Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Camp Achieve Afterschool Program

Recently, my organization, Achievement Services received the unexpected and untimely news that the funding of its Saturday afterschool program which serves at-risk children in Baltimore City schools was being eliminated.  This news is shocking and upsetting to the children and families the organization serves.  The Saturday afterschool program of Camp Achieve provides engaging, structured, quality academic and social enrichment activities for children who are most vulnerable to academic underachievement or failure.

Achievement Services plans to continue the program, soliciting financial support from all who care about educating children and preparing them for the future.
What is Camp Achieve? Camp Achieve, a program of Achievement Services, Inc., is an afterschool, out-of-school-time program which partners with Baltimore City Schools to design and implement academic programs in reading and/or math for students who are underachieving or at-risk of underachieving.  The program is designed to assist students in improving state standardized assessment scores and overall student achievement.  It is also designed to provide underprivileged students a quality, enriching educational and social experience in preparation for college and/or career.  Camp Achieve incorporates its core values of academic enrichment, parent engagement, character education, physical fitness & nutrition, health awareness and service learning into its programs.

How did Camp Achieve begin?  Camp Achieve began with a vision from the founder of Achievement Services, Brenda Wade, who strongly believes that all children, regardless of circumstance can achieve academic success if provided the opportunity for growth, exploration, and development.  Camp Achieve was developed to provide enriching, engaging opportunities to underprivileged children.

What is the relationship between Camp Achieve and the schools it serves? Camp Achieve partners with identified low-performing schools to assist with improving student achievement.  Achievement Services conducts a needs assessment consisting of data analysis, parent input, teacher input, student input and administrator input to determine the feasibility of a program within a school.  Generally, the schools commit to providing students, programmatic support, some in-kind support and very limited financial support.  Specifically, Camp Achieve has been a partner at Guilford for the past four years providing academic enrichment in mathematics.

How do schools initially partner with Camp Achieve? Generally, the initial point of contact is the school principal or administrator who begins the discussion on the possibility of a Camp Achieve program in the building.  At that time, feasibility, funding and other support availability is discussed.

How does Camp Achieve operate? Camp Achieve is an independent program with no affiliation to Baltimore City Schools and is fully operational from funds received from schools, school government, corporations and foundations.  The Camp Achieve program operates in the partner school during times agreed upon by the school and Camp Achieve.  Staff members are part-time employees of Achievement Services, Inc. and generally are certified teachers.

When does Camp Achieve operate? Typically, Camp Achieve operates when school is not in session, afterschool, Saturdays, winter break, spring break during the school year and during the summer months.

What students will be invited to participate in Camp Achieve? Targeted students of the school will be invited to participate.

What will students do during Camp Achieve hours? Students will receive at least 90 minutes of academic instruction daily, art and/or physical education, social enrichment and off-site enrichment/recreational activities.  Students will also participate in service learning activities.  Academic instruction is provided utilizing nationally recognized, research-based curriculums.

What is the cost? There is no cost to the participants of Camp Achieve.  All funds required to operate a Camp Achieve program is provided from grant monies, fundraising revenues and corporate, foundation and individual donations.

What is the vision of Camp Achieve? The implementation of a Camp Achieve program in each elementary and middle school of the Baltimore City Public School district.

What are the principles of Camp Achieve? Camp Achieve values student and parent input.  The Camp Achieve model strongly emphasizes parent engagement to improve student achievement consistently.  At Camp Achieve   parents are actively involved in program operations, volunteering in classrooms, providing supervision on off-site activities, organizing fundraising drives and participating on staff hiring committees.  The model incorporates ongoing parent meetings regarding the program and education-related seminars.  Students are surveyed to determine their feelings regarding the program as it relates to their growth and development, academically and socially.

What levels of success have Camp Achieve programs achieved? Camp Achieve participants have demonstrated improved attendance, improved school behavior, improved homework completion, improved parental involvement, and improved attitude toward education.  Pre & post test data have revealed improvements in reading and math performance.  Specifically, at Guilford, the school has achieved Annual Yearly Progress in mathematics.

How is the program evaluated? The Camp Achieve program in each school/site is evaluated by an independent program evaluator retained to assess program quality, implementation and sustainability.

How does Camp Achieve differentiate itself from other afterschool programs? Camp Achieve addresses the needs of the “whole” child by providing academic instruction, parent engagement, character, service, fitness, health and nutrition.  There are small class sizes and generally two educators in each classroom.  Students are exposed to enrichment in and out of their known community.  In addition, Camp Achieve requires ongoing professional development of its instructors and provides professional development for school-day instructors, linking the afterschool learning with school-day learning.  Lastly, the Camp Achieve model operates on Saturdays during the school year and for 6-7 weeks during the summer months.
If you would like to make a gift to the Camp Achieve program, you may do so at the organization website:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

Today is election day.  The day that America finally decides who will lead this country for the next four years.  America will decide who will represent this great nation on the world stage, during times of American tragedy, and throughout national disasters that effect Americans on American soil.  America will decide who they believe will best put the interests of all Americans at the forefront of democracy and fight for equal opportunity and access for all.

For these and so many other reasons, we all must exercise our American right to vote.  We must exercise our right to have our voices heard, and to make choices about government.  As a social worker, I believe in self determination, building upon the strengths of individuals and meeting individuals where they are in the life/developmental cycle.  Exercising your right to vote speaks to one's self determination, displays personal strength and commitment and says something about where we are in our developmental cycle.

So voting today is crucial at the national, state and local levels.  The way we live our lives and how we will live our lives will be partly determined by this election.  How much money we earn to support our families will be partly determined by this election.  How the infrastructures in your communities operate will be partly determined by this election.  How the elderly are treated and provided for will be partly determined by this election.  How veterans are treated upon their return home from the freedom fight will be partly determined by this election.  How we educate our children and send our children to college will be partly determined by this election.  Access to quality medical care at an affordable, fair price will be partly determined by this election.  Fairness in the criminal justice system will be partly determined by this election.

There are so many additional reasons this election is crucial and important.  You should care about who will be making these and other decisions that will undoubtedly impact some aspect of your life either now or in the future.  You should care about what's happening in your state and in your local community.  You should care about who is asking to be elected to your child's school board.  Whether male or female, you should pay attention to what candidates are saying with respect to women's rights including income determinations and health care options.  You should care about the facts of a candidate's record.  Not what the media portrays or reports.  You should want a better America for all.  You should vote.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Whitney Houston

That Voice!  It is undeniable and instantly recognizable.  What an amazing voice and an amazing talent.  I can recall when she first burst onto the music scene.  I was a teenager attending Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, Maryland.  She was a glamorous teenager who had grown up in East Orange, New Jersey.  She had the good fortune of someone hearing that voice and telling someone, who told someone, who told someone, who told a music man named Clive Davis.  The rest is history.  She became what is termed a phenomenal music sensation.  Her records sold millions worldwide.  Everyone wanted to hear that voice sing.  She could sing anything because we all just simply wanted her to sing.  It seemed as if no one could get enough of her singing.  I recall her music being played on the radio constantly.  Then came THE BODYGUARD.  That movie and soundtrack propelled her to international stardom.  On TV she seemed beautiful, sweet, wonderful to watch and someone you just wanted to befriend.

Then came public reports of "cracks" in her image.  The public saw her socializing with people the public didn't think she should socialize.  The public began to hear stories about her behavior being erratic, unprofessional and unpredictable.  Then came the stories of drug use, missed commitments and that reality show.  For years, the public watched as Whitney Houston appeared to self-destruct and wondered how such an amazing talent could fall astray.

I didn't have the pleasure of personally meeting Whitney Houston.  All I know about her is what I have gained from television interviews with her and others, footage of performances, magazine articles and gossip.  I'm not here to judge, but use her story as an inspiration and lesson for young people.

This was a woman who dared to dream.  She dared to follow her dreams.  She dared to take her talents from a city in New Jersey to the world stage.  She was a black woman who graciously navigated a nonblack world.  She took her studies seriously, believed in education and had her childhood school renamed in her honor.  She was a woman who didn't come from a famous or wealthy family, yet she achieved.  She gave back to her community and often spoke of the lessons taught to her by her parents.  That is the lesson or takeaway of her life story.  She was a dreamer and an achiever.  She didn't let obstacles hinder her and she believed in her abilities. 

All young people have ability and talent.  They just need to believe in themselves and dream that anything is possible if you are willing to put in the work.  Negative stuff aside, Whitney Houston clearly put in the work and she clearly achieved.  Let that be a lesson for all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Camp Achieve

I believe we all have a project of which we are proud.  That project for me is Camp Achieve.

Camp Achieve is a program of Achievement Services, Inc.  Achievement Services (AS) partners with schools to design and implement out-of-school-time learning for children who are underachieving in reading and math.  AS is a nonprofit organization and receives all of its funding via contributions, grants and contracts.  Funding is a constant need to do the work we do and to serve the deserving children we serve.

Camp Achieve provides kids in Baltimore City an opportunity to view education as fun and school as a great place to learn.  It provides kids an opportunity to experience places outside of their communities that show them that education is crucial to life success.  It provides kids a safe place to exercise their imaginations and interact with teachers who want to help them learn.  It provides parents a place where they can feel comfortable engaging in their child's learning.  Camp Achieve is all of this and more to the children we serve.  It's a life-changing phenomena.

Camp Achieve is doing great work with some great kids.  The program needs more supporters, more funding to continue its work.  Please check out http://www.achievementservices.org/ and consider supporting our programs.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Education Debate

Currently, there is much debate regarding the condition of the public education school system in the United States.  The current administration in Washington is engaged in ongoing discussion, debate, argument etc. with Congress, education policymakers, teachers unions and teachers regarding the best approach to improve the educational achievement of children and improve their ability to compete on the global stage.  Plenty of people, educators and non educators, have strong opinions on the best way to educate children in this country.

As a school social worker for the past 13 years, I have an opinion as well.  It's true that the public education system in this country is broken, particularly in urban areas, where my experiences lie.  It's true that the public education system in this country is grossly underfunded, as compared to school systems in other countries.  It's true that education decisions by school boards that directly impact children are oftentimes made by individuals who RARELY enter a school to observe and talk to those who do the work everyday.  It's true that too many children, particularly minority children, are "passed along" or "socially promoted" and not given the tools necessary to succeed in the classroom.  It's true that most goals set forth in the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND Act will not be met.

Now comes the good part.  It's true that all kids WANT to learn.  It's true that kids can learn.  It's true that the majority of kids come to school everyday because they value the learning process.  It's true that students in urban school districts are achieving great strides in the classroom, surpassing expectations on state assessments.  It's true that students respond positively to teachers and instruction if given the respect and dedication of the teacher.  It's true that kids have high expectations of teachers, just as teachers have high expectations of kids.  It's true that the American public educational system can be fair for all students, IF politics are set aside, school boards are elected and not appointed and make decisions that are truly based on the best educational interests of the child, appropriate funding is allocated toward school improvements from facilities to staffing and all parents are engaged in the learning process of their children.

There is much to be said regarding this sometimes heated debate.  It sometimes seems never ending.  I welcome dialogue on this extremely important subject matter.  However, no matter the ultimate outcome, kids will still show up to school, wanting to learn and adults will still show up to school, wanting to educate.  That is always good news.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Special Group of Teens

The other day I had the opportunity and privilege to work with an amazing group of teenagers.  Teenagers from varying backgrounds, experiences, genders, desires, beliefs and life goals.  When I met them, they had no idea who I was, what I was doing in "their space" and what I would say or require of them.  They were not only polite and welcoming, but they were ENGAGING, asking questions and sharing what I consider to be fairly personal and private information.

I went to the Center to teach them, but instead I received an education.  That is one of the many reasons I enjoy my work with teenagers and adolescents.  I ALWAYS learn from them.  I learn something about their resiliency, I learn something about their "realness" and willingness to be brutally honest.  I learn something about how the future of our society thinks about the world around them.  I learn something about the determination and perseverence of a group of young people who haven't had all of "life's advantages".  I learn something about myself.

What is the lesson here?  The lesson is not to judge a person, group of people, place or situation until you have had the opportunity for personal experience.  It was not a dull time at the Center.  Contrary to what many uninformed people think of teenagers, they were not rude, arrogant, inattentive, reckless or unapologetic.  I very much look forward to my time with this group of teens again.