Food for Thought: Academy of Hope

Equal Opportunities for Students wants to thank Daniel Robinson of the Academy of Hope for writing a piece for our Food for Thought series.

Booker T. Washington once said: “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles he overcome while trying to succeed.” At 50 years of age, Todd Campbell, a learner at Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School (AoH) in Washington, DC, is the epitome of that quotation. Leaving school to take care of a sick relative first and then staving off return for decades to provide for his family, Todd’s story is as common to AoH learners as sweltering heat is to the late summer months in D.C.

Though Todd’s obstacles have been numerous, they are no match for his perseverance and strength. This year, as he pursued his high school diploma and a business degree, he also obtained a Microsoft Office certification after hard work and study. But perhaps his most admirable triumph to date was his decision to return to school and finish a task that circumstances, people, and our socio-cultural expectations previously refused him.

Todd was recently profiled in a Washington City Paper article about Academy of Hope and other adult public charter schools, and while his story is powerful, it is unfortunately not unique. Across the country, there are thirty million adults without high school diplomas. In Washington, DC alone, according to data from the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, 60,000 people lack a high school diploma. The statistics become gloomier when basic literacy is a question: 32 million adults in this country and 90,000 in the capital can’t read a newspaper or a bus schedule.

The economic effects of low literacy are devastating for both the individual and the community writ large. According to a 2014 research paper from Georgetown University, an individual without a high school diploma could expect to make $400,000 less than a person with that credential. With lower earnings come missed revenue opportunities for the broader community. Beyond the statistics, adults often walk through our doors because they’re unable to help their children with their homework or they need to build their skills so they can be a more engaged neighbor and citizen.

That’s where Academy of Hope comes in. AoH was founded in 1985 by two teachers who believed education could make a difference for those most marginalized, helping them gain the skills needed to acquire jobs and promotions that pay living wages and transform lives of residents, children, families and communities. AoH students can earn a high school diploma through the GED exam or the National External Diploma, and we provide comprehensive resources, supportive services and access to a curriculum that is experiential and focuses on skills that can be immediately applied to equip adults for jobs and life. Beyond instruction, we take a holistic approach to education by providing career development, case management, and life skills coaching.

I have seen firsthand how powerful a difference these services make for learners. During my first week at Academy of Hope, I was working at our site in Southeast DC—an area of the city often associated with crime. One of the learners, a young woman, arrived very upset one morning. She was disruptive, barely held attention while in class, and nearly instigated a fight with another student. She was sent to meet one of the program managers who later learned that this young woman’s cousin was killed only a few days before class restarted.

An AoH staff member, who is also a native of Southeast DC, consoled her and encouraged her not to let this obstacle—one that is so tragically common among youth in inner cities across America—make her lose faith in herself nor her mission. The staff member offered words of sympathy and determination, and while the situation remained heavy, the student left the conversation just a little bit lighter.

The goal of obtaining education is not only to prepare to compete for the jobs this new century demands, but it is also to succeed in the quintessential pursuit of knowledge and contentment gained by understanding our world better. At Academy of Hope, we know that educational success requires so much more than just good study habits.  We know that educational success is demonstrated through more than test scores. We know that educational success goes beyond the individual student. Our founding vision is proudly displayed in our front hall: “The Academy of Hope will be a school in which the main subject for everyone, teachers and students alike, is not reading, writing, or math, but hope.” For Todd, that young woman in Southeast and for myself, class is in session and hope is plentiful.

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