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Measuring Success with Smiles at Tracy’s Kids

by Matt Gerson, Founder and Chairman, Tracy’s Kids

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Our mission at Tracy’s Kids is to help children with cancer cope with the emotional toll imposed by the disease & its treatment. We enrich the patient experience by embedding Masters-trained Art Therapists in hospital clinics right alongside the medical team.

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I was diagnosed with cancer as a ten year-old and appreciate the challenges and disruptions that the illness imposes on a child as well as his siblings and parents. Our Art Therapists help families work through their concerns and fears. Today, some 80% of children diagnosed with cancer will beat the disease and spend the overwhelming majority of their lives cancer free. Our goal is to help them navigate this chapter of their lives and not let having been sick define who they are.

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Recently a parent of one of our kids — an oncologist himself — had tears in his eyes when he told us,

“Tracy’s Kids saved our family. The chemotherapy drugs are essentially the same in every hospital — what makes a difference to families is the type of care they receive. The therapeutic boost that Art Therapy provides is invaluable.”

We measure our success with smiles at Tracy’s Kids. Our Facebook page has picture after picture of kids looking happy despite the fact that they are enduring painful treatments, and having their lives disrupted. Parents tell me all the time that their children look forward to going to the clinic because our Art Therapists make it a safe space where kids can be kids — not sick kids — just kids sitting alongside others getting similar treatments. Many of our kids paint such a rosy picture of their clinic experience that their healthy friends sometimes accompany them to their treatments. That sentiment is inconceivable to me — and is proof positive that we are making a real difference.

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This coming March marks our Twentieth Anniversary. Tracy’s Kids started at Georgetown University Hospital and we are now in seven clinics in five states and have provided over $5 million in Art Therapy programs. We estimate that we work with 80% of the kids in the DC metro area who are battling cancers and blood disorders.

One of the things I am most proud of is that we are a lean operation that is laser focused on our programming — which is provided free-of-charge to those we serve. In 2016, 83% of our spending went to Art Therapist salaries and art supplies.

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We appreciate any and all support people are willing to offer. Whether it is spreading the word about us during the Combined Federal Campaign (#21655) or #GivingTuesday, hosting Art Supply Drives, or organizing any kind of fundraiser that helps sustain our wonderful program. Find us online at www.tracyskids.org

Excellence is Attainable with Young Artists of America

by Rolando Sanz, Producing Artistic Director & Co-Founder,Young Artists of America at Strathmore
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Young Artists of America at Strathmore (YAA) is the region’s premier training organization for collaborative performing artists. It is the only known program in the nation where high school students receive mentorship and individualized instruction from renowned artists while training to perform fully-orchestrated works of music-theatre in state-of-the-art venues.

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The heart of the work at Young Artists of America that it teaches students that excellence is attainable with disciplined hard work and focus. The lessons they learn at YAA about work ethic and finding joy in music and stagecraft are something that they will carry with them throughout their lives regardless of what they dedicate themselves to in college and beyond.


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For both my brother, Kristofer, and I, we were very fortunate to receive wonderful professional level training at the collegiate level from our mentors in our respective fields of orchestral music and voice. We wanted to create this same opportunity for high school and middle school students here in the D.C. community where we grew up and where we have chosen to raise our own families. Now, alongside our wonderful extended YAA family of teachers and professionals, we could not be more pleased to see our students blossoming on stage as well as in their own personal lives.

Come see us perform! Our students work incredibly hard and we love to share their efforts with as many people as possible. We hope you’ll be as moved by their work as we are!

There are occasional volunteer opportunities, but really, the most helpful thing people can do is spread the word about our mission and come out to support the student performances.

We’re always happy to take a phone call and can be reached at: (301) 272-8604.

 

Unwavering Belief in the Potential of Youth with BUILD MetroDC

by Bryce Jacobs, Executive Director, BUILD Metro DC

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BUILD was created with the audacious notion that students at the highest risk of dropping out of high school have the power to become self-starters who can change the trajectory of their lives. BUILD has seen that holistic academic support, combined with business training, leads to long-term success both in the classroom and beyond high school. We like to say that, “entrepreneurship is the hook; college is the goal.”

Through the process of developing and managing their own businesses, BUILD students experience first-hand how their academics are not only relevant, but also crucial, to life beyond the classroom. The result is a vital sense of ownership over their education and careers. As the applicability of school to “real life” becomes clear, and as students gain important skills, the BUILD program stimulates their motivation, challenges them to set high expectations for themselves, and empowers them to succeed.
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BUILD holds an unwavering belief in the potential of youth. Unlike many other youth programs, BUILD Metro DC targets students who are not are not on-track academically and might not consider college an option. Furthermore, many BUILD students are at a socio-economic disadvantage, and will be the first generation in their family to earn a college degree.

For this school year, BUILD is serving nearly 350 students at six schools in the Metro DC area: Columbia Heights Education Campus, Eastern Senior High School, Friendship Collegiate Academy, Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy, Roosevelt Senior High School, and The SEED School of Washington, D.C. And, for the first time ever, BUILD is also working with the entire 8th grade class at Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy Middle School.

In Washington, DC, only 69% of high school students graduate high school on time compared to the national average of 78%. Of those who do graduate on time, only 50% enroll in college. With such low graduation rates in DC, the dropout crisis does not just impact individual lives, it cripples our local economy and sets our city’s competitiveness behind. BUILD Metro DC launched in 2008 to stem the tide of high school dropouts and prepare students for college.

Our nation’s education system itself is woefully outdated. Students are not being taught the skills they need to thrive in the 21st Century, particularly in under-resourced communities in urban environments. BUILD aims to change that. With a focus on skills like creative problem solving, effective communication, self-management, collaborating effectively with others, grit and determination – what we describe as the “entrepreneurial mindset”. BUILD uses entrepreneurship to prepare young people for the Innovation Era and to get them engaged in their education.

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While I’m passionate about BUILD’s curriculum and how it engages our students with a very hands-on, experiential learning model, what truly inspires me are our students. There’s Jada and Imani, and Daniel, to name a few. They came to BUILD uncertain of the possibilities and opportunities available in their future, and exceeded their own expectations.

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For us, our outcomes speak for themselves. The impact of BUILD’s program on the achievement of low-income students is notable even after only one year: in the lowest performing schools in which BUILD serves students, BUILDers with just one year of BUILD graduate at a rate up to 56% higher than their peers. In higher-performing schools, BUILDers graduation attainment is 12-15% above the average for their low-income school peers.

The results of BUILD’s program speak to the impact of our model on student achievement and success. Since BUILD Metro DC’s first class of students became high school seniors in 2012, 95% of seniors have graduated from high school on time and 95% have been accepted to a college or university. In the 2016-17 school year, BUILD Metro DC’s accomplishments included a 100% on-time graduation rate for seniors and a 100% rate of acceptance to at least one college. Collectively, BUILD seniors were accepted to 100 colleges and won $1.4m in scholarships.

Further, BUILD students persist in college at a higher average than their peers. Research conducted by BUILD demonstrated that BUILD’s 2013 graduates enrolled in more four-year colleges, compared to two-year colleges, than their peers at the national level. For BUILD’s target demographic of low income, 100% minority, urban high school students, 75% of BUILD students in 2013 enrolled in a four-year college compared to 57% nationally. Moreover, BUILD students are on track to have higher college graduation rates within six years than the national average for both the target demographic of low-income minority students, and overall nationally.

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Because the nature of our work is so collaborative, a great day at BUILD is when everyone – program staff, BUILD teachers, mentors, and students – are in sync. In practice, that means teachers, staff and mentors are creating a safe and inclusive space for learning, collaboration and creativity. It means students are not just dreaming about but acting on their desire to start a business, tour prospective colleges and experience potential careers with professionals who host them throughout the city. It means that we are working relentlessly to reduce the opportunity gap for our students and work together to collectively impact our student’s success.

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BUILD could not do our work without the involvement of committed volunteers. Mentors play a critical role by working with students on a weekly basis to support their businesses and academics. Annually, BUILD recruits and trains 100 mentors who fulfill their mentor requirements of working with students (10th – 12th graders) on a weekly basis, starting in the 6th week of the school year, for 1.5 hours per week, to support their business and academic pursuits. Mentors are college-educated professionals who expose students to different career options while serving as reliable, caring adults.

BUILD also offers one-time volunteer opportunities where professionals from the community serve as judges at Business Pitch Competitions or serve on college and career panels.

Individuals interested in volunteering and supporting BUILD should contact us at builddcinfo@build.org.

Washington Improv Theater: The Case for Laughter

by Sarah Marksteiner, Washington Improv Theater
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A Need for Laughter
In Washington, D.C. (and throughout the country), people crave connection and community – yet we increasingly isolate ourselves. While our world becomes more digitally connected, we grow increasingly disconnected from one another, caught up in the grind of DC life. Now, more than ever, we need to find common ground and engage. We need to laugh and communicate with one another.

Washington Improv Theater has created a space that ignites genuine human connection – a community fueled by the deeply impactful nature of longform improv. At WIT, improv brings people from diverse backgrounds, often with seemingly little in common, together to learn and play in a safe and judgement-free zone. Through improv that WIT aims to unleash the creativity of Washingtonians.

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Inspiring levity through dynamic, one-of-a-kind performances
Artists at WIT practice longform improv, an exercise of live, collaborative theater in which actors can weave complex stories set in any space and cast themselves in any role. Each performance becomes an unscripted, thrilling world premiere. Washington Improv Theater hosts over 300 performances per year.

Improvisation as a form uniquely engages audiences by sharing with them the moment of creation. Our community of six company ensembles and seven Harold teams establishes warm rapport with our audiences as they create one-night-only works of art. WIT also stages special project shows including the satirical mock election POTUS Among Us where improvisers lobby for audience votes and the dark, dramatic murder mystery Citizens’ Watch inspired by the British TV series Broadchurch.

A treasured patron tradition is our weekly free Harold Night, where our teams bring new life to the classic format. Each night ends in a community-wide improv ‘jam’ where novice audience members can try their hand at improv alongside seasoned performers and current students.

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Creating connecting through arts education
At WIT, we believe improv is for everyone. Our inclusive classes program, which enrolls 1,500 annually, attracts a student body spanning age, career, and economic background to its curriculum. And we take accessibility seriously. We offer at least two free Improv for All workshops monthly, reaching every ward of the District. This year, we proudly launched our first Diversity Scholarship toward tuition in the classes program with the aim to ensure more diverse communities can pursue improv.

The benefits of improv skills like confidence, creativity, and supportive collaboration are universal. Our WIT@Work program enhances these skills in the professional sphere by conducting applied improv training seminars in the workplace. WIT@Work more than doubled in scope last year alone, bringing a spirit of “Yes, and” to organizations like Deloitte, Goodwill, NIH, The American Red Cross, and NPR.

Our growing youth programming teaches the District’s kids the power of positive collaboration and creativity. Our work includes engagements at DC Public Elementary Schools such as a semester-long after-school program at Marie Reed Elementary School.

Get involved in our community
There are a myriad of ways you can get involved with Washington Improv Theater.

Around Town 9/8-9/15

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Saturday, September 9, 2017
Dance Place Family Day
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Get the Dance Place experience for FREE and introduce your child to their neighbors and to the arts. All of Brookland / Edgewood comes out for this annual celebration of our thriving, artistic community and you’re invited! Get the kids moving in sample classes, make something beautiful with guided arts and crafts and so much more!

When: Saturday, September 9, 2017 (9:30 AM)
Where: Dance Place, 3225 8th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017
Contact: Amanda Blythe, (202) 269-1608
For more information: click here

Back to School For Young Social Entrepreneurs

by Emma Strother, Development Manager, LearnServe International

As the DC area heads back to school, LearnServe International is preparing to help a new year of changemakers take action on pressing social issues. Imagine if every student graduated high school with the business skills, vision, and tenacity to launch social ventures to benefit their communities.

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Our 60 new LearnServe Fellows represent 30 public, independent, and charter schools from across the region. How do we build a cohesive community? Get them outdoors!

We are thrilled to have built a partnership with another Catalogue for Philanthropy member organization For Love of Children (FLOC). This is our 10th year working together, and we look forward to many more! Through ziplining, ropes courses, team-building activities, and an overnight stay–complete with a campfire and marshmallows, of course–our LearnServe Fellows build trust and understanding during a weekend at FLOC’s outdoor campus.

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LearnServe Fellows use this inspiration and collaborative spirit to create social change projects to serve their communities and schools. In the past, our students have launched a concussion detection app, a fleet of electric school buses, and a college scholarship fund for children of incarcerated parents, among many other ventures. Young people’s calls to action, understanding, and hope are more important than ever — so LearnServe is creating a culture of youth-led social innovation in our region.

LearnServe International relies on volunteer support, email us here to learn how to connect with us and learn more about our innovative and empowering programs

Preparing Students for a Complex and Changing World With Center for Inspired Teaching

By Rebecca Bauer, Project Manager, Inspired Teaching
BlogPhoto1Only weeks after beginning my job at Inspired Teaching, I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Intensive component of the organization’s signature program, the Inspired Teaching Institute. At the Institute, educators participate in hands-on, improvisation-based activities to align themselves around best-practices for engagement-based instruction.

When I arrived on Day 1, I didn’t know exactly what that meant or what I should expect, but I’d been told the Institute is something I had to experience to truly understand. Less than two weeks later, I’d bonded with a cohort of amazing teachers, danced and sang, lesson planned and discussed ways to address students’ needs.

I’d used yo-yos to learn about inquiry-based education. I’d honed my ability to think creatively by overcoming obstacles while climbing imaginary mountains. Now, I was beginning to truly understand: when colleagues had told me that Inspired Teaching leads transformative teacher trainings, they really meant transformative.

A particularly impactful activity challenged teachers to examine their understanding of discipline and what that word means and looks like. Gathered around two sheets of chart paper, the facilitator sternly said, “This school needs more discipline,” and asked the group to share what words come to mind when they think of “discipline.” Teachers began shouting out words. Punishment. Consequences. Control. They had no trouble brainstorming a vast list. Suspension. No Recess. Phone call home. After the sheet of chart paper was covered in words that gave many flashbacks to their own days of being sent to the principal’s office, the facilitator told us to close our eyes. “Imagine you are a skilled artist,” she said. We sat focusing on this idea for a moment, envisioning our crafts, the skills that we’d honed. “Now open your eyes. Tell me what words come to mind when I say discipline.” An entirely new list began to form. Dedication. Focus. Self-control. Sacrifice. Passion. We examined the two lists, noting the stark differences, pointing out that the lists had very few words in common. The activity left participants thinking about how schools need to shift from enforcing a rigid set of rules to preparing students to be good citizens of our complex and rapidly changing world.

FILE2369Through thought provoking activities like this one, as well as many others that required more flexibility (physically, emotionally, and mentally), the Institute demonstrated that – for both teachers and students – creativity and rigor are not mutually exclusive, but rather go hand in hand.

In addition to being a fun, joyful and refreshing program, it was inspiring to witness the teachers engage in serious reflection on their practices, learning about themselves and discovering new ways to reach their students. One teacher commented, “Institute has helped me look at the types of ways I can elevate my teaching practices emotionally, psychologically, and physically.” Another shared, “Institute has fine-tuned my metacognition and skills of perception.” Most importantly, while teachers celebrated the growth that took place at the intensive, they also acknowledged that there is always more work to be done – which is why the Institute includes seminars and ongoing support throughout the year.

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The Inspired Teaching Institute, comprised of the summer Intensive and seminars throughout the school year, is only one of Inspired Teaching’s many programs that serve teachers and students in the DC area. From the Residency program that prepares pre-service teachers for successful, sustainable careers to Real World History, a hands-on course that provides students an internship experience where they cultivate the skills of an historian, all of our programs authentically engage participants to become changemakers in their schools, districts, and communities.

Given that students report feeling bored during 70% of their time in school and stressed for 80% of it, we need changemakers now more than ever. If you’re questioning whether Inspired Teaching’s professional development can really impact these bleak statistics, if you’re skeptical that we can create meaningful changes to our education system, one teacher at a time, I hear you. Two weeks ago, I was skeptical, too, but I’ll tell you what my colleagues told me: You have to experience it to truly understand.

Knowing that seeing is believing, we host visits to our programs each month. If you’d like to see Inspired Teaching in action, sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates!

Sorting Fact From Fiction in the Digital Age With the News Literacy Project

by Alan C. Miller, Founder/CEO, News Literacy Project

30971125946_fc15feb0f7_z The News Literacy Project is a national education nonprofit, founded in 2008 and located in Bethesda, Maryland, that works with educators and journalists to teach secondary school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age and to give those students the tools to become informed and engaged citizens in a democracy. We are teaching literacy for the 21st century.

In our first eight years, our classroom, after-school and digital programs reached more than 25,000 students in diverse middle schools and high school students in the Washington, D.C., region (including the Maryland and Virginia suburbs), New York City, Chicago, and Houston. We have formed partnerships with 33 news organizations and enrolled more over 400 journalist fellows in our online directory; our volunteer journalists have delivered more than 750 lessons, both in person and virtually.

In May 2016, we launched the checkology® virtual classroom, the culmination of all our work to date and our primary path to national and international scale. In just over one year, 7,000 educators in every state in the U.S. and in 61 other countries, with a potential reach of more than 1 million students, have registered to use this platform.

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While these numbers are gratifying, we know that there is more to do. In the United States alone, there are 26 million public school students in grades 6-12, as well as the millions in private and parochial schools and in after-school, home-school and library programs — not to mention those students in schools and other programs outside the U.S. We look forward to dramatically expanding the reach of the checkology® virtual classroom among these students.

Even as we improve and expand the current platform, we’re preparing for its next iteration, along with international and Spanish-language versions. We have plans to reach beyond the classroom with a mobile-friendly app, which will likely be a news literacy game. Finally, we are working with Facebook on a public service advertising campaign to encourage millions of the platform’s engaged users to critically evaluate the news and information they share and to share only what is credible.

A healthy democracy depends on engaged citizens who can sort through vast amounts of information, separate fact from fiction, and know what to trust. Today, misinformation, rumor and spin can overwhelm real news, and the News Literacy Project provides the tools to meet this challenge. We’re working to give facts a fighting chance and to create an appetite for quality journalism. You could say that we were the antidote to “fake news” long before the term gained its recent currency.

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We are inspired by these challenges, by the tremendous opportunity to make a meaningful difference and by an urgent sense of responsibility to move as quickly as possible to meet the growing demand for our services. Since the emergence of the field of news literacy a decade ago (a field that we helped to create), we have gone from being a voice in the wilderness to an answer to prayer for many.

We’re particularly inspired by the educators and journalists who partner with us to deliver our curriculum and by the students who find it transformative. Those students include Christian Armstrong, who said of his experience with NLP as a student at Leo Catholic High School in Chicago: “This class has definitely changed my life. We prioritize news literacy over all else. The newspaper is considered to be our Holy Grail.” And Jenari Mitchell, a recent graduate of KIPP DC College Preparatory in Washington, who wrote in an essay about her NLP experience: “Learning how to distinguish between false and factual information allows us to control the news we consume, instead of allowing the news we consume to control us.”

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The News Literacy Project aspires to see news literacy embedded in the American educational experience, inside the classroom and outside of it. We want to teach many millions of young people how to know what news and information to believe, share and act on as students, consumers and citizens. We also hope to begin to change the culture so that people will take personal responsibility to stand up for facts and for quality journalism.

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Our website is www.thenewsliteracyproject.org. Anyone who wants more information or has questions can email us at info@thenewsliteracyproject.org. We welcome volunteers, including journalist fellows who can play various roles with us. People can engage with us through social media, as educators and journalist fellows, and as financial supporters. Please let us know your interest and we will respond. Finally, educators can register for the virtual classroom at www.checkology.org.

Youth-Led Social Innovation at Home and Abroad

by Emma Strother, Development Manager, LearnServe International.

LearnServe is creating a culture of youth-led social innovation in the Washington, DC area. We believe in the power of young people to affect social change, and in the power of social change work to shape young leaders. We provide in-school, extracurricular, and abroad trip-based social entrepreneurship training to middle and high school students from public, charter, and independent schools in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
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[I] recently had a debate about whether or not Washington, DC had the same genuineness as Paraguay. Andrenae -rising Junior at Ballou High School-having just returned from a LearnServe Abroad trip to Paraguay.

In a blog post, she urges her readers to let new experiences put their lives in perspective. Here’s my opinion, if you haven’t opened up your thoughts, your heart, and your mind to new people and new things, you will never fully experience the opportunities given to you.
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Andrenae is one of 54 students and teachers who returned on Wednesday from LearnServe Abroad trips to Jamaica, Paraguay, Zambia, and (for the first time!) South Africa. Her insights remind us why LearnServe International takes young social entrepreneurs abroad. Our students build the courage to travel far outside their comfort zones, and the strength to grow as leaders through these experiences.

This year for the first time, LearnServe is proud to partner with Eastern High School, the DC Public Schools, Empowering Males of Color initiative, and the organization Empowering Men of Excellence to send 14 students and 1 teacher on a LearnServe trip to South Africa. The group explored the vibrant social enterprise scene in Johannesburg and Cape Town, conducted a human-centered design workshop with their South African peers, and volunteered with local organizations.

Across the trips, our students worked with dynamic community leaders and entrepreneurs to deepen their understanding of local solutions to global issues. On the LearnServe Blog, they reflected on the implications of their experiences for their communities back home and their personal growth.
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As Jayme-rising Junior at Eastern High School-put it, “I want you to think about how your presence can affect the lives of others who may not have the same opportunities as you. Think about how whenever you meet and spend time with new people, you are creating memories.”

You can access an in-depth look at our students – and teachers – experiences in Jamaica, Paraguay, Zambia, and South Africa on the LearnServe Blog (learn-serve.org/blog) and in our online photo albums (flickr.com/people/cie-wis).

Skills for the Future with Washington Youth Garden

by Crystal Williams, Communications and Events Manager, Washington Youth Garden
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Washington Youth Garden (WYG) is a program of Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) on the grounds of the US National Arboretum and uses the garden cycle to enrich science learning, inspire environmental stewardship and cultivate healthy food choices in youth and families. WYG has three subprograms within the organization; SPROUT (Science Program Reaching Out) – field trip program, Green Ambassador Program- high school internship program, and Garden Science – school garden development program.

In 2016, 3,140 students visited the garden on nearly 100 SPROUT trips while 90% of SPROUT participants tasted something new from the garden.

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This year from April through June, we’ve already served 2,500 students through our SPROUT program and 15 new high school Green Ambassadors joined us for the busy summer ahead!

Gardening and carpentry skills are not the only thing our students gain in the garden, as illustrated by the following quote:

“The Green Ambassador Program] gave me a lot of skills for future jobs and helped me grow as a person as well. A lot of my peers come from very different backgrounds, so it gave me a lot of new perspectives.”
-DeWayne Walker, Green Ambassador Program 2016

This year we celebrate our new education pavilion. The new pavilion at Washington Youth Garden’s demonstration garden is the result of a partnership between the Weissberg Foundation, local businesses, and nonprofit organizations working together to benefit school groups and families from underserved D.C. neighborhoods and other communities in the region. The pavilion is dedicated to the late Judith Morris, who was passionate about sharing nature and the Arboretum with surrounding communities and underserved youth. The pavilion provides a much-needed outdoor classroom space for young people coming to our demonstration plot to learn about environmental science and nutrition.
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We encourage the community to be a part of Washington Youth Garden by either attending an event such as Family Garden Day on August 12th or volunteering with us. Volunteer as an individual or bring a group. Individuals should sign-up for an orientation here. Volunteering as a group with Washington Youth Garden is a fun and active outdoor experience that is sure to build staff cohesion outside the office. For more information visit our website at www.washingtonyouthgarden.org