Education innovators working in the Capitol Hill community have pioneered strategies to improve student performance and help prepare young people for success beyond school. This spring, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation will help expand some of these key enrichment efforts with its annual award of two major grants.
The $25,000 Arnold F. Keller, Jr. Grant, created to support new initiatives or expand existing programs, will be divided between Everybody Wins DC (EWDC) and Reach Incorporated, two nonprofits that engage students in reading while fostering positive relationships between elementary school students, teens and caring adults. The Franzén Award for the Arts, honoring John Franzén’s dedication to making Capitol Hill a cultural hub, will provide $10,000 each to the music programs at Eastern High School and the Eliot-Hine and Stuart-Hobson middle schools.
“The Keller and Franzén grants recognize the contributions of these programs to the social health and academic development of Capitol Hill students, particularly those from low-income households” said Mark Weinheimer, who chairs the foundation’s grants committee. “In the wake of educational setbacks caused by the COVID pandemic, we feel an even greater sense of urgency in extending literacy and arts resources and support to as many students as possible.”
Keller Grant for Reading and Mentorship Opportunities
The Keller Grant will help address racial and economic disparities in English language arts (ELA) proficiency. In the 2021-22 school year, the District’s annual Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment found that just 20% of Black students citywide and 33% of students in Ward 6 met or exceeded the ELA standards, compared with 79% of White students citywide and 68% of students in Ward 3.
“Reading is fundamental to a child’s success in the classroom and in life,” said EWDC Executive Director Jordi Hutchinson. “But for children to truly thrive, they must also be confident in their potential, understand their personal value and have the tools needed to navigate life’s obstacles.” In addition, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, “Children need to learn in active and engaging ways that are meaningful and joyful.” Both EWDC and Reach aim to achieve those goals.
Last year, EWDC’s programs enlisted 790 volunteers to bring the power of reading to over 7,700 children across the city. EWDC gave away over 12,000 new books while its Power Readers mentoring program connected volunteers with students to read for one hour a week. Volunteers also serve as Reading Role Models: they read aloud to younger students from selected texts with themes like perseverance and empathy, and with older students they talk about books that influenced their lives or reflect their experiences.
EWDC will use the Keller Grant to expand its partnerships with J.O. Wilson and Tyler elementary schools, two Title I schools with high percentages of students from low-income households. The grant will support additional staffing and supplies to increase enrollment in the Power Readers program and to host more reading and book distribution events. In addition, the grant will allow EWDC to launch the Power Readers program at Van Ness Elementary School next year.
Reach promotes mentorship as well by recruiting, training and hiring teens to tutor local second and third graders. “During twice-weekly training sessions led by program instructors, the teens create lesson plans to nurture the younger students’ reading skills,” said Executive Director Jennifer Cartland. “Along the way, their own reading improves.” The tutors also gain coaching and leadership skills while expanding their understanding of accountability, responsibility, commitment and focus.
The pandemic stalled Reach’s program delivery in 2021, but last year it rebounded. Today, Reach partners with eight elementary and high schools in Wards 4, 5, 6 and 8. In total, Reach employs 65 teens who work with more than 70 young learners, including 10 tutors from Eastern High School who mentor 20 students at Payne Elementary. The Keller Grant will enable Reach to hire about 10 more tutors from Eastern and begin mentoring 10 additional students through a partnership with Miner Elementary School.
Franzén Award Extends the Musical Pathway to Academic Success
The Capitol Hill Community Foundation has long supported Eastern High School’s Blue and White Marching Machine ‒ the Pride of Capitol Hill that primes students for college and helps them earn full scholarships. This year, that support extends to the music programs at two middle schools whose students might one day participate in Eastern’s music program. All three schools need funding to purchase equipment and instruments to build and solidify their music education programs.
“The foundation is encouraging the schools to coordinate their programs, potentially creating a pipeline of middle school musicians for the Eastern High School program and also collaborating on after-school music education,” Weinheimer said. That collaboration may be enhanced by shared history. Eastern’s James Perry, Eliot-Hine’s Sandra Jean and Stuart-Hobson’s Robert “BJ” Simmons all attended Norfolk State University, where they played together in the band.
Tedrick Bonds, Eastern’s director of vocal music, is building the school’s award-winning concert choir back to its pre-pandemic levels of musicianship and numbers. The music program bolsters the music technology program and the band, led by Perry. “As Eastern’s only music teacher during school hours, I have the privilege of reinforcing what the band students are learning when they attend my music classes,” Bonds said. In addition, next year the school plans to add a band teacher to the faculty who will work closely with Bonds to develop jazz and concert bands.
The Franzén Award will help fund the purchase of new uniforms for the Eastern High School choir, students’ travel to music festivals, workshops with resident artists and the addition of classroom equipment and software needed for recording and film scoring.
“The choir and band programs provide an outlet for our students to be creative and learn with hands-on training and opportunities to perform,” Bonds said. “Mr. Perry and I hope these programs encourage students across the city to consider choosing Eastern for their high school career.”
Sandra Jean, Eliot-Hine’s music director, is preparing students in grades six to eight for high school music programs. She is rebuilding the choir and concert band following years of tight budgets and virtual learning. “This year we have 37 newcomers in the band, as well as three returning eighth graders who are preparing applications to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts,” Jean said. She will use the Franzén Award to purchase a set of timpani drums and two new brass instruments.
Jean provides instruction on all instruments, from woodwinds to brass and percussion, primarily to students who are playing them for the first time. But she notes that the program teaches students about more than music. “It teaches them about themselves,” she said. “They’re finding out what they can do and how far they can go through the discipline of practice.”
At Stuart-Hobson, Simmons leverages his music program’s reputation as the city’s best. He recruits students who are talented musicians while also teaching students with no experience how to play. He augments the program through his relationships with professional jazz musicians and organizations such as the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Thalea String Quartet. As a result, many of his students aim to pursue a career in music.
Simmons will use the Franzén Award to bolster a program that includes a jazz ensemble and 25-member big band, a 30-piece orchestra, a drum line and a go-go band. The grant will fund the purchase of a new keyboard for the jazz ensemble and new drum line equipment.
“Hundreds of students across the Capitol Hill community will benefit from the ingenuity and dedication of these leaders in literacy and arts education,” Weinheimer said. “Our foundation is proud to support their programs and help find the synergies among them.”