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Docs In Progress: Small but Mighty!

by Erica Ginsberg, Executive Director, Docs In Progress
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Everyone has a story, and almost everyone has the potential to tell those stories through a tool you probably have in your back pocket or purse. Documentary video production has expanded enormously in the past decade with reduced costs of technology and the ease of sharing video. Yet simply having access to tools to make and share videos does not automatically make one a great storyteller. That is where Docs In Progress comes in. Our mission is to give individuals the tools to tell stories through documentary film to educate, inspire, and transform the way people view their world.

Our programs started in 2004 when we started organizing “docs-in-progress” screenings so local documentary filmmakers could get feedback on their films when they were at the “rough cut” stage. It was a way to help filmmakers step back from projects they’ve been living with for so long — often years — in production and editing, and see their films with new eyes by hearing what audiences thought was working really well and where the storytelling lagged or was confusing. While we presumed these screenings would attract other filmmakers, we were pleasantly surprised to see other folks coming as well, including people who were interested in the topics of the films and those who were experts on those topics.DocsInProgress_CommunityStoriesFestival

We became a nonprofit in 2008, and increased our programming to include programs for filmmakers to share and discuss works which might be at an even earlier stage, as well as training classes and professional development workshops in all aspects of documentary filmmaking for both adults and youth. Since then, we have expanded to offer an array of filmmaker services (fiscal sponsorship, fellowship programs, and a residency) and an annual Community Stories Film Festival which showcases short documentaries produced by our students and others about local stories from across the Washington DC Metro area. We have also worked to foster professional development for nonprofit organizations in the areas of video communications through seminars and workshops.

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Audio-visual storytelling used to be the domain of filmmakers who went to film school or spent years apprenticing to develop their craft mastering expensive and complicated cameras, sound recording devices, and editing systems. Now all of these tools are much more accessible through low-priced cameras, high quality imaging on our phones, and editing systems on our computers. However, technology is just a means to an end. Good storytelling is still at the core. While we have embraced the reality that many people have stories to tell without the time or money to dedicate to film school or apprenticeship, we still want to arm them with the skills and community to be able to develop those stories to their fullest potential.

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Success is all relative. I quit a comfortable job in the federal government to devote myself full-time to Docs In Progress back in 2009. Many people thought I was bonkers to go into the great unknown of a start-up arts organization in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression. And I probably was. The early years of Docs In Progress were very hard, but it made us scrappy and determined to ensure that we had a good mix of income streams – grants, individuals, and earned revenue from our programs.

After a few years, we began to receive grants from local, regional, and national sources, including the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Being accepted into the Catalogue for Philanthropy convinced me that we could continue through the long haul.

I would still consider Docs In Progress a “small but mighty” nonprofit. Last year, more than 1000 people participated in our programs. People are often surprised to learn that our staff consists of only me and two part-time staff. A cadre of talented teaching artists and an enthusiastic board of has helped us continue to grow. Seeing the impact we were making on the field and being a part of fostering what has become the third largest non-fiction filmmaking region in the country (after New York and Los Angeles) has been what has kept us going, even as we want to keep building our capacity.

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I am inspired every day by the folks in our community. Yes there are the films which have seen traditional markers of success. Let The Fire Burn, The Lost Dream, Fate of a Salesman, The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan, and City of Trees all screened on public television. Indivisible has been playing at film festivals and community screenings across the country, building dialogue about immigration policy. There are some incredible films coming down the pike which deal with just about every social issue you can imagine — labor issues, autism, water pollution, human rights, and the state of our divisive politics. There are also some humorous films which go against the grain that documentaries are all doom and gloom, asking us to reflect even as we laugh.

Even as I feel proud of these successes, I also see success in the confident smile of a shy 13-year-old at the Community Stories Festival after answering questions from an audience of strangers about a film he helped create in our summer camp. I have witnessed the “a-ha moment” a first-time filmmaker experiences when she moves from being creatively stuck to figuring out a solution to the structure of their film. I feel it when I learn that two filmmakers met at one of our roundtables and decided to collaborate on a new project together. I notice it when someone who didn’t think he was all that important becomes a rock star to the audience watching his life unfold on the big screen. In a world where we are asked so many times to provide measurable outcomes, sometimes it is these small observations which remind me why Docs In Progress exists.

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There are lots of ways to engage with Docs In Progress. We hold free or pay-what-you-can screenings just about every month. Some of these are works-in-progress where you can provide the filmmaker constructive feedback on what is working and what can be working better in their films (even non-filmmakers can be helpful because we all consciously or sub-consciously can sense where story development is strong and where it might be slow or confusing).

Like many other nonprofits, we are always on the lookout for great board members. Being a filmmaker or part of the film industry is not a pre-requisite. Being passionate about our mission and having some skills (fundraising, accounting, public relations, etc.) are.

For our fellow nonprofits, we also have two ways your work could be spotlighted. When we are teaching first-time filmmakers how to make a short documentary, we have them work on doing a profile of local people, small businesses, or nonprofits. While these are primarily learning exercises for our students and not professional works-for-hire, some of them turn out very nicely and have actually been used by the profiled nonprofits for their own outreach. One thing we realized, as we have interacted with other nonprofits through professional associations and having our students document their activities, is how much impactful stories can be conveyed through visuals. If a still image is worth 1000 words, then a moving image might be worth a million. Not just metaphorically either. Some funders, including our local arts council, recommend applicants provide a video with their proposals. Find out more about the parameters for being spotlighted by our students at http://www.docsinprogress.org/doc_production_stories

Since 2015, we have also offered a video production workshop specifically for nonprofit staff to expand their visual communications skills. This workshop is offered two mornings a week over the course of a month at a much lower fee than our regular production classes. The 2017 workshop will take place July 11-August 1. The deadline to apply is June 19. Find out more at https://eventgrid.com/Events/33604/hands-on-video-production-for-nonprofits-ie1-1113/Dates/45168

“It’s Pay It Forward Time . . . “

Aerospace Engineer Charles Cisneros Gives Back as a RESET Volunteer
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Charles helps students set up the “wheel and axle” experiment, using his granddaughter’s tricycle.

By Charles Cisneros

A couple of years ago, I began volunteering with RESET, an education nonprofit that introduces children to real scientists and provides hands-on science-technology-engineering-math (STEM) learning opportunities to children between the ages of 4 and 12. RESET is an ideal match for my background and my desire to “pay it forward” in a meaningful way.

I am a former aerospace engineer. I worked for 33 years as an Air Force officer and 13 years for SAIC as a system test planner for the National Missile defense program. I retired in 2009. I had done other kinds of volunteer work over the years, but when I ran across a RESET recruitment ad in The Washington Post, I was instantly intrigued. After chatting with Executive Director John Meagher, I liked what I heard about the program. I felt RESET’s investment was well focused and that it did a great job of fostering an exchange of ideas and in providing resources and STEM curriculum support for schools in the DC area.

RESET’s work is so critical for our country’s future. We will always need highly trained scientists and engineers to solve complex technical, health, and engineering problems. When I first started with RESET, I volunteered at Moorefield Station Elementary School. At the time, I had also been doing a lot of local charity golf tournaments. One of the charities we supported was Sugarland Elementary School, a low-income school, located in Loudoun County.

I went home and did a little research on schools in the area. I checked out some government sources on scholastic performance and discovered that Sugarland, a Title 1 school, was one of the lowest performing schools in the county. Sugarland is not an affluent school, so it can be challenging for them to compete in a high-income county like Loudoun. Having come from a low-income background myself, I felt a strong pull towards bringing RESET programs to these students. I contacted John and offered to expand my volunteer work to Sugarland. John very quickly set up a meeting with school officials. They accepted our help and we will soon complete our first school year there, leading RESET programs for a diverse student body that includes many Hispanic students. Now, I volunteer at both schools, working mostly with third-graders.

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Charles’ class at Sugarland Elementary during a session on renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Following a scavenger hunt where the class was divided into “coal miners” and “wind millers,” Charles surprised his students with lab coats, to their obvious delight. One of RESET’s primary goals is to get children to think and behave like real scientists.

I was fortunate to have had several adults in my life who believed in me and encouraged me. That’s why I was so eager to work with students from less advantaged backgrounds. I thought, “Now it’s time to give something back.” From personal experience I know it just takes one spark to ignite an interest and a passion for science, one that can grow into a future career and life path. My own inspiration came from two sources: As a child in the 1950s, I used to watch Walt Disney TV programs about the challenges of breaking into outer space. This, along with the national alarm after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, motivated me towards a science or engineering career.

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Students at Moorefield Station Elementary School confer on an experiment on a block and tackle pulley.

My experiences with my students have been wonderful. The one thing I am always delighted and amazed to discover is how bright and precocious they are. Young minds are naturally curious and open, no matter where they come from or how much they have. They are limited only by resources and opportunity.

And some classroom experiences are definitely more memorable than others. For example, during one session with my third graders, I intended to demonstrate the pull of the moon’s gravity on the oceans using a balloon filled with water. Typically, the normally spherical balloon would be pulled out of shape by the force of gravity, thus illustrating my point. I’ve performed this demo many times, but this time I allowed a student to hold the water-filled balloon by the top end. Unexpectedly, he bounced the balloon up and down. Not surprisingly, it burst, dousing him, me, and the floor with water (and there may have been some additional collateral damage). We all had a good laugh and achieved a much better appreciation of the force of gravity than if the experiment had gone off without a hitch.

Gail Brady, Principal at Sugarland, and STEAM lab teacher Darielle Robinson recently shared with me what RESET has meant to Sugarland students this year:

“Working with RESET has been such a valuable experience for our students. Through RESET our students often have had the chance to be exposed to individuals that share their ethnic background and have had careers in the field of science. Charles has given our students the chance to see an individual that has overcome certain circumstances and used education has a means of living a full life. It’s been especially helpful having Charles bring to life the concepts that our students learn in class. He has been pivotal in providing our students with learning experiences that they may not otherwise experience outside of school.”

RESET serves Pre-Kindergarten through 8th-grade. We offer in-school, after-school, and summer and weekend programs. There are many options for volunteering, including working as a team through your workplace. Volunteers are working and professional scientists, engineers, and technologists, ranging in age from 18 through 90. Our volunteers have a professional background or educational interest in STEM professions, and we represent a wide range of fields, from forensic anthropology to computer science, but you need not have teaching experience to volunteer with us. RESET does an excellent job of providing training, resources, and feedback so you go into the classroom confident and prepared.

To volunteer for RESET, please contact John Meagher at 703-250-0236. Have a fundraising idea? Contact Development Director Lyndi Schrecengost at 202-365-5963.

A great way to engage with RESET is to “like” and share our posts on social media:

https://www.facebook.com/RESETDC/
https://twitter.com/ReSETonline
https://www.youtube.com/user/resetonlinevideo
https://www.linkedin.com/company/reset-organization
http://resetonline.org/blog/

A Local Recipe for Healthy Kids

by Emma Boel, City Blossoms
IMG_6151 City Blossoms is a nonprofit dedicated to fostering healthy, diverse communities by developing creative, kid-driven green spaces and innovative resources.

Working out of Washington DC as its home base, City Blossoms innovates new resources and techniques in urban, educational gardening and youth empowerment. City Blossoms facilitates local empowerment within predominantly black and Latino populations by partnering with schools and organizations, maintaining Community Green Spaces, and offering tools and trainings to educators and community leaders. Their holistic approach incorporates art, gardens, science, cooking, healthy living, and community building into one joyful and educational experience for people of all ages.
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The nonprofit reached a total of 3,500 students at its gardens in 2016, and boasted 300 hours of free programming at its two community green spaces in the same year. Washingtonians rave about the results. One garden parent, a city native, insists, “Programs like City Blossoms are absolutely vital to the youth of DC.”

This impactful work has recently resulted in an exciting new outcome: City Blossoms just printed a cookbook.
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Garden Gastronomy, Gastronomia del Jardin is a vibrant collection of bilingual recipes designed to help children become enthusiastic and healthy chefs. Perfect for the educator, parent, or veggie enthusiast interested in sharing the joy of cooking with kids, this artfully constructed book is full of colorful photographer and cheerful illustration to make it an appealing treat for readers of all ages. The book includes 32 bilingual garden recipes, guidance on cooking seasonally with local produce, and tips for preparing food with kids.

The recipes include snacks and dishes like Sunflower Seed Pesto, Strawberry Mint Salad, and Garden Ramen. It’s a valuable product in-and-of-itself, however, the book’s most important feature may be its local roots.

Every recipe has been made time and time again by thousands of little hands. Every dish comes with the approval of young DC gardeners, who have built this book in the same way they have built their gardens: themselves. City Blossoms wrote and published the book after testing and tasting each recipe in the gardens with young chefs. They hope it will reach educators, gardeners, parents, and food justice activists. They hope it will find readership around the country. However, they know that these dishes have already made their way into the homes of the children who provided the energy for its creation, and that feels like a great start.
FullSizeRender 8The best days at City Blossoms are those full of community. We love to have volunteers at our garden work days, participants in our Open Time programming, and visitors at our public Community Green Spaces. To buy a copy of the cookbook, to connect with us, or to become a member of our essential team of donors and partners, visit our website at cityblossoms.org.

LearnServe Helps Young People Find Their Voice

By Scott Rechler, Learn Serve International

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LearnServe believes in the power of young people to affect social change, and in the power of social change work to shape young leaders.

Youth have the energy, creativity, and passion to identify injustice and drive innovative change,yet often feel powerless to act on that potential. LearnServe helps them find their voice. We envision a new generation of young leaders standing up for the issues that matter to them most.
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A basketball tournament designed to bridge DC teens and police officers. English classes for immigrant and refugee students in northern Virginia. Support for girls building self-confidence and a healthy body image. A fleet of electric school buses. Meet the high school students behind these dynamic new ideas and more at the 8th Annual LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair on Thursday, April 27 from 5:00 – 8:00 pm at Washington Latin Public Charter School (5200 2nd St NW, Washington, DC 20011).
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Students teams will present their ideas in short pitches to panels of business and community leaders, and in a science-fair style exhibition with the opportunity to win up to $200 in seed funding for their projects. RSVP online at http://learn-serve.org/programs/fellows/2017-panels-venture-fair.

LearnServe International is a non-profit organization that equips students from diverse backgrounds with the entrepreneurial vision, tenacity, confidence, and leadership skills needed to tackle social challenges at home and abroad.

Each year LearnServe brings together 100+ students from public, charter, and independent schools in the Washington, DC area. We strengthen their academic and professional success through three complementary programs. The LearnServe Fellows program guides students as they design and launch entrepreneurial ventures with social goals. LearnServe Abroad introduces social innovation through a global lens, as students volunteer with entrepreneurs overseas. Seeding Social Innovation offers curriculum materials to bring social entrepreneurship into the classroom.

We invite you to join the community of individuals, businesses, and schools committed to sparking a new generation of social entrepreneurs across the DC region. Get involved and learn more about our programs at www.learn-serve.org.

Saving the Amazon Rainforest with Science

By Ana Folhadella, Development and Communications Associate, Amazon Conservation Association

The Amazon rainforest is under attack. While the region still maintains vast tracts of intact, megadiverse, and carbon-rich forests, it faces escalating threats from illegal gold mining, illegal logging, illegal drug plantations, unsustainable agriculture, cattle pastures, and road construction. At current rates, more than half of the Amazon rainforest may be destroyed or severely damaged by 2030.

Keeping the Amazon standing is crucial for our survival as a species. The Amazon has long been recognized as one of the most biologically rich regions on Earth. It is home to millions of species of animals, plants and insects, essential not only to the indigenous communities living in the region, but also to the overall health of our planet. The rainforest is not just some far-away land that gets showcased at National Geographic specials from time to time, and deforestation happening there affects us right here in the U.S.A. This forest stores 80 to 120 billion tons of carbon, which helps stabilize the Earth’s climate. Destroying such a large storage of carbon will have devastating effects on all of our lives.
ACA5 The Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) was established for the sole purpose of protecting the Amazon rainforest and all those who call it home. Since 1999, we have been pioneers in conservation, focusing our efforts on a key area where the Amazon rainforest meets the Andes mountains in Peru and Bolivia.

Our founding program provided financial and technical support for Brazil nut harvesters in Peru, as an incentive for helping protect the Amazon rainforest. We now work with more than 100 communities in the Andes-Amazon to help them make a living in ways that also sustain biodiversity in the forest and have widely expanded our conservation efforts into other areas. Moreover, now we:

  • Protect over 3.8 million acres of Amazonian rainforest through the creation of legally recognized protected areas and other conservation strategies;
  • Plant tens of thousands of trees every year to help restore damaged habitats;
  • Use innovative satellite imagery to monitor deforestation in near-real time and alert key stakeholders of potential illegal activities;
  • Host hundreds of researchers annually, who advance our understanding about biodiversity, conservation methods, and the impacts of climate change;
  • Partner with indigenous communities to develop forest-friendly livelihoods;
  • And much more!

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A vital part of our conservation approach is the use of cutting-edge science to inform projects on the ground, promote rational discourse on tough policy questions, and educate and inspire the next generation of conservationists. To this end, we manage some of the best biological research stations in the tropics where each year we host hundreds of scientists and students from all over the world, conduct biological monitoring, and provide workshops and educational opportunities for local communities.

To this date over 200 research projects have been conducted at our stations, including studies on the effects of climate change on amphibians, the impact of overgrazing on threatened high altitude wetlands, the dynamics of mixed-flocks of birds, the diet of Andean bears, and the diversity of orchids in the region.

Dr. Miles Silman, Professor and Director at the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability at Wake Forest University stated that ACA’s field stations are our laboratories and windows into the future of Earth’s highest biodiversity area. They are important not only to understand biodiversity now, but how it will survive in the future.

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Our scientific approach can also be seen in our Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), where we use high-resolution satellite imagery from sources like NASA to track deforestation in the Amazon and analyze its causes. Not only do we use science to track this deforestation in near real-time, we also have formed closed alliances with local authorities who now use this data as a key piece of information to stop deforestation before it gets to a point of no return. The information we publicly post on MAAP is strictly scientific and unbiased, which helps authorities and lawmakers utilize it to further conservation efforts.

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Not only do we use science-based conservation in all of our protection efforts, we also strive to train the next generation of conservationists who will be at the forefront of environmental conservation years from now. We believe that supporting new conservationists early in their careers will be key in ensuring the Amazon is protected by trained experts for generations to come.

ACA’s very own General Science Coordinator, Sandra Almeyda, started off as a scholarship recipient and is now a full-on biologist contributing to the protection of the Amazon. “I started my scientific career thanks to a scholarship granted by ACA to develop my undergraduate thesis,” she says, “now as the General Science Coordinator, one of my main motivations is to inspire young scientist and provide them with opportunities to follow their passion, to experience science first hand, and to fall in love with their profession, like I did.”

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We hope you will join our conservation journey to keep the Amazon rainforest safe and our climate in check. You can make a difference by:

Learn more about how your support is helping protect the Amazon and how you can become a conservation hero at http://www.amazonconservation.org/.

PS: All the beautiful images in this post were taken at our biological stations in Peru and have NOT been photoshopped! Come experience this magical place in person!

DC SCORES is Team!

Spring, it seems, is here to stay in Washington, DC, and for one nonprofit after-school program, that means service.

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At DC SCORES, elementary and middle school students across the District — 2,200 of them — create change in their communities during the 12-week season through service-learning projects.

Writing coaches hired by DC SCORES80% of whom work at the schools — lead students through the program’s thick service-learning curriculum, taking them on a journey that goes like this:

Stage 1: Examine your community. Kids walk around their school building and into the surrounding neighborhood, equipped with clipboards and a pencil. They jot down what rubs them the wrong way. Is there a lot of trash? Homeless people suffering? A lack of gardens? Stray animals?

Stage 2: Research. After a collaborative decision on which issue to focus on, the kids educate themselves. They look up statistics online. They talk to people who are relevant to the issue locally. They become informed.

Stage 3: Implementation. It’s time to go to work! During the two service-learning sessions after school each week, the kids — feeling empowered like never before — take the steps as a team to create change. Some projects culminate in a big day (examples: a car wash to raise money to feed the homeless; a fun race to fundraise for the local animal shelter; a fitness festival to bring awareness about healthy living to their school community) while others are multi-week processes such as the creation of a school garden.

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Stage 4: Reflection. The last week of the spring DC SCORES service-learning season is spent reflecting on the project. What were the biggest challenges? What felt most rewarding? How did the kids feel when it we completed? Many lessons come out of these projects, and the elementary and middle school poet-athletes in DC SCORES learn just how powerful they are to make a difference in their communities, especially when working together.

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DC SCORES was born in 1994 by a Teach for America teacher, Julie Kennedy, who noticed that girls she taught at Marie Reed Learning Center (now Marie Reed Elementary School) had nothing to do after school. Julie rolled out a soccer ball one day, and the girls embraced the game. On a rainy afternoon, with everyone stuck inside, Julie placed a notebook in front of each girl and and encouraged them to freely write down their thoughts about anything. The poetry aspect, which takes place during the fall season and culminates in the annual Poetry Slam!, came about. Service-learning was added as the third prong of the innovate model shortly thereafter.

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DC SCORES goes where kids in need are — they operate in all eight wards, with 55 sites at DC public and public charter schools and rec centers; the program’s waiting list is 20 schools deep — and gives them the skills and confidence to be successful on the playing field, in the classroom, and in life.

Every aspect of DC SCORES, from the weekly game days to the Slam! to service-learning, is based around team and led by supported, trusted coaches who are considered leaders in their school communities. If you are in Columbia Heights or Deanwood or many other DC neighborhoods, you will see kids and adults walking around in DC SCORES school-customized T-shirts. They wear them proudly.

DC SCORES is team. And the bonds created within DC SCORES lead to stronger, healthier, happier communities throughout the District regardless of resources available. Just consider Imagine Hope Community Charter School – Tolson Campus, which last year created a school garden on its blacktop out of recycled soda bottles.

Give kids an outlet, the confidence, and the tools to make their world a better place, and the result will be beautiful.

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GET INVOLVED
So how can you get involved with DC SCORES this spring?

Volunteer: DC SCORES especially needs volunteers for its season-culminating Jamboree! on Saturday, June 3 for all 2,200 kids and their families. Many roles are available. Additionally, referees are needed for Thursday game days (no experience necessary). Check out all volunteer opportunities HERE.

Website: Learn more about DC SCORES at www.DCSCORES.org or by connecting with the program on any social media platform (just search DC SCORES).

Building Remarkable Futures, One Middle School Student at a Time

By Cynthia Rubenstein, Executive Director – Passion for Learning

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It’s not what you pour into a child, it’s what you plant. - Unknown

Passion for Learning (P4L) engages economically disadvantaged middle school students in Montgomery County through digital technology, after school programs, and college readiness summer camps. Coached by talented school teachers, digital tech professionals and high school student mentors, our youth become savvy and responsible digital citizens with aspirations and plans for bright futures.

Middle school is the perfect time to engage youth in dreaming and building their futures. At Passion for Learning we know it is critically important to engage students in their middle school years and help them prepare for successful transitions to high school, as well as, develop goals for post secondary education.

In Montgomery County, academic enrichment opportunity gaps continue to exist for students of color and students from low income families. At P4L we aim to close these opportunity gaps by surrounding middle school youth with adults and older students who expose them to exciting possibilities in technology and help them develop their potential and talents.

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Every year P4L engages 120 plus students at eight middle schools who develop digital technology skills and interests. Each year at least 80% of P4L’s youth develop new interests in taking digital technology courses in high school and more than 60% plan careers that require technology skills. At least 80% of youth say that our programs help them think about what they want to do in the future and more than 75% say they plan to achieve four year college degrees.

Our middle school youth inspire us with their boundless curiosity, energy and potential. Middle school students are at a remarkable stage in their lives. They are discovering who they are and figuring out their place in the world. They are open to new experiences and exploring new interests that may “spark” them for life. It’s the exuberant and inquisitive spirit of middle school youth that inspires us at P4L!

A typical day at P4L after school program finds students designing video games and learning Java Script or Python programming languages; creating youth videos for local cable tv stations; building circuit boards to power LED lights; taking a digital photography and photo editing workshop from a pro; designing web sites and writing news blogs.

At P4L we are always looking for adults who want to share their knowledge and experiences with our middle school youth. If you’re a tech professional, we’d love to have you meet and engage with our students after school. We’d love to talk to you about the possibilities. Contact us at p4learning@aol.com or call Cynthia Rubenstein, Executive Director, at 301-589-1725.

A Creative Learning Community Where the Sky is the Limit!

By Kathleen Guinan CEO, Crossway Community

kidsCrossway Community promotes learning creativity and community for all families in the greater Washington area since 1990. As a local organization with a global mindset, we have had the privilege of supporting hundreds of children and families while building an innovative model that we try to share with policymakers, educators, and leaders around the world.

Our model of social change is rooted in Montessori philosophy and principles. Maria Montessori was a physician and teacher who was working in Italy in the early twentieth century. Using her method, viewing people as naturally curious and motivated by practical life and beauty, what we are really doing is creating the environment to nurture and support learning– for every child, parent, and community member who walks through our door.

When we started, we had a vision of becoming a local resource, and a national model. That has held true over time. On our suburban campus in Kensington, MD, a once an abandoned elementary school is now our three learning centers: The Crossway Community Montessori School, The Family Leadership Academy, and The Intergenerational Learning Center.
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These three centers, which are all integrated and Montessori-infused, represent our model children learning, parents thriving, and community connecting. Some families participate in just one of the learning centers, and others are engaged in all three. But it’s because we’ve got them all operating together that the magic happens. That’s how immigrant families are learning to feel at home. It’s how children of working poor parents are gaining the education foundation for a future that includes college. It is why the volunteers who join us tell us they learn as much as they teach.

My hope for the future is the families that continue to show up, wanting to learn, wanting to grow, wanting to contribute. I have seen the resilience, the dignity, and the compassion that they come through with, even when there is so much negativity and conflict. Witnessing the transformations that happen calms my soul and motivates me to keep dong this work. We approach what we do with a constant desire to learn, to get better, to understand more… there is always hope.

One of the most exciting initiatives we are getting involved with comes out of our Intergenerational Learning Center. In the fall, in partnership with a nationally recognized trainer, we’ll be offering a wonderful workshop for professionals and family members of people living with dementia. This is a perfect example of our model in action. The goal of the workshop is to support people living with dementia by creating a prepared environment, filled with cues and memory supports, that enables individuals to care for themselves, others, and their community so that they may live as independently as possible. More information about the workshop is here.

No two days at Crossway Community look quite the same. But, a really great day often begins with the sounds of singing in the Crossway Community Montessori School. We watch the comings and goings of the families who live on-site in the Family Leadership Program, many of whom are new to this country. The parents are working hard to make progress on their work and education, while establishing routines and relationships that support healthy development of their children.

I am always inspired to see the growth in our organic gardens as the weather warms up. And when the senior citizen volunteers show up to do cleanup projects or mentoring their energy is a force to be reckoned with. I am so lucky to be surrounded by a professional team that “gets it” that wants to be part of something big and positive and real. And volunteers whose generosity knows no bounds. But most of all, it’s about the families.

Obviously, as close as we are to DC, we have a view up close and personal of the political landscape. I think the most useful thing we can do is to try to maintain our position as a calm, principled advocate for families, for education, and for social justice. We have to just stay the course, true to what we know matters for the children and families who have entrusted us to be their partner. That keeps us focused.

We love to give tours, and in 2017, our Event Spaces (including a Cafe with a full commercial kitchen, and the Great Room) are available to the public for family, corporate, and community events. New ideas and visitors are always welcome at Crossway Community. As we like to say, the sky’s the limit!

A Safe, Nurturing Place for Girls

The Washington School for Girls – By Kelley Lockard

Kelley Lockard and WSG Students (Class of 2016)

Before 1997, there were few quality educational options or services for girls in Southeast DC. And there was no place where a girl on the verge of womanhood could find mentorship or learn in a safe environment that values her as an individual. That is why the Washington School for Girls (WSG) was founded: to provide a safe, nurturing place for girls to not only learn and grow, but to thrive.

Of course, a lot has changed since the school was founded 20 years ago. More people have started to take an interest in Southeast neighborhoods. There are more resources, more options for education. The community itself is changing. However, through all of these changes there continues to be a strong need for a school that works for and with the community. That’s why WSG is so important, and why our students succeed: we educate the whole child.

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We pride ourselves on providing a holistic model of education, one that accepts not just students, but also families. A student’s experiences at home are just as important as her experience in the classroom. We work with parents to engage them in the educational process and help them access the resources they need to support their daughters as learners.

As an administrator and former teacher, I feel I am most attuned to a student’s needs when I have developed a close relationship with her family. I know that if I can build a long-term, reciprocal relationship with a family then I can truly help a child reach her full potential. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing a girl come into her own after entering the school with nearly every aspect of her life in disarray. That kind of transformation does not happen overnight, and it’s impossible without the support of the family.

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Luckily for me, I’ve witnessed that transformation innumerable times in my years at WSG. It’s what motivates me to do the work that I do. My desk is full of photos of the young women I have helped to transform, and every day I am fortified by their smiles and the knowledge of their achievement. I look at them and know that they will make a positive difference in their communities.

WSG was built on the beliefs and values of extraordinary, courageous women. As we enter Women’s History Month and approach the 20th Anniversary of the school this spring, I am increasingly reflecting on that fact. In the classroom, our students are learning about women who have changed the course of history, but they are also learning leadership skills, whether it’s helping their teachers hand out assignments, leading an after-school club, or mentoring younger students.

I recognize the ability to lead and the determination to do so in many of our students. It is something I have worked hard to incorporate into the curriculum at WSG because I believe that leadership builds confidence and allows students to become more actively engaged in the classroom. Seeing the lightbulb come on over a student’s head is the best feeling the world, and it only happens when that student knows she is capable of more.

My hope for the future is that our students take the lessons they learn at WSG, both in and out of the classroom, to heart. There are many challenges ahead for our country and the world, especially in terms of equality and justice. The most daunting task in my job as an administrator is to ensure that our students are prepared to face those challenges, to navigate a world that does not always value them. I know that they will not be able to do it alone, but I hope that we can give them the knowledge, skills, and courage to overcome adversity.

Posted on my door is a daily affirmation known as the Serenity Prayer. It’s a very popular prayer and my mother’s favorite prayer, but I never appreciated it until I became a teacher. I look at it every day, sometimes several times (depending on the day), because it reminds me to be myself and accept the things I cannot change. Superwoman is not at all a part of my name, but I find strength in accepting that fact and courage to try anyway. If my students walk away from WSG accepting of who they are and still ready to change the world, then I know I will have succeeded.

When Women Have a Chance in Tech

By Elizabeth Lindsey, Executive Director of Byte Back

women in techWomen make up only 25 percent of the computing workforce in the United States. For women of color, this drops drastically, with just 3 percent of the workforce made up of African American women and 1 percent Latina women.

March is Women’s History Month: a time to celebrate progress, recognize deficits, and act for equality. Now is the perfect time to give a woman her start in tech.

In Byte Back’s 20 years, our demographics have never reflected the outside tech world. That’s kind of the point. In 2016, 417 women, or 61 percent of Byte Back’s student body, found empowering tech skills for free at Byte Back.

Byte Back offers a pathway of practical tech training and career services for DC-area residents, leading to professional careers and economic opportunity.
When women are offered the chance to learn and use technology the same as men, women access vital life opportunities, including high-paying jobs, healthcare, sexual and gender violence services, family care, and more.

Underserved, marginalized women who have never thought a career in tech was possible find it at Byte Back:

  • Betty faced years of unemployment and age discrimination. When she got computer training and earned a Microsoft specialist certification, she found a high-paying administrative job at the District of Columbia Superior Courts.
  • Jewel was a teen mother, surviving on government assistance and a job at a supermarket. She earned a certification and found her path as a tech administrator.
  • Lark struggled as a single teen mother and a runaway youth, and felt lost in her career and in life. She found direction and a career thanks to the education and care she received at Byte Back.
  • Olivia had unsteady jobs as a security guard and hairdresser and was homeless, sleeping in her car. Since she earned her CompTIA A+ certification, she has not only found a job but a stable career that allows her to have her own apartment and not just survive but thrive.
  • Lashaun, a current A+ student, works all night and shows up to her class in the morning. She is on her way to becoming certified and landing a job that doesn’t require night shifts.
  • Fatoumata was a recent immigrant from Senegal and a new mother. She got computer training and a certification to start her career and now confidently supports her son as a single mother.

Society told these women a career in tech wasn’t an option. But once they entered Byte Back’s doors, they found confidence and people who believed in their success.
These amazing women are not only changing the face of tech or changing statistics, they are part of a bigger change that’s needed. With technology, women can connect to the world and build connections to employers, friends, and family. With technology, women can move into jobs to support their families – tech jobs, white collar jobs, medical jobs. With technology, women can help their families teach their children, communicate with teachers, open up a world of knowledge.

Aleta computer 2 cropIt doesn’t have to be expensive, or complicated. So much can be solved by teaching women how to use technology. With a small investment in women’s lives, we can have a huge impact on social change.

Today, we urge you to find a way to support women, whether it’s as a mentor, a volunteer, or a supporter of a community organization. Byte Back is opening opportunities for women to cross the digital divide and to advance in IT careers. Groups like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and Lesbians Who Tech are making sure that women are not alone in tech online and in real life.
If we all work together, we can make sure women have the power to use technology to change lives. Please help us continue to bridge digital gaps and gender gaps in tech – email me today at elindsey@byteback.org to become a mentor or hire a Byte Back graduate.
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Byte Back improves economic opportunity by providing computer training and career preparation to underserved Washington, DC metro area residents.
Through free computer and advanced IT certification classes, Byte Back helps graduates gain invaluable skills, experience higher rates of self-confidence, and launch successful new careers. Byte Back’s programs have provided a pathway to technology skill development and fulfilling living-wage careers for thousands of individuals who have struggled with underemployment, unemployment, and poverty.