Ward 8 is consistently burdened with the highest crime rates and lowest median incomes out of all wards within Washington DC, and while these instances are somewhat commonplace, the impact continues to be devastating. No group has been impacted more than the youth of the surrounding neighborhoods. Recent violence included a fatal shooting of a high school freshman, and a large fight immediately outside a DC public school called Somerset Prep DC. Somerset is one of seven school sites that After-School All-Stars Washington DC (ASAS DC) serves. While these events were occurring in Mid-May, our students at Somerset Prep DC, Leckie Education Campus, Charles Hart Middle School and John Hayden Johnson Middle School were provided a safe environment within their schools, and an opportunity to enrich themselves through education.
After-School All-Stars provides comprehensive after-school programming to middle school students in neglected regions of the country. The DC chapter provides opportunities for students to participate in dynamic courses at no cost to them, and that were not previously available at their schools (e.g. drone engineering, robotics, healthy cooking, yoga, and music production to name a few). It also provides a safe space for our students during the most dangerous time of day, between 3-6 PM when young people within the community are most vulnerable to nefarious activities.
But despite our in-school programming, tangible divides and bitter rivalries continue to permeate between the four schools we serve in Ward 8. This Spring our staff took it upon themselves to create events outside of our traditional programming, with an express focus on bridging the divide between the students at these schools. ASAS DC held a “carnival” Ward 8 field day event in response to the growing tension, where over 100 students and 25 parents were in attendance. Students participated in games, enjoyed performances from their peers, and were provided a chance to foster meaningful friendships with each other.
Beyond spending time together, we also tie in our own values and purpose into events/initiatives. Two weeks after the field day event, students from the four Ward 8 schools gathered at Oxon Run Park, in the heart of South East DC. They participated in a clean-up project to pick up trash and improve the appearance of the park itself. ASAS DC students also completed several community-building activities that required collaboration, and expelling negative preconceptions about their peers from other schools. Most importantly, each student was given an opportunity to share their thoughts with the larger group on how they would solve these issues facing their neighborhood. Profound and meaningful sentiments were shared, with the consistent theme being that they should work together and embrace one another in the face of division and violence.
ASAS DC is proud to serve the students of this diverse and vibrant community, and as we grow and build relationships throughout DC our hope is to bring these opportunities to every middle school student within the District.