Speech to Potential Funders

Here’s the basic problem:

Our School District (OSD) ranked lowest in the group of 11 major urban areas profiled in 2007.


5 out 10 ninth graders in Our School District never graduate from high school.

  • 42% of OSD’s class of 2004 failed to graduate from high school
  • 48% of OSD students who leave school before graduation drop out by the 8th grade
  • DC students had lower average 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores than students in eight of the nine other cities tested, and they students scored lower in math than their counterparts in all nine cities
  • More than 86% of OSD’s 11th graders performed at or below basic proficiency in reading
  • More than 91% of 11th graders performed at or below basic proficiency in math.

With numbers like that, what city can consider itself successful? And with graduation rates like these, can Metro area businesses expect to find its worker pool from among its local residents? hardly.

The odds are scary. But there are bright spots. The Academy is one of them. The safety net is a patchwork of small organizations that attempt to compensate for the failure of the school district, with out of school time programming – some of it enrichment, a lot of it remedial. One such organization is The Academy.

The Bright Spots

Let me tell you about the people at The Academy. The children, I mean.

Consider Erica – she’s a composite, representative of a number of children I have met at the Academy’s tutoring program. Erica’s a third grader. She’s bright and charming and personable. Her tutor falls in love when he walks in the door, satisfied that the year of Saturday mornings he has committed to this enterprise will be spent with this adorable little girl. But his challenge is soon clear.


In third grade, the grade by which American children are expected to be competent readers, Erica does not know the difference between basic sounds – like the short I sound (“I”), or the short e sound (“e”). Her teacher has sounded the alarm – and now Erica is at the Academy, coming twice a week for one-on-one tutoring in both reading and math. At the program, she will work with one tutor, and in 22 hours of instruction, her test scores will show improvement of an average 1 year and 2 months. She will get her confidence back, and will begin, even at this early age, to get on a college track.

Then there’s Rodney – Rodney’s a middle schooler. You know them. Restless. Provocative. Rodney’s spent the past school year in Academy’s weekly after school program called Leaders in the Making, working with other 10-14 years olds on projects that focus on the environment, teamwork, leadership, community service, and reading/writing skills. They learn about “positive” peer groups, and that they get to choose.

They go to Academy’s Outdoor Facility for 5 days, 4 nights in 350 acres of wilderness. There they learn in a powerful outdoor classroom — environmental sustainability and the ecosystem of the Shenandoah. They learn to help and trust each other on the high ropes course and how to problem solve with others. They work in a vegetable garden, and learn composting. They sleep in rustic shacks, practically outdoors. The motto for the facility: No Child Left Inside.


This is transformational stuff for city kids.

Deidre. She’s in the Junior workshop. She’s a quiet kid. One of those who gets overlooked because she doesn’t cause trouble. All through middle school, Deidre eked out a 2.0 GPA by showing up every day and spelling her name right. But then – through a teacher, friend, or previous contact with another Academy program – she got an inkling now that there may be a way out of her neighborhood. College. So she spiked to a 2.8 in one semester, then a 3.1 the next – and now she’s joined Academy’s Junior Workshop.

There, two afternoons a week, Deidre’s in a small group of juniors who are getting prepped to take the SATs or the ACTs; they are being coached by volunteers from partner organization College Bound. They are getting their first introduction to the universe of possible colleges and universities that might be prospects for them. They got on a bus one long weekend and visited six HBCUs. They visited a huge campus and a tiny campus. They talk about what it will be like to leave all their friends behind and maybe be farther than driving distance away from the block where they’ve spent their whole lives. They start to think about financial aid.


Bradley. Bradley’s in the Senior Workshop, slowly working his way through the maze of requirements that comprise the college application process. In a small group with 4 or 5 peers, he is narrowing down the long list of potential schools, sorting by their interests, or a school’s proximity to home. He sees his eventual choice as a ticket out of chaotic neighborhood where , but fear they will be isolated and alone.

They meet with representatives from partner group Posse Foundation, which specializes in sending groups of inner city kids to school together – with free rides, and a “posse” peer group with which to surround themselves. It has been working; keeping talented children in school, where isolation and cultural estrangement used to overwhelm them.

They start to plan strategy for about financial aid. And through all this, consistent help and support and a place to get all questions answered. This year’s senior class submitted more than 110 applications to colleges and vocational schools across the country.

Yasmin – Alumni. She walked into the Tutoring Program as a 5th grader – without a grown-up to sign her up. Even then, Yasmin wanted help to find out what she did not know, and somehow she’d got wind that Academy was the place to get it. She signed up herself and her sister. Now, having completed 4 years at UCLA, she is living in Los Angeles and working for an international company.


And she’s on the board of the Academy Scholarship Fund, where she comes back to Washington every spring and helps to assess a new crop of Senior Workshop college applicants, deciding whether they’ve earned the $2,000 “gap” scholarship that the endowment provides – for books, meal plans, the “extras,” i.e. not tuition or fees. Yasmin is a real person, although I’ve changed her name, and although her story places her at the top among Academy alumni, she is by no means an anomaly.

Increasingly, Yasmin is the standard Academy product.

The Bottom Line

I used to worry that the “scale” wasn’t enough, that Academy wasn’t helping enough kids. Last year Academy served more than 600 kids in these programs I’ve told you about. One-on-one attention is expensive! But when you think about it, the average close-knit, loving family is just about that ratio, especially in America. That’s what you and I received, in families that had schooling and experience and expertise. One-on-one attention. One-on-one counseling. One-on-one discipline. So, when I look at Academy’s products today, and I reflect on the many, many facets that have to come together to produce a healthy, fully functioning human being, I think that the one-on-one or one-on-two or three- approach is just fine.  It works! At The Academy, it’s been working wonderfully well!

The Academy was founded in the 1960’s by Church of the Faithful trying to close down an orphanage called Children’s Village. It grew organically becoming, first, foster care, then adding a transitional housing program – cuz those kids were in that institution because their families were homeless – they were not orphans. Then the Tutoring Program sprung up to give academic support to the children living these inherently unstable lives filled with a lot of transitions. Then there was a Girls Group Home, a Boys Group Home, a Moms & Babies program, a special-ed high school. But today, a streamlined Academy is all about education –Tutoring, Educational Guidance, and the Academy Scholars.

These kids grasp at any straw that’s given to them, and they pull themselves up and out – and often with them comes a whole family. It’s a new vision. A promise fulfilled.

Ask Erica.


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