Reaching Higher

Reaching Higher

Alexandria students reach for Higher Achievement at Hammond Middle School.

When Margie Obeng finished the seventh grade, her father was concerned about her math scores. He found out about a six-week summer academy to boost her grades called Higher Achievement and asked his daughter if she would be interested in participating. When she found out her friends were already going, that was enough encouragement for her.

“I didn’t have anything else to do,” she said. “And it sounded like fun.”

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday, Obeng attended the program’s daily sessions at Hammond Middle School. It included a variety of classes taught by community volunteers, including a dance class where she learned several hip-hop moves. She said her favorite class was science because she liked the teacher.

“He was funny,” she said. “And he made class fun because he would joke around a lot.”

She’s now in the fall academy of Higher Achievement, which meets after school three days a week from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. To show her appreciation for the program, she took part in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony at Hammond where school administrators and program participants conducted a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce the launch of the Alexandria Higher Achievement Program.

“We wanted to find out if this could work in Alexandria before we had a formal launch,” said Richard Tagle, executive director of the nonprofit organization that operates the Higher Achievement Program. “This is our first program outside of D.C.”

BY ALL MEASURES, he said, the Alexandria program has been a tremendous success. Founded in 1975, Higher Achievement currently operates four community achievement centers in D.C. serving more than 300 students. The new Alexandria center represents the organization’s fifth establishment. Tagle said that the purpose of the summer sessions and after-school classes are to develop academic skills, behaviors and attitudes for underserved middle school students in distressed areas. He said that he has seen the program build confidence in middle-school students, whose grades have improved as they have taken a new attitude toward school.

“The opportunity to offer motivated young people the chance to develop their love of learning by achieving academic success is at the very heart of Higher Achievement’s work,” Tagle said. “The opening of the Alexandria center is the beginning of our efforts to extend Higher Achievement’s reach so that a greater number of motivated young people have a greater number of academic advantages.”

Former Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors, said he first learned about the program when his daughter volunteered to be a teacher at the program’s Columbia Heights center. Dunning said that the volunteer teachers need no special training or background, and that anyone can participate in the betterment of the Higher Achievement scholars.

“We’re actively looking for mentors and teachers,” Dunning said. “So people should think about getting involved and volunteering for the new program at Hammond.”

At the ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, a Higher Achievement graduate from one of the D.C. centers spoke about how the program changed her. Erica Pitts participated in the Ward 7 program, which she said gave her an increased sense of self-confidence and a new willingness to make something of herself.

“I learned that being smart is another notch to add in the cool belt,” Pitts said.