June Partner & Volunteer Highlight: Higher Achievement
A local nonprofit organization helps address the needs of students during their pivotal middle school years by providing academic enrichment, social-emotional tools and mentoring to encourage student success. Higher Achievement’s partnership with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) began in 2006 in an effort to help close the opportunity gap through its after-school program for students in grades 5-8. “We focus on academic help as well as social and emotional learning,” Learning Director for the Alexandria Center at Francis C. Hammond Middle School (FCH) Nikki Perkins stated. Higher Achievement aims to help students define and pursue their personal and educational goals.
Recruitment to participate in Higher Achievement at FCH and its feeder schools — John Adams Elementary School, James K. Polk Elementary School and William Ramsay Elementary School — begins in fifth grade. To ensure the program is a good fit, students participate in an application and interview process. The program at FCH runs Tuesday-Thursday, 3:15-6:30 p.m. Higher Achievement assists students with their homework, upcoming exams and other academic projects. Its staff also assess where students may be struggling and assist in those areas. Dr. Beshon Trusty, executive director of Higher Achievement’s DC Metro Office, explains Higher Achievement also helps students develop social-emotional learning skills. “No student can prioritize math if their home life, community life or experiences in a school building are scary, a distraction or overwhelming to them,” she said.
Dr. Trusty believes it is important to engage students during their middle school years, as even high performing scholars realize some level of academic and social adjustment is needed when they get into high school. She points out that “academic research shows a scholar's eighth grade performance is one of the core predictors of on-time high school graduation and college matriculation.” With that in mind, Dr. Trusty says Higher Achievement’s ability to forge partnerships, targeting communities of color mostly in Title I schools, is beneficial. “There is a higher need and more deserving level of intervention and support where resources and support are not readily available,” she said. Higher Achievement helps “by giving those scholars and families the support, resources and access to opportunities that they need.”
“Higher Achievement is a valued community partner. Throughout the school year, our scholars are welcomed into a safe and engaging learning environment after school,” FCH Principal Anika Buster-Singleton said. “This high quality program nurtures middle school students by providing academic support, mentoring, field trips and college exploration. Indeed, they are investing in our Admirals to ensure that they possess the skills to be college and career ready. We are thankful for their willingness to partner with the Hammond community.”
Higher Achievement also helps students define their goals by asking them to name what they would like to accomplish before the end of the school year, both personally and academically.
“It is important to discuss with students who they are as people and who they aspire to be,” Perkins explains. She said by putting the focus on goals, this gives students the opportunity to take seriously what they want to achieve and how they can accomplish it.
Higher Achievement also serves as an opportunity for students to have mentors they can look up to and realize, “I can be that, too.”
“There is life after middle school, and now is a pivotal time for scholars to decide how that’s going to look like for themselves," Perkins said. According to Perkins, mentorship not only encourages students to achieve their own dreams but also inspires them to pay it forward. In working with the students, Perkins sees how they blossom, learn to open up and become engaged. “Higher Achievement provides opportunities for students to use their voice, giving them opportunities to lead, to build peer-to-peer relationships and build confidence!”
- Partner & Volunteer Highlight