As soon as you walk in the door at Academy of Hope in Ward 5, D.C., you’re greeted by a wall of smiling adults in blue.
At first glance, the presentation is heartwarming. But these photos are more than just wall decoration: they make up the school’s Wall of Hope, which celebrates and features recent graduates.
Academy of Hope is a public charter high school, started in 1985, that focuses on an often-ignored group of students: adults, who are past the age for traditional high school. Currently in D.C., 1 in 3 adults are unable to read newspapers or maps, or to fill out job applications. And with low-literacy levels comes poverty—which is a cycle that can repeat itself through generations.
The program at Academy of Hope is designed specifically to address poverty and illiteracy, though special support services.
“The goal for most of our students is to get a degree: pass the GED or get a high school credential,” says Krystal Ramseur, Academy of Hope’s Operations Manager. “But that’s not all—we have a lot of students here who are over the age of 60. Their goal may be to help their grandchildren with their homework or be a better participant in their Bible study class.”
Ramseur believes that the school functions as both a community institution and a community in itself, because the students are given the chance to take their education into their own hands.
Academy of Hope has made some big improvements in the lives of community members all over D.C. Their graduates go on to be 4 times as likely to earn a living wage. 60% of graduates move on from the school and enter further training. It’s clear that Academy of Hope works for its students and their families.
But more than just helping students learn to read so they can get better jobs, the school is making education into a tool for everyday community action.
That means they’re showing their students (and staff members) how to change their own communities for the better. And that’s a skill that can be passed on to future generations, too.
In the fall of 2014, Academy of Hope (through the coordination of Ramseur) took advantage of Groundswell’s program that helps community businesses and nonprofits in the region to switch their energy bills over to 100% wind power.
Yes, that’s true—Academy of Hope runs on 100% wind power.
For many institutions, switching to clean power would be a business decision, one that would be handled solely by the Operations department or a board of managers. But according to Ramseur, Academy of Hope turned the switch into a community learning experience. “After we switched to wind, some instructors put sustainability straight into their curriculum, to teach students about clean energy and how it affects the environment and our future,” says Ramseur. “A lot of our students didn’t know much about that, so this was a big opportunity for them to learn.”
Switching the school to clean energy was a practical example that showed students and staffers alike the importance of taking action on the environment. Students got the chance to get involved in an organizational decision: to learn what the decision meant, and to be a part of making that decision come to life. “We want our students to understand what’s happening, too,” says Ramseur. “We try to explain to the students how to see sustainability in everything. We even had a teacher who actually worked on a community garden with her class.”
Ramseur believes that’s part of the goal of Academy of Hope: to produce a strong sense of community, so that each individual at the school gets to be an active part of the education process.
“What I love most about Academy of Hope is our goal of making sure that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student. We have one single lounge for all our students, our faculty, and our staff—there’s no separation between staff and students. It’s about everyone feeling like they are a part of this community.”
So if you get the chance to see the school’s Wall of Hope, you’ll know that it’s more than just celebrating students who have achieved their goals. It’s affirming the students who have invested in a self-sustaining community—and that’s no small feat.
Ramseur’s next sustainability project is to focus on reducing schoolwide paper usage. For that, she says, she’ll need the help of the whole school.
Learn more about Academy of Hope’s mission and impact on their website.
Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of Academy of Hope.