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Archive for June, 2014

New Club Aims to Create the Next Generation of Global Leaders

RepDevGlobal is a new nonprofit that aims to demystify the field of international development for high school students through after-school programs. And the nation’s capital is a fitting setting to launch a local chapter.

The Thurgood Marshall Academy chapter of RepDevGlobal is the first among all D.C. public and public charter high schools. This is no coincidence. Kimaris Toogood, founder of RepDevGlobal and the club advisor at Thurgood Marshall Academy, explains. “For RepDevGlobal to have a chance, we needed to pilot it in a high performing school where the students are already on a college track.”

Kim brings nearly ten years of academic and field experience throughout the developing world. She’s been a Peacebuilding Advisor to the British Council’s Nigeria Stabilization and Reconciliation Programme, Conflict Prevention Officer for the U.S. Department of State, Conflict Prevention Specialist with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and an Analyst for the Department of Defense – to name just a few of many roles she’s taken around the world in countries such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Yemen. Kim is also a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

Once afternoon a week, student members of RepDevGlobal explore issues that practitioners in the field strive to address, including poverty, gender inequality, and violence. They are also exposed to academic and career options in international development once they go on to college. Kim is particularly interested in exposing students from minority and low-income backgrounds to this field since “minorities are an exceptionally underrepresented demographic in international development.”

Though Kim has been in the field of peacebuilding and international development since finishing her undergraduate education at Clemson University, this career wasn’t a forgone conclusion. “Growing up in Northern Virginia, I wasn’t conscious of international development as a career field,” says Kim. “High schools have so many priorities and understandably, global education just doesn’t fit into the schedule in many schools.” Though she recognizes that her education in international development and peacebuilding issues “has been tremendously rewarding, the building blocks for my passion in global affairs could have been fostered at an even earlier stage.”

There are many misconceptions about international development and peacebuilding, Kim admits. But one of the reasons she launched RepDevGlobal was to engage in a type of myth-busting about what it means to be a professional in this field. In her experience, Kim has observed that “many students, particularly from minority backgrounds, don’t consider international development as a valuable career field. They don’t know about all the different avenues that comprise this field. They don’t realize that they could be an engineer or a doctor but still be engaged in various elements of international development. I want to show students that development doesn’t necessarily have to have this hippy vibe to it and that it’s not just the Peace Corps.”

Kim has observed a range of interests in students who have attended RepDevGlobal meetings. “Some of the students I’ve talked to are thinking about a diplomatic track. Others, like senior Darnell Hudson, who is exploring the military as a career option, have come to RepDevGlobal meetings to get a greater sense of social justice issues around the world.” But Kim sees the benefits of program attendance regardless of a student’s career ambitions: “Awareness and empathy for global development challenges is everyone’s responsibility,” she says. Darnell agrees: “I read a lot of news, and I follow international news really closely because what’s going on internationally can affect our local community.”

From DC to the DR: Dominique Griffin (TMA ’09) Heads to the Dominican Republic to Join the Peace Corps

In August 2014, you can add the Dominican Republic to the list of places where Thurgood Marshall Academy alumni are contributing to the development and growth of local communities. Dominique Griffin (TMA ’09), a 2013 graduate of the University of Vermont, will be headed to the Caribbean nation to begin her two-year Peace Corps placement, where she will be working with local children and families on mental, sexual, and physical health issues. She first gained experience in this field while still in undergrad, at the University of Vermont, where she worked in the outreach department of the school’s student health center to create and deliver a variety of health-related workshops to her peers. “From what I understand about my Peace Corps placement, I’ll probably be doing similar work in the Dominican Republic,” says Dominique.

Dominique’s interest in service extends from her experience at Thurgood Marshall Academy, where one of the school’s graduation requirements – completing 100 hours of community service – first exposed her to the immense value not just to the community, but to her own development, of this emotionally fulfilling kind of work. She continued to pursue community service opportunities while at the University of Vermont. Dominique participated in two “alternative breaks,” traveling to Detroit and New Orleans to volunteer with local organizations making a difference in the lives of local residents.

In Detroit, Dominique worked with an organization called Alternatives for Girls, which provides shelter, tutoring, mentoring, and support for homeless and high-risk girls and young women. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” says Dominique. “We stayed in the shelter with the girls and cooked with them, created different workshops for them to participate in, organized clothes and supplies donations, and helped with after school tutoring.” In New Orleans, Dominique worked with Habitat for Humanity and its ReStore affiliate to build and clean new homes, and to sort through donations of housewares for ReStore’s building materials and home furnishings store.

In considering next-steps following her college graduation, Dominique knew she wanted to gain experience living and working in another country. She initially explored programs for teaching abroad, but “was hesitant about them because I felt that compared to Peace Corps, there would be a disconnect between me and the people I would serving. Teaching would be more of a job, whereas in Peace Corps, you’re immersed with the people and the culture.” When considering her future Peace Corps placements, Dominique indicated preference for Latin and South American countries based on linguistic and cultural familiarity: “At Thurgood Marshall Academy, I took a few Spanish classes, and when I went to [the University of] Vermont, I took a couple classes on Latin American politics and international development – that was the push for me to be interested in that region,” she says. When she returns, Dominique is hoping to translate her time in the Peace Corps into a career in public administration and international development after pursuing a master’s program in one of these subject areas.

Dominique’s advice for other college graduates aspiring to join the Peace Corps is to “have patience – it’s a process. I thought everything would happen quickly but it takes a long time. I started the application about a year ago, and it took me about a week to finish. You not only need to give them your resume background, but also your language preferences to make sure you’ll be placed in an appropriate country.” Once accepted, “there are so many things you have to do from shots to paperwork to getting work visas for your country.” Despite the extensive application and interview process, Dominique wholeheartedly recommends the program to students interested in living and learning abroad: “Definitely go for it,” she says.

The Tradition Lives On: Thurgood Marshall Academy’s 10th Annual Commencement Ceremony Celebrates 100% College Acceptance for its Largest Class to Date

Thurgood Marshall Academy’s college-going culture is deeply entrenched in every graduating class. Year after year, students, many of whom had never pictured themselves on a college campus prior to enrolling at Thurgood Marshall Academy, graduate ready and anxious to begin their undergraduate education. Mr. Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College and Alumni Programs, remarks on this transformation, noting “Through it all, the seniors have persevered from doe-eyed freshmen to capable and adaptable college-bound students.”

In the tradition of the past ten graduating cohorts, 100% of Thurgood Marshall Academy’s seniors gained acceptance to college; they were accepted at over 90 different colleges and universities, including top-tier schools such as Yale University, Stanford University, Bates College, Rice University, University of California – Irvine, and The George Washington University. They represent a breadth of academic and professional interests, representative of the range of classes available to students at Thurgood Marshall Academy. The graduates “are majoring in fields from nursing to journalism to engineering, and attending colleges from Maine to California” in pursuit of their dreams, says Emma Levine, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Alumni Program Manager/Associate College Counselor.

In addition to being admitted to some of the nation’s top universities, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s graduating seniors have also been offered over $5.7 million in scholarships by universities and private foundations that have taken note of the remarkable successes of these students, both in and out of the classroom.

These include one Gates Millennium Scholarship – a full tuition award that continues through graduate school for students who pursue in-demand field such as science, technology, engineering, math, or education; three POSSE Foundation scholarships; 44 DC Achievers scholarships through the DC College Success Foundation; and full-tuition scholarships at institutions such as Yale, Stanford, and The George Washington University. Says Ms. Levine: “As a whole, this class has received the greatest amount in scholarship money in the school’s history. They are notable not just for their size (the largest class yet at Thurgood Marshall Academy), but also for their scholarship successes.”

Stewart Gray, valedictorian of the Class of 2014, and the recipient of the Gates Millenuium Scholarship, received $1.1 million in university scholarships alone; in the fall, he is heading to Palo Alto, California to study electrical engineering at Stanford University. This year, Stanford University accepted just 6% of undergraduate applicants. In addition to Stanford University, Stewart was also accepted – and offered full scholarships to – Northwestern University, Rice University, and Pomona College, among many others.

While Thurgood Marshall Academy’s annual graduation ceremony typically takes place at the school, in the gymnasium it shares with neighboring Savoy Elementary School, this year, with over 80 graduates taking the stage, the school needed a larger venue, Matthew Memorial Baptist Church, to accommodate the proud families, mentors, and friends of Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Class of 2014.

Executive Director Alexandra Pardo, who has closely followed the development of seniors through their time at Thurgood Marshall Academy, says the Class of 2014 stood out not only for its size and its accomplishments, but also for its character. “This was a very cohesive group that was determined to succeed together and support their classmates with passion,” says Mrs. Pardo. “They had a sense of unity and identity as a class that we haven’t seen in a senior class in several years.”

For the new graduates, the June 12th ceremony will not be their last memory of Thurgood Marshall Academy. Ms. Levine, the Alumni Program Manager, says “We could not be more thrilled for the Class of 2014 and we welcome them to the Thurgood Marshall Academy alumni community!”