Higher Achievement is a year-round academic enrichment program that currently serves 240 students in 5th through 8th grades in select schools in Baltimore. Partnering with three schools in some of Baltimore’s most underserved neighborhoods – Cherry Hill, Lakeland, and Oldtown – it holds a 26-week Afterschool Academy, meeting 4 days a week from 3:30 to 7:30. Its Summer Academy operates 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Meals, snacks, and transportation are provided. Giving Circle funds have been used to support the existing year-round programming. The stu-dents study math, literature, and seminar topics using a rigorous Common Core State Standards aligned curriculum. In addition, students receive individualized academic and social support from one of the program’s cohort of 100+ volunteer mentors.
Higher Achievement’s mission is to develop skills, behaviors, and attitudes in academically mo-tivated and underserved middle school children to improve their grades, test scores, attend-ance, and opportunities – resulting in acceptance to college preparatory high schools. Higher Achievement partners work closely with middle schools to serve students in an intensive, year-round, afterschool and summer program. The initiative works to impact the whole student body of partner schools through services with homework help, high school placement advising, and training in youth development, volunteer management and data-driven practice.
Students are recruited at the host school site. Higher Achievement’s recruitment team partners with teachers for student referrals, makes classroom presentations, works with schools on au-tomated phone calls to parents, and gets the students to recruit their friends for programming. Interested students must compete through an application and interview process (along with their families) during which the recruitment team identifies the best-fit students based on cur-rent levels of achievement, investment, and capacity to commit to the rigors of the program. No minimum GPA is required; only the willingness to commit to the four years of the program. Parents are asked for their input regularly and receive routine reports on their child’s attend-ance and progress. Parents are also invited for conversations and center visits, sent written communications, and encouraged to participate in events at the centers. A series of family workshops are held throughout the year to focus on parenting through goal setting, education-al planning, and financial aid literacy.
Higher Achievement was founded in 1975 by Greg Gannon, a teacher at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC. He believed the program would address a serious and underappre-ciated community problem: the gap in opportunity between his Gonzaga students and the youth in the housing project across the street from the school. He founded Higher Achievement to create learning opportunities for underserved youth so that they could have equal access to success, both in school and beyond. Higher Achievement incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in 1985. In 1999, it reorganized as an outcomes-based model for high-level academic achievement during out-of-school time.
In 2006, with grants from Atlantic Philanthropies, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, and the Wil-liam T. Grant Foundation, Higher Achievement launched the first longitudinal, randomized study of afterschool programs. Results from the study prompted additional investments in Higher Achievement’s expansion. In 2009, Higher Achievement opened centers in Baltimore, MD, followed by centers in Richmond, VA, in 2011 and Pittsburgh, PA, in 2012. For over 40 years Higher Achievement has worked with more than 10,000 youths, with 95% graduating from high school on time. Students from this program have shown improved self-awareness and developed more advanced learning skills.
The organization has received national and local recognition for its work. In 1982, the program won the “Volunteer Action” Award from President Reagan, and in 1985, May 5th was pro-claimed “Higher Achievement Day” in Washington, DC. In 2005, Higher Achievement won the Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.
Higher Achievement closes the opportunity gap during the pivotal middle school years. By leveraging the power of communities, Higher Achievement’s proven model provides a rigorous, year-round learning environment, caring role models, and a culture of high expectations, result-ing in college-bound students with the character, confidence, and skills to succeed in life.