In 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.
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.