Students cheer at convocation on the first day of class.
Photo by Rikki George/The Gazette
Bryant Principal Tanganika (Tangy) Millard isn’t basking in last year’s graduation success. Millard is working to ensure her students receive individualized and real-time attention required to succeed as adults.
Located at 2709 Popkins Lane, Bryant Alternative High School is part of Fairfax County Public Schools which educates 186,000 students from K-12. Of that, Bryant serves 310 students, ages 17-22, in grades 9-12. Many of Bryant students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
Millard’s vision for Bryant is based on innovation and three core values: Educating the mind, building character and nurturing the spirit. She also brings a new perspective to alternative school thinking.
“What usually comes to mind when you think about alternative schools is bad kids,” Millard said. “This is not true.” Around 90 percent of Bryant students choose Bryant because of its flexibility. Some enroll in Bryant to advance their progress. Others want to finish faster for personal reasons. The remaining 10 percent attend because of a mistake they’ve made at a base school. These are the second-chance students.
EDUCATING THE MIND
“I realized after June’s graduation that students needed more focus on what comes after graduation.”
— Tangy Millard, Principal
Flexibility is a common component of alternative high schools. Bryant operates on a 4x4 schedule, where students enroll in four classes per semester rather than eight. According to Millard, this allows students to focus on learning while balancing other life responsibilities. Students also complete diploma requirements in small class size settings of 10-15 students on average, thus allowing greater student-teacher interaction.
With the new hire of Apex Coordinator Jennifer Diglio, who has had 17 years in FCPS, Millard has stepped up flexible options for students. Apex is an online high school curriculum that allows students to work from school and home to complete courses. According to Diglio, any Bryant student can sign up for an Apex course. “It offers students the option to move through courses at their own pace, the ability to take courses not offered at Bryant, such as precalculus, and it provides real-time results on quizzes,” said Diglio who monitors progress in person, online and by cell phone.
Millard hired Courtney Ben in 2016 from Carl Sandburg Middle School by eking out funds to expand and adjust learning modules for special education students.
“Literacy is a huge area of need,” said Ben, the special education English teacher. With Ben’s addition, the special education department totals five, each teacher with their own specialty, including math and science.
“I realized after June’s graduation that students needed more focus on what comes after graduation,” Millard said. “Graduation is a huge achievement for these kids [many are firsts in families to graduate] but there is more than that.” One goal is to help students envision a future beyond a $10 hourly job.
That’s why she’s employed Celeste LaCour-Williams, career development coordinator and national certified counselor. She helps students with the process of self-awareness, career exploration and post-secondary planning. Before graduating, LaCour-Williams said, “All students have a plan.”
As many Bryant students know, the journey forward is not always easy. Shortly after Bryant’s Sept. 6 Convocation to celebrate the new academic year, the school experienced a tragedy with a shooting of a 17-year-old Bryant sophomore in Lorton. Millard gathered students and teachers together to express what they were feeling. “We need to talk about this as a family,” she said to the group. “We need to take care of each other.”
Millard, Diglio, Ben and LaCour-Williams are happy at the changes they’ve seen since that event. Students are back on track. Class attendance is 80 to 85 percent. “It’s a miracle,” one of them said. “It’s the way we deliver lessons,” said the other. “It’s the leadership of Principal Millard,” LaCour-Williams concluded.
Bryant Alternative High School has a number of opportunities for businesses to get involved in the skills and workforce development of Bryant students. For more information, call Tangy Millard or Celeste LaCour-Williams at 703-660-2001.