In 2010 only 58.58% of students in D.C. graduated high school in the 4-year time frame, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. In the last ten years, the graduation rate has not been higher than 75%, averaging around 65% every year. D.C saw its highest graduation rate in 2017.
Academy of Hope (AOH) is an adult charter school that is filling the void in education that public schools missed out on over the years. Since the mid-1980s AOH has been providing GED training, adult basic education, career-specific academies, and a national external development program. A majority of the individuals served by AOH are African American, native Washingtonians. In the last few years, they have seen an increase in younger people enrolling in their programs.
“When they left school it’s not because they didn’t care about it or they didn’t value it,” said AOH president Lecester Johnson. “Life circumstances had a detrimental impact or effect on how they had to leave because they needed to work to help get income into the family.”
“I had my daughter very young, so I left school and entered the workforce.” said LaShunna Grier “When I was there [Academy of Hope] I was actually living in a shelter, so when I completed the program I was in this shelter.”
“I got a pharmacy technician service station I was a speaker at Capital One workforce development. I was also recently the Academy of Hope keynote speaker. And it’s also helped me was getting schooled in obtaining a higher pay position and more so of a career than a job.” said Grier.
To meet the growing need for adult education, Academy of Hope holds two graduations in December and June of each year. Its goal to eventually graduate over 200 adult students a year. Each year it impacts at least 500 adult learners through one of their programs.
Adult education is an issue that has come to the attention of the D.C. Council. “I’ve really seen an evolution on the D.C. Council in the last four years. The campaign we were running then was just to get the council to even talk about adult ed,” said AmeriCorps instructor and AOH advocacy manager, Jamie Fragale. AOH seeks to overcome as many of the barriers between students and their education.
One of the issues with retaining adult learners is the lack of transportation to and from facilities. D.C helps to subsidize transportation for learners under 21 with the “Kids Ride Free’” program, however many of AOH’s students lie over the age limit. The organization worked with the D.C Council to extend the reach of the program and have since gained two million dollars to provide transportation for its students.
Not graduating from high school doesn’t have to mean the end of a students goals. Academy of Hope gives adults the resources to have a second chance at education and continue their lives.
“This first step is such a huge step, and it’s so transformative for the people who are coming into our doors, and when they walk in they’re filled with hope for a different future for themselves and their families,” said Johnson.