to the program in combination with their language class helped with this amazing feat! In the classroom, I try to focus on being caring, but also keeping some structure. Most of the children are in the house all week with a parent so I want them to have a chance to run around, but I also want to start to help them get the understanding of how a classroom would work at a real preschool. I’m hopeful that HPI plays a real role in preparing these kids for school as they grow older.”

It’s through the generous support of our donors that we are able to bring programs like “the Healthy Play Initiative” to our community here in Arlington. We believe that this type of outreach and engagement is essential for our mission of bringing “Theatre by kids, for kids” to all types of children and families. The empathy, problem solving, and creativity born in the classroom extends far beyond remaining active in the arts–the skills gained through theatre education can last a lifetime.

Shout Mouse Press – Education: A Dream without Borders

“This is the story of how I got out of a hole.”

This is the opening line of an incredible story written and illustrated by Erminia, a young immigrant from El Salvador. At fifteen, Erminia’s mother gave her a stark choice: stay with the family but endure a life of poverty, violence, and a bleak future, or embark on a dangerous journey alone to America in pursuit of a good education and a better life.

Despite her love for her family, Erminia decided her only choice was to leave El Salvador so she could further her education. She spent five days in a detention center in Mexico but persisted. She walked for three days and two nights across the desert– in her socks, with one small bottle of water. After several weeks, she managed to cross the Rio Grande and find her way to the United States.

As Erminia explains, “I want people to understand that we are here because we are fighting for education, for opportunity. We are not criminals. In reality, I’m here fighting for my dreams.”

When Erminia asked her immigration lawyer what she could do to compensate for her services, the lawyer answered with a challenge: become a lawyer herself. Erminia has taken this to heart and is currently a freshman in college, studying to become an immigration lawyer so she can help others find their way out of their own “holes.”

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I met Erminia a few weeks ago at our launch event for Voces sin Fronteras (Voices without Borders) — a remarkable book written and illustrated in graphic novel form by sixteen teenage immigrants from Latin America. Proceeds from the book sales support a scholarship fund for Latino youth immigrants.

Amidst today’s highly charged debate on immigration, this book provides a rare chance to hear directly from youth who are often in the headlines but whose stories aren’t told in full. This collaboration between young people from the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in Washington, D.C. and Shout Mouse Press, a nonprofit writing program and publishing house dedicated to amplifying unheard voices, has produced a powerful collection of stories about family, loss, ambition, and change that provide a much-needed human connection to the immigration crisis. These moving personal accounts challenge us and inspire greater empathy for the individuals who leave everything behind for an education.

As Erminia, Rosa, and Sebastian — three of these courageous authors — shared their stories in the back corner of a DC bookstore, my eyes welled up with tears more than once as I listened to the hardships and heartache they endured in search of a better life in this country.

Their quest for a better life that hinged upon the opportunity for a quality education has borne fruit. Erminia, Rosa, and Sebastian are all currently enrolled in college, pursuing their dreams of becoming a lawyer, a doctor, and a graphic designer.

I am the daughter of Chinese immigrants. My father left Taiwan with a few dollars in his pocket and journeyed in a cramped freighter for 52 days to further his education in America. His story is not uncommon, as the desire to educate children for a brighter future is universal. Immigrants from all corners of the globe uproot their lives and leave everything behind with this simple goal in mind.

As former UK Prime Minister and Education Commission Chair Gordon Brown has said: “Potential is best developed, talents best unleashed, and dreams best fulfilled at the point a child and teacher are brought together. Most of all, it is education — our ability to plan and prepare for the future — that gives us hope.”

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Providing this hope to the world’s children should not require the sacrifices that Erminia and countless others have made. What my own children take for granted — a free, quality education — should not be a matter of life or death for so many others.

Today, more than 260 million children are not in school. If the world does not wake up to this tragedy, by 2030, half of the world’s young people — 825 million — will be unprepared for the workplace of the future. We must recognize the full human and economic costs of an uneducated populace, and find the will in developing and donor countries alike to prioritize and increase the funding of education.

Children should not have to choose between their families and an education. They should not have to risk their lives and walk across the desert without shoes to get a place in a decent school. The world must recognize education as a human right, a civil right, and an economic imperative — and act accordingly.

The hopes and dreams sparked by educating hungry young minds know no bounds. As Rosa, the young immigrant from Guatemala studying to be a doctor, writes:

“No matter where you start from, those who dream of the impossible can achieve the unthinkable.”

Lana Wong is the Community Impact and Partnerships Director at Shout Mouse Press.

Mikva Challenge DC: Project Soapbox

In a place like Washington DC, when people think of power and politics, they think of the President, Congress, CEOs, or lobbying chiefs, but Mikva Challenge DC is on a mission to reshape that perception. Mikva DC exists to enhance the expertise and power of young people to create change, and to inform both local and national policy making. Modeled after the successful civic engagement programming developed for youth in Chicago, Mikva Challenge DC develops youth to be empowered, informed, and active citizens who will promote a just and equitable society.

One way Mikva DC students ‘do civics’ is by speaking out on how to address issues in their communities via an annual citywide speech competition called Project Soapbox. This past December, students took to the stage to speak about a range of deeply important topics, like mental health support, LGBTQ discrimination, racism & xenophobia, food deserts, and homelessness.

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One of this year’s competition winners, Nehemiah Jackson, enthralled the room when he proclaimed from his soapbox:

“When I grow up, I want to put an end to this nonsense. I believe that police officers need a punishment for brutality. My solution is for police to have better training on how to deal with the public. Better and longer training would help police understand that people might have mental illnesses or might be nervous when stopped by police. During training police learn state laws, criminal investigations, patrol procedures, firearms training, traffic control, defensive driving, self defense, first aid, and computer skills. But something they don’t learn is how to help people with mental illnesses. Something they don’t learn is how to deal with scared citizens, something they don’t learn is how to handle their own anger. Also, how about we can create non-deadly weapons that don’t kill. It seems to me if you can send Rovers to Mars, have cars that drive themselves, then why can’t we make weapons that don’t kill?”

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After experiencing a day of these incredible speeches, one student remarked: “I am not done in this fight. There are others struggling like I am and our challenges united us. I feel inspired seeing my peers use their stories and identities to fight for change.”

It was not just students and the Mikva DC staff who felt the power in the room. As Jenny Abamu of our local NPR station, WAMU, said: “Though there is only one winner, students didn’t treat the event like a contest. They encouraged each other – judges listened and responded to some impassioned performances by noting resources for students dealing with crises. Many students said they wanted to raise awareness. In this way, they were already winners.”

Mikva Challenge DC’s credo is that young people who do civics will help make the nation become its very best democratic self. And who can argue against that when you hear, see, and experience the vision and power of DC youth for yourself?

Center for Inspired Teaching: A Year of Teaching and Inspiration

Center for Inspired Teaching is proud to be recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of the best local nonprofits in the DC area. At Inspired Teaching, we envision a future in which every person is prepared to thrive in and contribute to our ever-changing world. Our mission is to transform the preK-12 school system by cultivating and partnering with change-making educators who authentically engage their students as active learners and empathetic critical thinkers. Pic 2 As we begin 2019, all of us at Inspired Teaching are deeply appreciative of the educators and students who made 2018 a joyful and meaningful year of learning. We are proud to share some of our favorite highlights from the last twelve months as we reflect on the moments that inspired us:

Inspired Teaching Youth Lead Dialogues on Social Issues at Speak Truth

Inspired Teaching Youth kicked off 2018 with an International Night of Dialogue via Speak Truth, a program which brings students across the District together to engage in discussions meant to expose one another to new perspectives. High school students spent the year enthusiastically leading and participating in discussions around a variety of social justice topics, like: gun violence, toxic masculinity, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Colin Kaepernick and the Nike boycott, and many others. One student remarked, “I’ve talked about issues like this before, but went deeper than conversations in the past.” Pic 1 Inspired Teaching Fellows Create Engaging Learning Opportunities

Over the summer, the 2017 Fellows created interactive educational experiences for students at Capital City Public Charter School. These experiences culminated in a learning showcase where students proudly shared their STEM projects: from exploring ways that humans can lessen or reverse the effects of climate change to creating inventions inspired by animal adaptations, students connected their learning to their own lives in meaningful and fun ways. After finishing the summer on a high note, the Inspired Teachers embarked on another exciting journey – beginning their first years as teachers of record at 13 schools throughout the District.

Inspired Teaching Alumni Influence the Broader Education Landscape

2018 has also been an exciting year for Inspired Teaching alumni who have received recognition on the local and national levels. 2014 Inspired Teacher Leader Paul Howard was selected by OSSE as the 2018 DC Teacher of the Year. In addition, several Inspired Teachers were featured as presenters at conferences led by Education Week, EmpowerED DC, and EL Education. During the EmpowerED Teacher Voice Summit, Inspired Teacher James Tandaric (’16) spoke during the keynote about a moment that fueled his passion for advocacy:”Recently, I was talking to another teacher about how DC’s wards are very racially segregated, and he said that he hadn’t known that was an issue. This was shocking to me. As a person of color, and as a person who has worked in a variety of school settings, including Ward 8, I wondered, how can he not see this? The discussion made me more determined to help all teachers be more aware of these racial divides.”

Inspired Teaching Staff Travel the Globe to Share Engagement-Based Education Practices

In 2018, Inspired Teaching leaders have traveled internationally to spread Inspired Teaching’s message far and wide. Our travels have included leading a teacher training in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributing to an education thought leadership summit in Oxford, England, and participating in a gathering of educational change-makers in Lyon, France. The launch of the National Alliance for Engagement-Based Education has also prompted Inspired Teaching to travel the country exploring engagement-based teaching & learning practices. Staff had the opportunity to observe classes in several different schools across the nation, discovering effective strategies for building strong school communities.

2019 and Beyond

We look forward to seeing all that our staff, students, and Inspired Teachers will accomplish next year. We are especially appreciative of supporters who help our efforts to transform education.

After-School All-Stars: Students Participate in Culinary Competition Hosted by Marriott

Last month, After-School All-Stars, Washington DC (ASAS DC) hosted a field trip to Marriott HQ in Bethesda, MD for a “top chef” competition. This activity was the culmination of work that students engaged in all semester in their ASAS DC cooking classes. Thirteen students from three schools – Stuart-Hobson Middle School, Leckie Education Campus, and Charles Hart Middle School – participated in the competition and they expressed a combination of excitement and confidence leading up to the event. The group from Hart, in particular, remarked that they wanted to do a great job to “represent well for Hart and Southeast” – and that they had faith in their ability to win.

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The students and their ASAS DC instructors arrived at the Bethesda office and immediately went down to the kitchen area. They were greeted by various Marriott staff and Chef Brad Nelson, VP Global Operations in Marriott International?s Culinary division. Brad facilitated the event and provided instructions to the students. He spoke about his connection to cooking and why it is important for young people to learn it as a necessary skill. And he laid out the rules for the competition: students would have 45 minutes to create two plates for judging, using only the ingredients presented to them by Marriott. Brad and his colleagues also revealed 2 “secret” ingredients: boneless chicken breast and cauliflower. He urged the students in their preparation to “think about flavor, being creative, and what you would like to eat yourself.” Brad eloquently explained that to him “food is about family, hospitality, and sharing” and that was the backdrop for the competition that followed.

Once the rules were explained, students split up into 6 teams and promptly filled their trays with ingredients. With support from Marriott culinary professionals, teams started to create their dishes and delicious aromas filled the room. They were involved in every stage of the preparation from the planning, cutting/preparing, seasoning, and ultimately the baking or sauteing. While they all had to use the same ingredients, there was a broad range of final dishes presented?- from Cesar Salad, to pan fried chicken with sauted vegetables, and array of different sauces and spices. Mariame, a 6th grader from Leckie had a revelation after tasting her final product:”it’s DELICIOUS! It finally has real flavor!”

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ASAS DC board member Jessica Flugge (also a VP within the company) supported the production of the event and worked side by side with several student teams. Along with Jessica, two Marriott senior staff members visited the group as they presented their final dishes. They acted as top chef judges and sampled each plate, meticulously going through every nuance of each dish. They did this in a private setting while students completed one of the most essential culinary practices: cleaning up after themselves! The staff had high praise for all the dishes, describing them as “eloquent” and “well presented”. One judge frequently remarked that she did not like vegetables, but the students had “made a convert out of her.”

Ultimately the top 3 teams were selected by the judges and chef Brad, based on a combination of presentation, creativity, and overall taste. One of the teams from Stuart-Hobson came in 3rd place, another pair from Leckie was given the 2nd place award, and two young ladies from Hart Middle School took home the 1st place trophy. These accolades will go back to their respective schools to be displayed. In the end, as one of the judges noted, all of the students here were winners,” and each participant was given a culinary-themed parting gift courtesy of ASAS DC: chef aprons and hats, two cookbooks, and a slate of cooking utensils to help them create their own meals in the future!

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As a non-profit that provides free after-school programs to low-income DC middle schools, we place a high value on life-skills, teamwork, and career exploration. All three of those important principles were brought to bear at Marriott, and we have their dedicated professionals and our students to thank for that! Students left in extremely high spirits, excited at the possibility of participating in this competition next semester. Our staff reported that the bus transporting students from Hart sang the entire ride home, a fitting conclusion to a successful field trip!

Educational Theatre Company celebrates 20 years of Changing Lives Through the Arts!

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Educational Theatre Company (ETC) invites the community to its 20th birthday fundraiser to celebrate 20 years as a vital part of the Arlington Arts community. Since its founding in 1998, ETC has been committed to the mission of unlocking the potential of children and adults, ages 3 – 103, through immersion in theatre arts. ETC places a focus on student written, process-driven work with programs that foster creativity, teach collaboration and community, and give students a sense of confidence in their own story.

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Community members are invited to attend ETC‘s birthday party fundraiser on Saturday, November 17. This fundraiser, featuring live performances, music, refreshments, and a silent auction will allow ETC to continue its long tradition of bringing theatre arts to underserved members of the community, ensuring location and economic status are not barriers to participation. The birthday party is from 2:00 – 5:00 pm, in the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) building at 4301 Wilson Blvd. Tickets are $10 per child, $20 per adult, and $40 for a family, and are available at www.educationaltheatrecompany.org.

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Community members are also invited to see ETC in action by attending the original musical Two Ways to Count to Ten, the McKinley Elementary Main Stage Residency production. Under the guidance of ETC‘s teaching artists, 2nd through 5th-grade students develop an original script and lyrics, create their costumes, set, and props. This will be the 30th McKinley Main Stage show, continuing the longest running arts partnership with Arlington Public Schools. The free performances are Thursday, November 15 and Friday, November 16 at 7:00 pm at McKinley Elementary School, 1030 North McKinley Road, in Arlington.

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Helping Moroccan Women Access Land: Soulalilyates Campaign for Land Reform

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Just over ten years ago, the family of Rkia Bellout, a woman from the Kenitra region of Morocco, sold its ancestral land. While the men in her family reaped the profits, she did not receive any compensation. Rkia is a member of the rural Soulilyate minority in Morocco, and like other women in this group, she had no rights to her land.?

Rkia decided to take action and sought the counsel of Moroccan women’s organizations to help her claim her right to participate in decisions over land ownership. When she brought her complaint to an NGO called ADFM (l’Association D’mocratique des Femmes du Maroc), the organization helped mobilize a national grassroots movement of Soulaliyate women calling for equality in land ownership. For over 10 years, ADFM has been building the leadership skills of rural minority women to advocate and participate in political processes for this cause.

ADFM is a member of Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP), a coalition of autonomous women’s rights organizations located throughout the developing world that promote women’s leadership and human rights. WLP organizations promote gender equality through training programs, advocacy campaigns, and capacity building. Since 2000, WLP partners like ADFM have been empowering women and girls to make change in their communities. (Click here to read more about WLP’s global impact on its Catalogue for Philanthropy profile.)

ADFM’s advocacy for Soulaliyate women’s rights pressured Morocco’s Ministry of the Interior to pass a specific law guaranteeing equality between men and women in communal land ownership and transactions. The Ministry reacted to the pressure, but not nearly as decisively as ADFM demanded. The government issued a series of non-binding ministerial guidelines called “circulars” that merely paid lip-service to the Soulaliyate movement. The latest one, Circular 17, recognized Soulaliyates’ right to land ownership in theory, but not in practice.

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Then, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Soulaliyate movement, ADFM organized its greatest advocacy push to date: a three-week “Caravan of Soulaliyates.” From October 24 to December 15, 2017, the caravan mobilized 660 Soulaliyate women and allies who traveled to three regions: Fez, Daraa-Tafilalt, and Rabat-Sale. The caravan met with policymakers and raised the voices of Soulaliyate women.

ADFM also held 10 leadership workshops during the caravan, with an average of 50 women attending each one. They used WLP‘s manual on inclusive leadership, Leading to Choices, which has been the cornerstone of ADFM’s capacity building work with the Soulaliyate communities since the movement’s inception in 2007. The leadership methodology in the manual empowers Soulaliyates to participate effectively in decision-making processes in their tribes.

Three to four Soulaliyate movement-leaders from different regions shared their advocacy experiences at each stage of the caravan. This dialogue between Soulaliyates from remote corners of the country fostered camaraderie. Even though 465 kilometers and the Atlas Mountains separate the coastal city of Kenitra and the Algerian border-town of Errachildia, women from these two areas discovered that they have shared experiences and are working towards a common goal. The caravan’s mobility strengthened the bonds of solidarity among Soulaliyates across the country.?

ADFM President Saida Drissi Amrani emphasized those bonds, “We have met women who, even if they do not know how to read or write, are very aware of the principle of equality,”?Amrani told HuffPost Maroc. “They denounce contempt and they are ready to fight. We will support them until the end.”

In July 2018, their campaign resulted in a major victory — for the first time, Soulaliyate women of the Ben Mansour and Ouled Mbarek tribes in the Kenitra province were awarded financial compensations and land transfers. While ADFM and WLP celebrate this success, they continue to campaign and fight for equal land rights for women throughout Morocco.

A Window and a Mirror: Summer Mentorship at Inspired Teaching

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A Space for Inquiry

It’s 2pm and I’m standing in a classroom in northwest DC holding a yo-yo.

Two brand new Inspired Teaching Fellows (teachers-in-training) are standing next to me, asking me questions.

“Do you, uh, think you can do a trick with the yo-yo called ‘walk the dog?’” one of the teachers asks.

The other one offers: “Could you maybe try, like, throwing it sideways?”

I try to throw the yo-yo sideways and end up dropping it on the floor. I walk away in frustration.

On this particular afternoon, I’ve volunteered to play the role of a student, and the Fellows have been instructed to teach me how to use a yo-yo — but only by asking questions. No statements allowed.

The Fellow pauses and then asks: “What do you think you need to do to be successful with a yo-yo?”

My eyes light up. Unlike her first few questions, she doesn’t know the answer to this one. It’s all on me. She may not realize it yet, but this is the space where the magic of learning happens.

“I think,” I say, after genuinely thinking about it, “that I need to just be able to do 5 regular swings without stopping.”

Now we have a new lesson plan – and I, the student, am in charge of my own learning.

This is what teacher training looks like in Inspired Teaching’s Summer Institute, a 3-week long jumpstart for teachers who are beginning the Inspired Teaching Residency.

This exercise helps new teachers learn how to provide a space for inquiry instead of a list of directions. And the reason I know this activity so well is because I was a brand new Inspired Teaching Fellow myself, standing in this very classroom, doing this exact activity, 5 summers ago.

This summer, however, I’m returning to play the role of the summer mentor. And while I’m stepping into the first year Fellows’ classroom to help out, my primary responsibility is to advise the second year Fellows.

The second-year Fellows have just completed their residency year. They’ve been learning from, assisting, and eventually taking over for their lead teacher, someone who has modeled great teaching practices. Now, they’re starting from scratch, in their own summer school classrooms, with a fellow cohort member. I’ve been assigned to help two teaching teams, four teachers total.

As the summer begins, I watch my mentees struggle with the fact that, with a brand new class coming in next week, there’s no veteran teacher to set everything up. It’s a bit like learning how to drive a car for an entire year and then finding out that you now need to build your own car out of spare parts. And quickly.

The Gap

Even though summer school is only a month long, it can sometimes feel like an entire school year stuffed into four weeks. It’s not uncommon for teachers in summer practicum to re-connect and disconnect multiple times with their passion for teaching. It’s not uncommon for teachers to discover just how much of a gap exists between the teacher that they are and the teacher that they want to be. And it’s not uncommon for those teachers to work excruciatingly hard to close that gap before the summer ends.

The result of all of this reflection and learning is evident because, by the end of the summer, I notice that the Fellows’ teaching powers that I am mentoring have grown. At the start of the summer, I would take copious notes while observing a mini-lesson. I’d analyze every movement the teacher made, every word that they said. And by the end, it’s hard to even find a place to take notes. Classrooms are bustling with students in every corner, working on interesting projects and directing their own learning.

During our final meeting, I ask one of the Fellows, “So now that it’s almost over, do you feel like you’re the teacher you want to be?”

“No,” she laughs. “That will take a while. But before the summer started, I hadn’t even thought about what kind of teacher I wanted to be. Now, I ask myself that question almost daily. My vision is much more clear.”

Remarkably, she is learning to ask herself questions that don’t have an immediate answer.

A Window and a Mirror

I’ve said before that the role of a teacher is to offer their students a window and a mirror. A window with which to see the world through many different lenses and perspectives, and a mirror to allow students to understand the power of their own perspective and potential.

But as a summer mentor, I came to terms with something else: a teacher must also stand in front of their own mirror. It is there, in the glow of their own reflection, where they will do their most challenging work. They will confront every imperfection. They will think about what they will do differently tomorrow. They will, simultaneously, berate themselves and strive for self-acceptance. They will do all of this for the good of themselves and the good of their students.

And it occurs to me that I, the summer mentor, have very little to do with the mirror. But maybe, I hold the window. If I was able to help these wonderful teachers catch a glimpse of all incredible possibilities that lie ahead, then, mission accomplished.

Written by –Zia Hassan

Students striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.

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For the past 4 years, After-School All-Stars (ASAS) has convened a leadership training event at the 4-H National Conference Center outside of the Nation’s Capital: All-Stars Leadership University (ASLU). ASAS is a national non-profit, providing free and comprehensive after-school programs to Title 1 middle school students, and the Washington DC chapter is the local office serving over 600 students at 7 schools within the district. 19 of our chapter cities are invited to send student and staff representation at ASLU. Each Chapter sends two youth, a Rising Youth Advisory Board Mentor (YABs) and a Returning YAB Mentor, as well as an Adult Mentor to come to DC and learn about self-leadership, serving others, and how to serve and advocate in their communities. YABs are selected for these positions based on their commitment to the program, as well as their academic performance and leadership abilities. The 4-day retreat includes leadership training, team building exercises, opportunities to create service projects for their local communities and thoughtful reflections on each student’s respective communities and the issues they all face.

ASAS DC was extremely proud to have 2 YAB students representing our chapter. Ajani Atkins from Somerset Prep DC and De’Quan Atchinson from Charles Hart Middle School (now a rising Freshman at Eastern High School) both attended earlier this summer. Ajani assumed the role of Rising YAB while De’Quann had the opportunity to be a returning YAB mentor.

De’Quan is a great example of an ideal YAB and ASAS DC student. He has been with the program since 6th grade and is now a proud graduate of both Hart MS and the ASAS DC program. He has grown immensely in that time, learning to be a better public speaker, convener, and leader amongst his peer group. We had the chance to speak with him about ASLU and his broader experience in the program.

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De’Quan, along with many of the other YAB participants, was particularly struck by one of the special presenters at ASLU. Thanks to our partnership with Essentia Water, Joe La Puma attended the event as a guest speaker. Joe is the Vice President of Content Strategy at Complex Magazine, and host of the magazine’s “Sneaker Shopping,” a program that takes you inside the sneaker shopping process for such celebrities as Wiz Khalifa, Kevin Hart, Antonio Brown, and A$AP Rocky. De’Quan has a myriad of interests ranging from athletics to community service, but he is also extremely passionate about fashion. It was invaluable for him to be exposed to someone like Joe, who has worked hard to make a name for himself in a progressive sector of work that resonates with our students. Across the country, we are intentional about exposing ASAS students to unique and accessible career paths. Joe’s journey was one that had a profound resonance with the YABS. De’Quan admitted that hearing Joe speak inspired and excited him. It was a narrative that he could genuinely connect with and aspire towards, whereas those sources of inspiration were previously hard to come by.

De’Quan looks back at his journey from 6th grade and acknowledges how much he has matured within the ASAS DC program. Initially, he didn’t dedicate enough time to his classes and homework, opting to spend evenings with his mother. Due to her intensive work schedule, they could only spend the late evenings together, and that wasn’t conducive to completing all his work and developing an interest in school. An attitude change was as simple as providing him with a safe space and a positive environment. ASAS DC dedicated academic time allowed him to progress more in his school work, and that culminated this past year when he made the honor roll for the first time in his academic career. He recalled his mother’s reaction, and that she was quite literally “in tears of joy,” overwhelmed by her son’s success.

The exciting thing about De’Quan as well as the ASAS DC chapter, is that this is just the beginning. In speaking with De’Quan it was as if his experience in the program gave him a new lease on life. Not only is he excited for high school, but he already has plans to join the track team and as many clubs as he can get his hands on. De’Quan’s 3.5 GPA is something he is proud of, but at Eastern, he wants to build off of that and achieve even higher marks in his first year. He has a strong desire to seriously pursue his interests at the next level in the fields of leadership, athletics, academics, and fashion.

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As De’Quan reflected back on his experience it was no surprise that above all else, personal connections were the most meaningful to him. He credits ASAS DC staff for “getting him out of his shell” and inspiring him to be a leader. On more than one occasion he referred to the ASAS DC Program Manager Tierra Stewart as “Superwoman,” a sentiment that many of her colleague’s share. He knows that in 6th grade he wasn’t the type “to open up to just anybody,” but with the help of mentors like Tierra he began to make that transition to a more outgoing and charismatic person. He made that change because he along with his fellow ASAS students understood that our instructors genuinely cared about their well-being and future. As is the case with many of our 600+ students in the district, our staff have close relationships with De’Qunn and his family, and that level of understanding and communication is inextricably connected to his growth and success.

The DC chapter is proud to showcase De’Quan’s story. It is a unique and compelling narrative, and at the same time, we know that there are tens of thousands of ASAS students across the country having a similar experience. He didn’t have time to complete his homework, ASAS DC provided him that time and space, he was shy and unmotivated, he is now going off to high school as a leader with aspirations to be the captain of every team and club he joins, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, ASAS DC showed him what it looks like to succeed in school and have an attractive career. As he reflected back on his own journey at the 4-H center, eyes welling with tears, his heart was full: for his family, his ASAS mentors, and mostly for his fellow students that are striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.

The Grassroot Project: Using Sports to Promote Sexual Health and Positive Youth Development in DC

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Almost ten years ago, 40 student-athletes gathered in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment near Georgetown University. Their goal: fight alarmingly high, increasing rates of HIV transmission in our nation’s capital the best way that they knew how –through sports. Drawing inspiration from his volunteer experience with Grassroot Soccer in South Africa, the group’s leader, Tyler Spencer, wanted to use sports to educate people about HIV and AIDS prevention in a language that they could understand. At the time, 1 in 20 adults in DC were living with HIV, and the rate among teenagers was on the rise.

“There was only one other organization doing school-based HIV prevention work with kids,” said Spencer. “So, there was a huge need in DC, and I felt really excited about taking the Grassroot Soccer model and adapting it to make a difference at home.”

To call this group of Georgetown soccer players, football players, basketball players, field hockey players, rowers, swimmers and golfers a “grassroots” organization would be an understatement. Despite their lack of funding and uncertainty in starting and running a non-profit organization, the 18 to 21-year-olds persisted. Much of the initial program cost fell on Spencer. He took a temp job working with the Association of Schools of Public Health, and with the support of the athletic community, they facilitated their first sexual health program in The School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens in the Spring of 2009.

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Today, The Grassroot Project’s?innovative model continues to employ non-traditional health educators — NCAA student-athletes — to create a fun, friendly and safe environment in which participants learn how to live healthier lifestyles. The peer to peer education method creates an open environment for participants to share their beliefs on sensitive topics such as HIV/AIDS testing and prevention, sexual consent, dating violence, and healthy relationships. The use of sports as a vehicle for social change, and the ability of the student-athlete leaders to connect with the youth and their families are what make this an effective way of learning.

“Being part of the Catalogue has not only helped us to build relationships with philanthropists in DC who care about youth development and health education, but it has also helped us to grow as an organization,” said Spencer. “The first time we applied, we were only reaching 4 schools in DC, and we struggled to manage our programs and partnerships because we had no full-time staff. Since being named part of the?Catalogue…we have operated our programs in more than 60 schools and community centers across the city, and we have reached more than 5,000 DC teenagers with free health education and health services.”

TGP’s?corps of volunteer student-athlete program facilitators has expanded from Georgetown University to now also include student-athletes from The George Washington University, American University, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia.

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Most recent additions to the organization include Grassroots Connect — an end-of-program graduation celebration and linkage to local health care event — as well as Grassroots Fam — an after-school parent/caregiver program that provides similar interactive learning opportunities including sexual health basics, as well as building a parental support system by practicing proper parent-child communication.

“One of the first things our students learn in each program is how important it is to ‘take action in your community,’ and I think that that phrase sums up the mission of Grassroots perfectly,” said Isabel Rose, senior Leader Team member. “This year, TGP took several huge steps that allowed us to take even more action in our community, and that meant that I could help make a much bigger difference than I had initially thought possible.”

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During the summer of 2018, the organization introduced its first Master Trainer program — a team of exemplary student-athletes who’ve undergone an intensive training on social issues in DC, sexual and reproductive health basics, and behavior management skills in middle schools. The Master Trainers traveled to South Africa this summer to learn from partner organization, Grassroot Soccer, about best practices for training new student-athlete facilitators.

“As a student, as an athlete, as a new resident in DC, it is my ​job​ ​to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to me,” said Callie Fauntleroy, a sophomore volleyball player at The George Washington University. “I have learned more here in my 8 months with TGP than I have in any other experience.”

What started as a true grassroots organization has morphed into a robust network of students, athletes, and alumnae who are educated about living healthier lifestyles in their communities.

“The Catalogue has been and will continue to be helpful in preparing us for to make an even greater impact on our city,” said Spencer.