A Journey that Has Come Full Circle: Justin Williams, Class of 05’

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Justin Williams (center) joins TMA students at the 2015 Shining Star Gala.

I don’t really know what my life would look like if I didn’t go to Thurgood or graduate from college…” Justin Williams graduated 10 years ago, with TMA’s first graduating class. His journey at TMA has “come full circle.” Today, he works in the Special Education Department at TMA and is honored to serve TMA students. Justin opens up about the TMA he knew as a student, the TMA he is even more proud of as a staff member, and his advice to students.



Students Make History, Earn Scholarships & Set Records at College Acceptance Assembly

P1020492TMA’s graduating class came together on May 12th during the College Acceptance Assembly, an annual event where seniors are gifted with a college T-shirt from the school they plan to attend in the fall. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors marched into the gym, where the event took place, to cheer on the 70 seniors who have been accepted into an array of colleges and universities – American University, University of Pittsburgh, Delaware State University, and Temple University to name a few! The student body, faculty, staff, and parents joined the crowd of TMA supporters who roared with enthusiasm and applauded high achieving students who received scholarships and other recognition for outstanding excellence.

“All year long you have been working to get to this point,” said Sanjay Mitchell, Director of College & Alumni Programs. “In fact, for the past four years all of you have worked hard and now you are here, ready to graduate and attend college. I am proud of every one of you.”

P1020572Carlos McKnight, who will attend Daemen College, was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from Men of Community, a local organization that supports African-American male students who major in education or entrepreneurship related fields. Carlos’ hard work and dedication to a number of community service projects like the DC Mayor’s Youth Leadership Program and the debate team made him worthy of this scholarship.


Mr. Mitchell, who led the ceremony alongside Emma Levine, Alumni Program Manager, were proud to induct 13 seniors into the “1,000 club,” an honor for students who score 1,000 or higher on the Critical Reading and Math sections of the SAT. Sydni Foshee and Keneon Williams are not only new members ofP1020569 the elite club, but they received special awards for their extraordinary SAT scores – 1330 and 1250 respectively.


P1020565Having graduated more than 400 students since 2005 and staying true to our legacy of 100% college acceptance, TMA set a new record with senior and varsity basketball player Malik McMillan, TMA’s first scholar to receive a full athletics scholarship. With his parents and coaches looking on, he signed to play basketball at Barton College this fall.

“Today we made history,” said Michele Thompson, Athletic Director. “Not only am I proud of TMA’s tradition of 100% college acceptance, but I am thankful for a great coaching staff and a school committed to student athletes and the enhancement of our athletics program.”

To learn more about the colleges and universities that our students are accepted into each year, click here.

Celebrating Our Roots 2015: The Motown Sound!

On Saturday, March 21st, the Thurgood Marshall Academy community took a trip to Motown for “Celebrating Our Roots.” Now in its fifth year, the annual program provides an avenue for students and the greater community to celebrate African and African-American culture and heritage through visual and performing arts. This year, TMA celebrated all things Motown, taking students, teachers, and families on an artistic and musical journey that explored the distinct sound of ‘60s and `70s Detroit.

Attendees began the morning by moving through an Art Walk, which featured hand-drawnART_4400 portraits of Marvin Gaye by numerous TMA students. Following the Art Walk, the live performance kicked off with the familiar bass line of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It through the Grapevine.” With TMA Senior, Aaron Parrish-Dean, acting as Marvin Gaye and the narrator, attendees were taken on a journey that shared the origins of the rich history and cultural influences of the Motown era. Attendees were treated to performances of eight Motown classics with an ensemble including TMA’s  dance team, chorus, and band. Students and staff hand-picked each song to reflect a particular point in the history of Motown. The performance ended with a spirited rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, while student performers connected the theme of social justice in the past to the present by referencing the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

This year’s “CelebratingART_4320 Our Roots” was a  bittersweet affair, as this is the final production  for  the creator of the program, Art Teacher  Nafeesah  Symonette. Reflecting on this year’s  performance,  Ms. Symonette said, “Celebrating Our Roots has  become an anticipated event at Thurgood Marshall  Academy and for good reason. In its fifth year we  have explored many different genres of African and  African–American culture for the purpose of not  only preserving pieces of our history, but  introducing it to a new audience.  Our student population and surrounding community are involved in the creative process, which supports cross curricular learning and a sharing of community input and professional talent.”

Ms. Symonette organized the first Celebrating Our Roots event in 2011, and while she leaves behind some very large shoes to fill, the entire TMA community looks forward to continuing her work in the years to come!

Notice from DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education


District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education

Office of the State Superintendent

March 25, 2015

Dear students and families:

We are contacting you because on February 24, 2015, the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) inadvertently released personally identifiable student data in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The disclosed data includes student names, dates of birth, grade levels, gender, race, ethnicity, English Language Learner classification, non-public attendance, special education status, school of attendance, reason for suspension/expulsion, dates of suspension/expulsion, truancy status, removal to an alternative setting, and unique student identifiers. Social security numbers were not part of the data.


Once OSSE identified this situation on Monday, March 23, we immediately took the following steps to protect your child’s data:

  •  Issued a Notice of Remediation to the FOIA requestor instructing them to cease and desist all use of the inadvertently disclosed data.
  •  Reported the issue to the Executive Office of the Mayor, and the U.S. Department of Education.
  •  Established a dedicated hotline, (202) 481-3400, and email address,, to contact if you would like further information.
  •  Launched a thorough review of the agency’s data response process to ensure there are no further incidents of this nature.


In addition, we will be working with the deputy mayor for education and other education agencies in the District as part of a task force that will engage data privacy experts to ensure that DC becomes a leader in protecting student data privacy.


Please know that I recognize the serious and troubling nature of this breach. I apologize for this situation, and want to assure you that improving our security procedures will be one of my top priorities in my first weeks and months as State Superintendent of Education.


If you have any questions or concerns regarding this situation, or if you would like more information about the records concerning your student that were disclosed, you can contact our hotline at (202) 481-3400, or email us at


Hanseul Kang

State Superintendent of Education

810 1st Street NE, 9th Floor, Washington, DC 20002

Phone: (202) 727-6436 TTY: 711 •

Please click here for the offical letter

2nd Annual STEM Fair comes to TMA!

DEV 3-10-15 071Thurgood Marshall Academy hosted its 2nd Annual STEM Fair on May 10th, 2015, inviting area schools and guest  presenters for an afternoon of science, technology, engineering and math. More than 200 students, including students from Alfred Kiger Savoy and DC Bilingual elementary schools, explored 16 different exhibits where they learned the mathematics and physics of catapults, the process of DNA extraction, and how to create brain caps that explain the different functions of the brain. Professionals from the University of Maryland’s Physics Department, SEAPEARCH, and the Naval Research Laboratory also shared their expertise in technology through hands-on demonstrations, such as operating underwater robots and using magnets to control motion. (more…)

Into the Wild: TMA Students Participate in the North Carolina Outward Bound School

After 22 days hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains with North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS), Thurgood Marshall Academy alumna Jessie Watkins (’14) believes that she will “forever be a leader.”

Outward Bound is a wilderness-based educational experience dedicated to the idea that people are capable of far more than they know. Though there are chapters throughout North and South America, students from Thurgood Marshall Academy take part in the NCOBS. To date, 11 Thurgood Marshall Academy students have participated in the NCOBS thanks to a local scholarship fund that covers the costs of the program. Along with instructors from NCOBS, they spend 22 days hiking and camping through the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina in a community with 8-10 other students from across the country.

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Jessie (far left) along with NCOBS peers

Far from a leisurely stroll, NCOBS volunteer Jim Belikove describes the program as a “rigorous experience: You are carrying all of your gear and hiking up mountains or paddling in rivers. It’s not necessarily intended to be a fun experience, but one where you have to push yourself to do things that you don’t know how to do or don’t want to do. It’s an opportunity to test yourself.”

Jim believes that an Outward Bound-style program present enormous benefits, particularly for students from low-income or minority backgrounds. Many, he notes, “have not been outside of the DC area, some have ever been in the woods, and some have never been on a plane.” Students, he says, also benefit from “interaction with others who are from totally different backgrounds. We don’t want the kids from TMA to be together. We want them out with new people, without a fall back person they might already know.”

Jim also explains that “part of the Outward Bound experience is learning to work in groups.” Out in the wilderness for more than three weeks, the 8-10 participants form a tight-knit community that “has to collaborate and work things out among themselves. Some may be less physically fit, or less disciplined than the others, but the group can’t leave them behind. They learn how support the others, and how can others support them,” he says.

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Preparing to head to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina

Jessie, now a freshman at the Art Institute of Washington, participated in the NCOBS in summer 2012 and agrees with Jim’s assessment of the program. To Jessie, this experience meant “growth, change and challenge.” She found that her personal growth emerged from “the process of adapting to change,” and that “the most significant challenge for me was facing my fears.  I was so afraid to canoe [and] rock climb.  I was against doing everything. But I finally stepped out of my comfort zone thanks to the motivation and encouragement of others and the trip.”

Beyond the physical and mental challenges presented by her 22 days outdoors, Jessie also notes a change in how she viewed and interacted people from different backgrounds she met during the trip. An experience with another NCOBS participant changed her outlook on those around her. “During the course, I met someone in the group with a disability, who had also been home schooled his entire life. He was an only child and had never really experienced having friends his age.” Though she was initially frustrated by him, Jessie “reevaluated myself and became very patient with him. I got to know him more and bonded with him, and so I started to understand him.” Jessie says that by the end of the trip, they “formed a very close relationship and I looked out for him. Before we left NBOBS and went our separate ways, he told me that I was the big sister he never had.”

But most importantly, Jessie reflects on the changes she sees in herself, and her attitude towards others, thanks to her experience with NBOCS. Prior to NCOBS, “I was so short tempered a quick to snap,” explains Jessie. But with her NCOBS experience behind her, Jessie “learned to really enjoy helping others in any way that I could,” and now thinks “about others before myself.”

TMA Mentor Spotlight: Alicia Criado

“I have been blessed to encounter people in both personal and professional spaces who have taken me under their wing to impart their knowledge as well as expose me to new and exciting opportunities,” says Alicia Criado, a Thurgood Marshall Academy’s mentors for the 2014-15 school year. Now in her third year as a TMA mentor, it is Alicia who is sharing her path to professional success with students, helping them navigate their own process of college and career planning.

Alicia and Kaylin complete the Mentor Day selfie challenge.

Having previously mentored middle and high school, as well as college students in her native California, Alicia has observed that the mentoring process “naturally has significant positive effects for youth – they tend to present better attitudes and behaviors at school, are less likely to drop out, and more likely to attend college than their counterparts” who do not have positive adult role models. She particularly enjoys mentoring high school-age students because this a pivotal period in a person’s life, “filled with critical decisions that can affect the trajectory of one’s entire life. As a mentor, I feel as though one of my duties is to help ensure a young person is making as many good decisions as possible.”

This year, Alicia’s mentee is senior Kaylin Edmonds. In her relationship with Kaylin, Alicia finds that one of the most valuable things she brings “to the table [as a mentor] is that I am able to show her that it is possible to develop a friendship with someone who is almost twice her age.” She believes that having a mentor and friend who can share their trajectory to professional success is critical in a globally competitive city such as D.C. Students, she explains, need the “unbiased advice and guidance” that a mentor brings to the relationship.

This type of guidance is particularly important for seniors like Kaylin: thanks to Alicia’s mentorship, Kaylin has been able to get answers to many of the tough questions about college, including “how I went about selecting a college to attend and how my degrees have helped me get the jobs I have held since graduating.” Alicia has also been able “to share strategies and tips for how to negotiate getting more financial assistance and scholarships from universities,” which can be critical to ensuring that students are able to remain enrolled in college and earn the benefits of a bachelor’s degree.

But it’s not just the students who have the opportunity to grow and learn from the Mentor Program – the benefits extend to the mentors themselves: Alicia enjoys having “someone to help keep [me] connected and accountable to [my] local community.”

TMA Ranked #3 in DC by U.S. News & World Report

We are excited to share with you that TMA has been ranked #3 among all public high schools in the District of Columbia by U.S. News & World Report for the second consecutive year, earning a national Silver Award.  TMA ranked just behind School Without Walls and Banneker High School, two academically selective public schools. Nationally, TMA ranked #1368 and #145 among charters. We were the only DC charter to receive a national rank, and the highest ranked non-selective high school in D.C.

This is a huge honor for TMA and a testament to the work of every faculty and staff member, as well as the dedication and achievements of our students. We could not be more proud of our entire TMA team!

TMA Teams With the Edmund Burke School for New Student Exchange Program

Student exchange programs don’t always involve international border crossings.

This year, TMA’s Social Studies department chair and teacher Karen Lee, along with Christiane Connors, Director of Service and a teacher at the Edmund Burke School, a private school in Northwest DC, established an intra-city student exchange program to unite students from disparate communities in the nation’s capital. Ms. Lee and Ms. Connors hope that the exchange program between TMA and Edmund Burke students inspires a meaningful conversation about race and justice between students from very different backgrounds.IMG_7141

Ms. Lee and Ms. Connors first crossed paths in summer 2014 during the Washington International School Summer Institute for Teachers (WISSIT), a professional development opportunity for teachers that focuses on effective teaching through discussion and peer learning. There, Ms. Lee and Ms. Connors “instantly clicked and ended up on a teaching team, Global LenIMG_7139s, reflecting and creating some thinking routines for global competence,” says Ms. Lee.

Throughout the fall semester, Ms. Lee found herself moderating more and more discussions in class about racial injustice stemming from current events. “I was having some of the tough conversations about racial injustices in the news with my seniors and felt like I wanted to provide the opportunity to push the conversations further by incorporating new perspectives,” she says. At a recent Global Lens meeting, Ms. Lee discovered that Ms. Connors was also tackling these issues and having her own in-class conversations on race and injustice. From there, they decided to unite their students to learn from one another.  “Our goal,” explains Ms. Lee, “is to create a safe space for students to have conversations about difficult topics with people and perspectives with which they would not usually come in contact.”

IMG_7122Two main themes anchor this two-day exchange: the face of justice today, and students’ roles in supporting and advocating for justice.

On Thursday, January 29th, 16 students from Edmund Burke visited TMA to kick-off the exchange. They were paired with 17 seniors from TMA, who led them on an individual tour of the school building.

The focus of the day was to examine different perspectives on injustice to gain a better understanding of how injustice manifests both worldwide and locally. All students watched a short film titled “Voices from the Areng Valley,” an expose on communities in Cambodia on the cusp of elimination as a result of the controversial Chaey Areng hydropower project, and participated in a discussion of the injustices represented in the film.pic3

The next meeting between the two groups will happen on February 10th. TMA students will visit Edmund Burke, spend time in their classrooms, and participate in a conversation about racial injustice and advocacy facilitated by TMA senior KaJuan Willis and her peers from Operation Understanding DC, an organization whose mission is to build a generation of African American and Jewish community leaders who promote respect, understanding and cooperation while working to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination. “Our hope is that students will see that there are not as many divisions or differences between them and others in the city,” says Ms. Lee.



TMA Seniors Compete In Their First-Ever Ethics Bowl

Last weekend, a team of TMA seniors composed of Sydni Foshee, Sakina Musa, Cer’cia Wallace, and Keneon Williams traveled to American University to compete in their first-ever Ethics Bowl. They competed alongside students from 12 high performing regional schools, including Washington Latin PCHS, School Without Walls, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, McKinley Technology High School, Edmund Burke School, and Woodstream Christian Academy. ethics bowl 1_edited

The DC Ethics Bowl, hosted by American University’s Philosophy and Religion department and its School of Education, Teaching, and Health, is one of the 23 regional bowls that take place before a national tournament held at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The overall goal of the regional Ethics Bowl competitions is to promote ethical awareness nationwide and develop young minds by fostering among high school students a deeper understanding and appreciation of interesting ethical and philosophical issues. Sandra Cai Chen, the Bishop Hamilton Ethicist in Resident at American University, says “It is our hope that everyone who participates in the Ethics Bowl learns the importance of thinking the challenging ethical and political issues of our time and, above all, of doing so through informed, civil dialogue.”

The TMA seniors who competed in the January 31st Ethics Bowl are all members of the school’s award-winning Debate Team, and adept at taking a stand and advocating for an issue. However, the Ethics Bowl differs from regular debate tournaments in that students are not expected to take a hard stance on a topic, and are not assigned sides for which to advocate. Instead, they are given a pool of about 15 cases – scenarios that present an ethical dilemma – to examine. In each round of the Ethics Bowl, students split into teams and discuss two cases, giving speeches on the ethical implications of the cases, justifying their claims using ethical theory, while also responding to the objections made by the other team and answering questions posed by the judges. Example scenarios from this Ethics Bowl include military restrictions on hairstyles that disproportionately affect African Americans, use of anti-depressants on animals, and UK’s use of cameras to lock gas pumps for uninsured drivers. TMA’s team won 2 out of 3 rounds, beating private school teams who have been attending the competition for years, and received recognition and praise on their articulate speaking skills and strong topic analysis from the event coordinators and judges.

Special Education Teacher and Debate Coach Aileen George coordinated TMA’s involvement in the Ethics Bowl because of her “interest in giving students every opportunity to experience different types of public speaking events that challenge them to use their talent.” Cer’cia Wallace, a senior on the Debate Team, agrees: she elected to participate in the Ethics Bowl because “it sounded like an exciting deviation from regular debate tournaments.” Ms. George also notes that the Ethics Bowl presented “a unique opportunity to allow students to use analytical skills and be thoughtful about ethical theory, not just research or statistics that they are often asked to use in normal debate tournaments.” For Cer’cia, this meant a chance to “explore concepts elucidated by Kant or virtue ethics that I had learned in a philosophy class at UDC, and to look at how these concepts should be applied to our own lives.”