Executive Director Maureen Holla on HAP
Higher Achievement operates out-of-school time Achievement Centers at four public schools in the District of Columbia and one in Alexandria, Virginia, serving 460 students. Three days a week for 26 weeks, the After School Academies take students when the school day adjourns at 3:30 pm and keeps them until 8:00 pm. For the first 90 minutes, students attend a study hall supervised by school teachers and Higher Achievement staff where they receive homework assistance, followed by a light dinner. After dinner there are multicultural studios, ranging from African drumming to sign language, from 5 to 6 pm. Each student takes three studios (a different one each day of the week) that last all semester.
The last two hours of every day are spent in small groups working on literature, math, or technology with volunteer mentors. Every student spends one evening a week studying each topic. The mentoring groups - usually no more than three students - are led by professionals and college students from the community who commit to teach at least one night per week for the entire school year.
At the Summer Academies, the students are enrolled for 40 hours per week, taught by trained faculty in a rigorous mandatory curriculum including mathematics, science, social studies, and literature, as well as two elective cultural or arts classes.
The final component of Higher Achievement is its Follow-Through Program, designed to ensure the continuing success of its scholars after they graduate from middle school. To help its students get into the area's best high schools and into college, Higher Achievement offers 10-week test preparation classes, application and financial aid workshops, school visits, and individualized support for families as they navigate the high school admissions process.
Higher Achievement works to connect young people with the opportunity to realize their dreams," explains Maureen Holla, executive director of Higher Achievement. "Our scholars are hard-working children with ambition. We tap into that ambition and challenge them to think further; then they try harder and achieve more."
At each academy, Higher Achievement fosters a culture of learning by publicly celebrating the work and academic achievement of its young scholars - the term Higher Achievement always uses to further emphasize its high expectations of the students. Together, the summer and after-school academies add over 650 hours of instruction to each student's school year.
"This is a critical intervention in a child's life, and time on task matters," says Carlos Garcia, president of Higher Achievement's board of directors. "We envelop children in this environment, where excellence is the standard."
True to its principle that talent is everywhere, Higher Achievement does not "cream" the best students off the top. Approximately half of its entering students have grade point averages of C or D. Having served over 10,000 students since its founding in 1975, many of whom have returned to Washington as teachers and community activists - including rejoining the program as mentors and board members - the full extent of Higher Achievement's impact on the youth of the District of Columbia is almost impossible to quantify. Historically, the academic turnaround of its students has been stunning, with 95 percent of the students who completed Higher Achievement's full four-year program having gone on to college.
Quantifying its impact on the academic success of its current students is a Higher Achievement priority. Researchers from Columbia University and Public/Private Ventures are conducting a study to evaluate Higher Achievement and to help other programs. "One of the project's goals is to design an evaluation methodology that can be used by smaller non-profits that are in the process of expanding," explains Dr. Leigh Linden, a Columbia Economics Professor and one of the study's co-investigators. "It's important to determine what makes these programs effective before we invest the necessary resources to replicate them."
According to Dr. Jean Grossman, Senior Vice President for Research at Public/Private Ventures, Higher Achievement is an ideal subject for a new evaluation study in several key respects. The program is well run and represents a new, more rigorous twist on traditional supplementary academic supports. In addition, unlike other after-school programs that provide one or two specific activities to engage students, such as tutoring or sports, Higher Achievement is a comprehensive program that partners with existing schools in the after-school hours to help underserved youth achieve academic excellence.
The research team has designed an evaluation that eliminates the selection biases of previous studies. While Higher Achievement currently accommodates approximately 200 new scholars each year, it also has a long waiting list of potential participants. Rather than enrolling the first 200 eligible applicants and then closing down enrollment, the fall 2006 recruitment process will identify 400 qualified applicants for the program. The researchers will then randomly offer admission to half the group to fill Higher Achievement's slots. The academic progress of all of the 400 applicants included in the admissions lottery will be followed over time, allowing a direct and definitive measure of Higher Achievement's impact.
Higher Achievement has been widely recognized for its academic rigor, use of technology, and professional management. Among its many awards are the 2005 Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management for it outstanding planning, governance, risk management, evaluation, and technology, the national Johns Hopkins University Excellence in Summer Learning Award, and the Accenture/NPower Award for Innovation in Technology. The president's Investing in America's Youth Initiative has featured Higher Achievement and during an April 2005 visit, President Bush said that "If you're interested in what works, look at this program, because the results are clear."