Events, News, Scholars Program

David: ‘I Am a Future Leader for Our City’

David delivers his speech at the Lights on Afterschool event.
David speaks about his experiences in afterschool programs during the Lights On Afterschool event.

On Thursday, October 17th, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA) and the Afterschool Alliance hosted the 12th annual Lights On Afterschool, an event celebrated nationwide to call attention to the importance of afterschool programs for America’s children. David, a 12th-grade Scholar, was asked to deliver remarks on his experiences in afterschool programs. He shared the stage with community leaders like Eton Thomas, Councilmember Jim Graham, and Deputy Mayor Beatriz “BB” Otero. David even got to help Mayor Vincent Gray proclaim DC Afterschool Day.

David shares the stage with Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmember Jim Graham.
David shares the stage with Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmember Jim Graham.

All of us at FLOC are incredibly proud of David, and we are excited to be able to share his remarks with you here. We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at DCAYA and the Afterschool Alliance for thinking of FLOC and its students when planning this event.

Remarks Given at the DCAYA Lights On Afterschool Event

Hello, my name is David.  I am 16 years old, and I am a senior at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School.  Statistics say I’m 34 times more likely to be incarcerated in my lifetime than my white counterparts, and if that were to happen to me, it would happen afterschool.

But it hasn’t.  I am an honor roll student; I’m a POSSE semifinalist; I’m already contributing to organizations that helped me; and I am a future leader for our city.

I am fortunate to have attended good schools and received excellent support in the classroom, but it’s thanks to the diverse afterschool programs I’ve participated in that I have the skills, the drive, and the confidence to be a leader.

It’s taken a lot of time to get here.  I moved to DC from the Dominican Republic when I was 10 years old.  Then, as now, my mom worked incredibly hard to support us.

Her job required her to be out the door by 4:30 each morning and we normally did not see her until 8 or 9 each night.  In the Dominican Republic, my mom was a teacher and knew the importance of educational opportunities. She knew that in order for us to succeed, we needed support outside of the school day.

But according to a 2004 Public Agenda survey, low-income and minority parents are much more likely than higher-income and white parents to have trouble finding quality, affordable afterschool programs.

We were lucky. My mom found programs that were so much more than just a safe place after school.  In places like For Love of Children, I was able to enroll in programs that engaged me based on my interests, programs that didn’t just help me with my homework.

FLOC gave me new opportunities and took me to new places. From college tours to trips to our Outdoor Education Center in West Virginia, I’ve been around. Thanks to afterschool programs, I can say that I’ve had a staring competition with a bear, and I won.

That’s probably something that wouldn’t happen on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The network of people who are supporting me has grown to include community leaders, caring adult mentors, and talented students from other parts of the city.  These people are offering so much more than a refuge from the streets. They are the link between my classroom achievements, my development as a young adult, and fulfilling the goals my mother had when she brought us to the United States.

At the end of this school year, I will be part of the ninth consecutive class where 100% of FLOC students are graduating high school on time and on track to attend a postsecondary institution.  I will join my sisters, and become part of the nearly 80 students who are still connected to FLOC and receiving continued support on their path toward a degree.  Yesterday, I took the SAT and then spent the afternoon working with my FLOC postsecondary coach finishing up my common app.

When I started in afterschool programs, I thought I was just playing around with my friends.  I didn’t realize that the games we played were actually building the softer skills that I’ll need to be successful in college and in life.  I was becoming an academically proficient, culturally literate, intellectually reflective, life-long learner.  I’ve also developed the hard skills that guarantee I can participate in the 21st century job market.  I’ve built a robot that can play basketball and block more shots than Alonzo Mourning.

To get students excited about afterschool programs, you need to do more than just give them a space to be; you need to ignite their passion for learning. I encourage the policy makers and community leaders here today to be innovative, to engage the young people who haven’t made the connection to an effective afterschool program, and to invest in those programs that have demonstrated success.

I’ll tell you what I told the Deputy Mayor: students don’t become disconnected because they are lazy. We are interested in all sorts of things, and we each have unique talents.  We need programs that connect us to other people who have the same interests, that show us how to develop these interests into tangible skills; skills that mean better performance in school, better opportunities in college, and higher paying jobs.

In conclusion, I’d like to tell you about one of my solutions.  FLOC connected me to a program called Learn Serve International where I’ve been given the opportunity to engage in programming that teaches high school juniors and seniors to develop innovative solutions to community challenges.  My project is focused on afterschool programming: giving elementary and middle school students access to fully stocked, high-tech laboratories where college students will guide them through scientific experiments, robot-building, and computer programming. We all know what the future is going to look like, so why aren’t we providing young students in our community the skills necessary to thrive there? We are still looking for seed funding. If you’re interested, please come talk to me after this is over.

Afterschool programs have been critical in my development and success. Education, according to Allan Bloom, is the movement from darkness to light. Afterschool programs, like the ones I’ve participated in, like the ones that are still just ideas in your head, are how we turn on the light.

(Cody Laminack is the NTP Program Manager at FLOC).

Neighborhood Tutoring Program, News, Tutor Perspectives

Maintaining Your Cool

Renee-Lauren photo

Today I had to prove that I knew about Drake and, in fact, I was ridiculously pleased to announce that I owned his first two albums. Last week I proudly shared that 2 Chainz would be performing back in my home country. The looks of awe on my student’s face was priceless. Score, big time. Major cool points. I’ve rarely been more grateful for friends who are DJs.

This is how I maintain my cool with my FLOC student, an eager and very laid back young black man. As we weave through our Saturday afternoon reading lessons it helps to keep the conversation going by being able to drop a reference or two about the things that matter in his non-FLOC world. Sometimes I use those references to teach a concept but more often than not, we have little conversations to connect as we work on tapping and learn the difference between digraphs and welded sounds.  It’s important to be able to relate. It’s important to connect.

I am thrilled when a student passes a test or sounds out and successfully pronounces a tricky new word while reading. But I feel a special thrill when my student and I are able to have a little chit chat about pop culture or their interests. That kind of exchange is not only beneficial on the first day as we get to know our students, but it is useful throughout the yearlong program. As tutors I think it’s important to be active about connecting – engaging – with our students.

As I mentioned before, being able to discuss popular Rap and Hip-Hop artists helps to smooth over conversation gaps…but there’s more involved.  Active engagement is the foundation for building trust, and trust is an important ingredient for successful tutoring sessions. Let’s face it, attending tutoring after school or on a weekend is big time commitment for our students. The least we could do is show an interest in them as much as we are interested in ensuring that they get the help they need to excel at reading and math. Let your students know that they can trust you to help them with the reading or math hurdles they’re facing.  Connect.

Don’t worry if music (or sports or video games ) isn’t your thing. I’ve paid attention enough to have a passing conversation on everything from the Redskins to the Vampire Diaries to Taylor Swift (yes, even Taylor). Plus, you may be surprised at the common ground you find by talking to your student about random things.

There are also tools built into the FLOC program to help build a rapport with your student.  I’ve learned that many cool points are  earned by allowing frequent games of trashketball. When I began at FLOC I struggled with what trashketball is and how on earth to integrate it into lessons. But over time I’ve realized that it’s a valuable teaching tool. It’s as simple as a small basket and tight wad of paper being tossed every time your student gets something correct as you review phonics during the Wilson quick drill or words for  Wordly Wise. Usually games don’t go beyond 10 minutes but I’ve found them a remarkable low-stress way to check a student’s knowledge. Students (boys in particular) love to take those shots.

Tutoring at FLOC is as much about helping students as it is about enjoying the tremendous opportunity of volunteering. We’re at FLOC to teach, but we’re there to learn as well. Seize the opportunity…and look cool while doing it.

(Renée-Lauren Ellis is a tutor in the Saturday Afternoon Reading program).

News, Scholars Program, Staff Perspectives

Middle School Scholars Visit the University of Pennsylvania

Our attentive Middle School Scholars learning about the University of Pennsylvania.
Our attentive Middle School Scholars learning about the University of Pennsylvania.

Early on a bright and sunny October 14th, 25 Middle School students from the FLOC Scholars Program boarded a bus headed for the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).

Upon their arrival to the ivy-covered Philadelphia campus, the FLOC Scholars were greeted by five college students representing the Greenfield Intercultural Center at UPenn. The college students answered questions and led their visitors on group tours all around the bustling campus. Highlights included the historic Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library, a glimpse at a dorm room, the oversized button sculpture, and the campus bookstore. Following a few more questions about college life, the FLOC Scholars parted ways with their wonderful UPenn student guides.

According to their appetites worked up by touring the large campus it was then lunchtime. The FLOC Scholars were not disappointed by the extensive lunch options available to them at the heavily anticipated cafeteria. For many, this was a chance to enjoy the company of new and old FLOC friends alike over a slice of fresh pizza or a bowl of ice cream from the memorable sundae bar.

With tummies filled and feet rested, it was off on another venture for the Scholars: a scavenger hunt led by more dynamic UPenn undergraduates. Teams competed to investigate UPenn lore and favorite sites around campus before eventually meeting up at the famous LOVE sculpture.

A group of Middle School Scholars with their student guide at the famous LOVE sculpture
A group of Middle School Scholars with their student guide at the famous LOVE sculpture

The Scholars ended their day back at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, where they asked the last of their well thought-out questions and received commemorative water bottles and bags to remember their exciting day at the University of Pennsylvania! Few eyes were shut on the bus ride home after such a stimulating adventure.

(Lauren Ballinger is a Scholars Program Instructor at FLOC).

News, Outdoor Education Center, Student Spotlight

Meet Jacob: A Leaders In Action student from Harpers Ferry Middle School

Jacob, a student involved in his second Leaders In Action (LIA) year, has been chosen as our Student Spotlight for the month of October. He became involved in the program when another LIA student recruited him to attend one of our weekend volunteer opportunities at Willow Tree Manor Nursing Home. Jacob quickly realized he was interested in the program as it is centered around health and community involvement.

Jacob’s favorite part of the program is our summer camp that we offer at the Outdoor Education Center (OEC), as well as any additional weekend programs we host at the OEC. While at camp this past summer, Jacob enjoyed himself because “most activities are outside and include physical activity, the counselors were hilarious, the night activities brought us all together, and we got to tough it up when it’s raining which we never get to do at school or at other camps!” He also stated how he “loved exploring the wilderness at the OEC and working with plants.”

Jacob this Summer at the OEC during Survival Camp.
Jacob this Summer at the OEC during Survival Camp.

As Jacob has remained involved in LIA, he has been noticing an improvement in his ability to make new friends, more thoroughly understanding of teamwork and leadership skills, and boosting his confidence levels. He also feels like he has thoroughly mastered the five survival skills by learning and implementing them during our five-day summer camp and testing them out when he returned home!

While asked what he is most excited for this year, Jacob stated “I’m definitely most excited to attend Alternative Spring Break, especially if it’s in Washington D.C. After a while you get used to the daily routine of school but then when you have a break you get so bored. It will be nice to see a new place with my friends!”

Jacob visiting the Young Harvest Local Farm.
Jacob visiting the Young Harvest Local Farm.

I asked Jacob if he had any last comments about our weekly Leaders In Action meetings and he stated, “You guys aren’t boring teachers. You actually make things fun.” Jacob is thrilled for this upcoming LIA year and for the engaging curriculum we will continue to provide.

This year our LIA program is actively involved with the seven dimensions of health: physical, social, emotional, environmental, spiritual, intellectual, and occupational. Students will have many opportunities to participate in community events, visit organizations on field trips, and host local guest speakers. To kick off the 2013-2014 LIA year, students have already gardened at the OEC, hosted a barefoot running clinic, volunteered at Freedom’s Run, and welcomed a physical therapist to conduct physical fitness tests during our meetings. For more information visit:

(Sarah Nowicki is an AmeriCorps Vista at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center).

Neighborhood Tutoring Program, News, Staff Perspectives

NTP Welcomes New Team of Corps Members

Our new Neighborhood Tutoring Program Corps members: Ibsaa, Catherine and Jim.
Our new Neighborhood Tutoring Progam Corps members: Ibsaa, Catherine and Jim.

Fall has finally arrived. After what felt like an endless summer, a series of gray and rainy days have left us with cool nights and increasingly colorful trees. At FLOC, everything kicks into high gear in the fall. Hundreds of students pass through our offices each week. Returning volunteer tutors are reunited with their students after a well-deserved summer break. It’s an exciting atmosphere, and it’s a real treat to see new and familiar faces come together to start another excellent school year of programming.

In the Neighborhood Tutoring Program (NTP), this excitement wouldn’t happen without our dedicated team of Corps members. These recent college graduates have chosen to complete a year of service with FLOC. Thanks to partnerships with various AmeriCorps organizations, we get talented young people to come work for us each year. They are all exemplary. Each one brings creativity, passion, and a unique set of experiences and expertise. In many ways, they help re-energize the rest of us in the office with their fresh ideas and exuberance.

We wanted to introduce you to them here. This way, you’ll be able to put a name to some of the faces you see running around the building during tutoring. This certainly won’t be the last you hear from them. As the school year goes on, you’ll get to hear stories from them featured on this blog. You’ll also get to know them during program, or any of the exciting FLOC events upcoming. But for now, we’ll start with some introductions. Feel free to ask any of them for clarification on any of the information printed below.

The Neighborhood Tutoring Program  2013 Team of Corps Members:

Ibsaa Adam

Originally from: San Francisco, CA

Favorite DC Restaurant: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Favorite TV Show/Movie: The Walking Dead

Fun Fact about Ibsaa: He has dislocated at least 10 joints in his body.

Favorite piece of trivia: 2013 is the first time in 26 years that the year has been made of four unrepeated integers.

AmeriCorps Program: Public Allies DC

Role at FLOC: Site Coordinator of the Thursday Afternoon Math program at Tyler Elementary School and the Saturday Morning Reading program at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center.

Catherine Brenner

Originally from: Camp Hill, PA

Favorite DC Restaurant: Busboys & Poets

Favorite TV Show/Movie: Zoolander

Fun Fact about Catherine: In college, she won a tango competition.

Favorite Piece of Trivia: Q. What do Kanye West and Taylor Swift have in common? A. Both of their fathers attended The University of Delaware.

AmeriCorps Program: Notre Dame Mission Volunteers AmeriCorps

Role at FLOC: Site Coordinator of the Tuesday Night Reading program, the Saturday Morning Math program and the Saturday Afternoon Reading program.

Jim Coleman

Originally from: San Diego, CA

Favorite DC Restaurant: Filomena

Favorite TV Show/Movie: On the Waterfront

Fun Fact about Jim: Oklahoma is his favorite state.

Favorite Piece of Trivia: Nobody wants to play Sega Genesis with Harrison Ford.

AmeriCorps Program: Notre Dame Mission Volunteers AmeriCorps

Role at FLOC: Site Coordinator of the Tuesday Night Reading program at the Woman’s National Democratic Club and the Thursday Night Math program.

(Cody Laminack is the Neighborhood Tutoring Program Curriculum Coordinator at FLOC).

News, Scholars Program

Seventh-grade Scholars Design Festive Cards

Halloween Cards

Last week, the 7th-grade Scholars kicked off their exploration of community service by making Halloween cards for hospitalized children. The students enjoyed designing festive cards and writing words of encouragement for other kids who may not have the opportunity to spend Halloween with their friends and family. Throughout this year, the 7th-graders will continue to learn about social issues and ways that they can serve their community and those in need.

(Celestina Lee is a Scholars Program Instructor at FLOC).

News, Outdoor Education Center

Leaders In Action Students Garden at the OEC

A student waters the plants inside the 4-season greenhouse
A student waters the plants inside the 4-season greenhouse.

This past weekend, twenty two Leaders In Action students from Charles Town and Harpers Ferry Middle Schools visited the Outdoor Education Center (OEC) to focus on gardening. This was the first time some of our students have explored the OEC, as they are new to our Leaders In Action after-school program.

Students began their adventure at the OEC by touring our facility: viewing upper camp cabins, the lodge, shower house, and compost bathrooms. Students were excited to be back at the OEC, as their last time visiting was for two weeks of summer camp in June, July, or August. Many were anxious to tell our new students some of their favorite camp memories and activities.

At the conclusion of the hike, we ventured to our brand new 4-season greenhouse, donated by Jimmy Buffett’s Singing for Change Foundation. Students began learning the basics of gardening such as gardening indoors vs. gardening outdoors; how to properly grow plants inside if you do not have access to an open, outdoor space; and the elements of a healthy garden.

Students proceeded to learn about gardening by planting seeds of lettuce, kale, beets, carrots, and mustard greens. These seeds will remain in our indoor grow lab which provides them the proper warmth and light to develop into strong plants. During our next Sunday gardening project in November, the germinated seeds will be transplanted by our students into the 4-season greenhouse where they will remain until the winter harvest. Students will have the opportunity to interactively learn about gardening during each of our monthly weekend meetings, where they will water, propagate, and harvest these plants, in addition to planting more seeds as the seasons progress.

Students mix and form their own colored slug slime while learning about these natural decomposers.
Students mix and form their own colored slug slime while learning about these natural decomposers.

Each student had the opportunity to create two starter pots made out of recycled paper. Each individual starter pot housed one seed for them to take home and nurture. In addition to gardening, students learned about common garden pests such as aphids, slugs, and snails. Surprisingly, slugs and snails, however unpleasing to the eye, can be extremely helpful in a garden, as they are natural decomposers. In tribute to these creatures, each student mixed and formed their own colored slug slime.

Overall, students enjoyed their first interactive trip to the OEC. Students will actively plant, maintain, and harvest plants while in the Leaders In Action program which will greatly benefit their understanding of the plant cycle.

(Sarah Nowicki is an AmeriCorps Vista at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center).