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Archive for September, 2015

Programs Director Gives Insight on Enrichment Activities

HBGIn this Q&A, Thurgood Marshall Academy’s Program Director, Brandelyn Anderson, sheds light on the importance of enrichment activities and after-school programs. She is head of the Programs Department, which manages and implements more than 20 diverse programs that students participate in every day after school. The programs are designed to expand the learning experience and to introduce students to a number of specialties that help them discover hidden talents. Mrs. Anderson also started the Happy Black Girls Club, a ladies-only program that focuses on building self-esteem.

TMA: Why is it important for students to have a range of extra-curricular programming to participate in?
Mrs. Anderson: High school students are in a really interesting place in life. Quite naturally, at this stage in their lives, they are trying to figure out who they are. By offering a variety of extracurricular programing, we give students a myriad of avenues to explore their interests and talents.


TMA: There appears to be a nice balance between academic related programming like Homework Help, Law Firm Tutoring, and Law Day and social clubs like the fashion club, dance club and drama club. Explain the importance of making both options available for students.
Mrs. Anderson: Law Firm tutoring and Law Day are programs that were designed to enhance the law theme of Thurgood Marshall Academy. Students receive grades or credit for these mandatory programs that give students a closer look at what it means to advocate for themselves and their peers. By providing these unique law related services, students learn legal skills that they can apply to their everyday lives. Programs like homework help were deigned to create a safe, quiet space for students to simply complete their assignments before they go home. With additional access to resources such as the computer lab, library and printers, as well as teachers and tutors who provide one-on-one attention, they learn to prioritize school work and projects. But, TMA also want students to have creative outlets. So that’s where clubs like the Fashion Club or the Drama Club come into play. Students are able to embrace deeper talents that can be nurtured through segmented programs and clubs. The range of creative outlets give students a borderless space to explore buried truths about themselves that eventually come to life.


TMA: How do all programs enrich students’ academics and explain how participation in these programs make college applications more attractive?
Mrs. Anderson: Any college admissions counselor will admit that a 4.0 GPA isn’t the only accomplishment they’re looking for on college applications. Today, a student with a 3.5 GPA and a long list of leadership experience, work experience, and community service experience makes a student attractive and a college application all the more impressive. Participating in enrichment programs enable students to learn how to manage time, prioritize their work load, create systems of success for themselves, and discover hidden talents and interests; these are qualities that are attractive to any college admissions counselor.


TMA: How do students respond to programs that build their characters? How have you seen a change in their performance?
Mrs. Anderson: Students are often leery of programs that are designed to build character. However, once the space is determined to be a safe space, free of judgement where they can be themselves, students begin to blossom and put aside their initial fears. I started the group HBG (Happy Black Girls) as a way to celebrate positivity and happiness with Black women. I handpicked a group of girls who, I discovered, needed a little more extra support and love. I remember the girls being extremely hesitant at the first HBG meeting. They were afraid to open up and let go. But after our first meeting, the girls began thinking of each other as sisters. In that moment, they began to grow. The girls went from having several detentions in one day, failing classes and having high absences, to passing major projects like portfolio with a B or higher, making honor roll and excelling in AP and honors classes. HBG has had a tremendous impact for sure.


TMA: How can partnerships and grants help sustain programs?
Mrs. Anderson: Outside partnerships help students get a fresh perspective. They have resources and programmatic ideas that the school would not otherwise be able to tap into. Programs like SeaPerch teach students how to build underwater robots. HERO, a youth development type of program, works with our young men to provide them with life skills and scholarship opportunities that TMA would not otherwise have access to. Without grants and the generous support of our donors, we wouldn’t be able to have a robust programs department at TMA. We offer more than 20 after-school and enrichment programs. More than 80% of our students participate in these programs. Because of the extra financial support and investment that our donors make, our students have access to wrap-around supports that enhance what they learn in the classroom and give them the opportunities to explore the world before them.



Mrs. Anderson participates in Anti-bullying week

TMA: What is your vision for the Programs department next school year?
Mrs. Anderson: I would like to have more student input on the types of programs we create. Our students have unique and diverse needs. The good news is that if we work alongside students, they can communicate what they hope to get out of the Programs Department and can express the types of activities that will give them a better high school experience and empower them for college. Student input is key. In fact, the Student Government Association (SGA), advised by the Programs Department but led by the students, has taken an active role in voicing what students need and holding the Programs Department accountable for exploring new options. For example, last year’s SGA team worked closely with the Programs Department to plan a series of events for the school’s first-ever Anti-bullying Week, which celebrates student differences and fights against bullying in schools. Students from each grade participated in school-wide events that included a screening and open discussion of the movie ‘Bully’ and a crafts event where students designed T-shirts to wear during the week’s ‘Difference Day,’ the finale event that allowed students to respectfully showcase their differences.


TMA: Any new clubs this year?
Mrs. Anderson: This year we have a Model UN, The Smithsonian Youth Advisory Council, Drama Club, Fashion Club, Anime Club, HBB (Happy Black Brothers), and the Black Awareness Club.



A Basketball Challenge Taken Off the Court: A Coach’s Story

When Thurgood Marshall Academy was in search of a head coach for the Varsity and Junior Varsity Men’s Basketball teams, Lafayette Dublin’s name surfaced on many occasions. A year prior, Dublin brought a Maryland high school basketball team to victory, finishing the season with an 18-5 win-loss record. The bigger victory, though, was Dublin’s ability to implement strategies that benefit players on and off the court, making him a great fit for the Warriors.

Thurgood Marshall AcadmeyWhen Dublin started in 2014, student athletes were quick to find that his approach to prioritizing academics was non-negotiable. “You can’t play without the grades,” he says. All students participating in the athletic program must maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher. “I tell them, ‘eventually these will give out,’” said Dublin as he pointed to his knees. “So they must have a plan B.”

Dublin, who believes ‘discipline starts on the court,’ requires the team to uphold values and standards that set the tone for their futures. For example, if a student is late to practice, he is given a verbal warning and then written up if the behavior escalates. Consistent violations of other requirements can lead to a student being dropped from the team. “By following these rules, students are prepared for the real world,” he said. “It’s not just about basketball. It’s the game of life.”

The team initially had seven players (Junior Varsity and Varsity combined) in the fall of 2014, but ended with 22 students, who affectionately dub Dublin “Coach Laf.” But with a growing team, Dublin faced a new challenge.

DSC_6426In Maryland, Dublin coached student athletes who had access to a wealth of resources. But in neighborhoods like Ward 8, home to many of the players, the cost to maintain extra-curricular activities can be a financial strain on some families. In order to meet those family’s needs, Dublin, who played college basketball at Towson University, leveraged relationships with former teammates and respectfully “asked that they give back to the kids.” After just one phone call to his contact at Under Armour, the team was gifted with back-packs, practice uniforms, sneakers, t-shirts, and other sporting gear throughout the season.

“You never know where helping a kid from TMA will lead you. This school has a 100% college acceptance rate,” said Dublin, acknowledging that a higher education pays off. According to Dublin, Under Armour’s gesture to give back to TMA’s youth is a big investment in students’ quality of life. “For every kid you help play a sport, you are also helping a kid learn values, discipline, and accountability.”


Dublin (standing far right) beems with pride when Malik McMillian (center) signs to play basketball at Barton College on a full athletic scholarship.

Dublin is committed to the team’s success, and he acknowledges players who have achieved many goals in just one year. Former player Malik McMillian (TMA ‘15) made history as TMA’s first graduate to earn a full athletic scholarship. Initially ineligible to play on the team due to his grades, McMillian went on to increase his GPA and maintained a B-average for the entire season. Another player on the team received the District of Columbia State Athletic Association (DCSAA) scholarship for distinguished academic, leadership, and sportsmanship achievements. “This is why I coach. These kids are willing to put in hard work to win on and off the court,” he ends.

Last season, the team had a 20-8 record, including the big playoff victory. The 2015-16 basketball season starts November 2nd.


Law At Thurgood Marshall Academy

In 2001, Thurgood Marshall Academy was founded on legal principles that serve as teaching tools that educate and empower students. Now, fifteen years later, Thurgood Marshall Academy is recognized as Washington, DC’s only law-themed high school, a recognition that sets our curriculum apart. Consciously interweaving the elements of law and democracy into students’ academics exposes them to effective ways that they can advocate for change, make a difference in society, and stand up for their rights and the rights of their peers—much like the school’s namesake, Thurgood Marshall, who led the historic Brown v. Board of Education case that outlawed the policy of “separate but equal” and ensures that all students receive an excellent, quality education.

Fifteen years ago, law students and attorneys at Georgetown University were enrolled in a “Street Law” course that inspired them to establish Thurgood Marshall Academy. During the course, they completed a project that gave them a rare opportunity to teach local high school students about the law and their rights. Assigned to a neighborhood high school in Ward 8—now home of Thurgood Marshall Academy—the Street Law students became aware that there was a lack of opportunities that provided academic and emotional support to students.

The school’s founder Josh Kern, who was enrolled in the course at the time, grew committed to put the “Street Law” program into practice and provide equal education resources for students east of the river. But when he pursued the idea to bring legal principles to high school students with the goal of setting students on a path to college, doubt from professionals in the field soon followed. Those skeptical of the initiative thought “opening a high school to any student and have them prepared to be successful in college wasn’t something we could do,” Kern recently told Politico magazine.

Considering that students in Wards 7 and 8, DC’s most underserved communities, were not getting the academic and educational resources that their more privileged counterparts received, Kern was motivated by the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His commitment to provide all students with equal opportunity no matter their race, background, or their family’s financial aptitude was the driving force that sparked Thurgood Marshall Academy’s creation in 2001.

The need for a school dedicated to student success was just as relevant when TMA was founded as it is now. Richard Pohlman, the school’s new interim Executive Director acknowledged the concerning issue saying “in reflecting on the start of school I was drawn to our community namesake. Mr. Thurgood Marshall was a tenacious individual and tireless advocate; his name is nearly synonymous with the desegregation of schools.  Yet today, the educational injustices Mr. Marshall fought against persist for our students.”

It is increasingly important that TMA practices a law-themed curriculum and discovers new ways to incorporate ideals of advocacy, democracy, and equality into students’ course work. We envision that this prepares our students to be leaders who are compelled to actively engage in our democratic society. Like Justice Thurgood Marshall, they too can make a difference and can reinvent history.

Thurgood Marshall Acadmey


To keep our law-themed curriculum fresh and relevant, Thurgood Marshall Academy relies upon the expertise of attorneys to heighten its law-themed curriculum, which continues to:

  • Encourage students to engage in our democratic society.
  • Implement legal skills—Research, Argumentation, Critical Thinking, Advocacy, and Negotiation—into every area of study including mathematics and science.
  • Teach students the skills that lawyers have—the ability to solve complex problems, think critically, and advocate persuasively for themselves and their communities.
  • Provide opportunities for students to engage with seasoned lawyers through an array of enrichment activities including mandatory law-firm tutoring, Law Days, and participation in Georgetown University’s Street Law program.
  • Explore the roles of politicians and other pertinent government leaders during high-profile school visits and guided tours.
  • Bring the relevance of the US Supreme Court and other justice-related institutions to life during class field trips.
  • Prepare students to succeed in local and national debate tournaments, oratory competitions, and mock trials.


TMA’s Executive Director Pens Open Letter to Supporters


Interim Executive Director Richard Pohlman

Dear Friends,

Welcome to school year 2015-2016!  I am Richard Pohlman, the new Interim Executive Director for Thurgood Marshall Academy.  I am excited to join this wonderful community of families, educators and partners.  I hope to have the opportunity to meet each and every one of you this year to share my goals for the school and hear what makes this school special to each of you.

This year, we celebrate our 15th year of helping our students meet their goals for college and beyond. Since opening, TMA has become one of the city’s top performing high schools and boasts some of the highest growth rates in the city. This success is due, in no small part, to our dedicated teachers and staff who work tirelessly for that all important “Aha!” moment.

However, our success would not be possible without your support as well. When I talk to students, they routinely tell me how much visiting law firms, working with mentors, interning at companies, and meeting professional adults mean to their education. Faculty also share stories of recent graduates like Sydni, who interned at the physics lab at the University of Maryland during her tenth grade year. That Job Shadow Day experience inspired her to pursue a career in astrophysics, and she is currently attending the University of Pittsburgh. You make a direct and meaningful impact on our students through these experiences – thank you.

While we have many things to celebrate, we also have room to grow.  We must continue to commit to education equity for all our students in the District of Columbia.  To better serve our community, I have three goals for the year: transition the school to independently serving our special needs students; work with city administration and community members to replicate the school in the near future to increase our impact; and address questions about student attrition, specifically the number of students leaving in the ninth and tenth grades.

In addition, I want to re-engage partners who have helped TMA over the first 15 years so that we can increase our reach and impact through the city.  You can do this in many different ways – direct financial support, tutoring, supporting our alumni, or just sending a note of encouragement to a teacher or student. I look forward to learning more from you about ways you are interested in investing in the lives of our students and their families.

Finally, I invite you to visit TMA and see our work in action – tour the school, visit classrooms, and hear directly from me and other leaders about our work this year.

Again, thanks for your support, and I look forward to meeting you.


Richard Pohlman
Interim Executive Director