Mayor Bowser awards Briya grant to provide students with immigration legal services

Briya Public Charter School was honored to be named a recipient of an Immigrant Justice Legal Services Grant by Mayor Muriel Bowser on March 21.

The grant will enable Briya to provide its student families with free legal consultations and representation through a deepened partnership with Julia M. Toro Law Firm, an immigration law firm founded by attorney Julia Toro. The funds will also provide services for parents of students at Bancroft Elementary, a longtime partner of Briya.

Services funded by the grant will include on-site presentations at Know Your Rights Fairs; individual consultations; and pro bono court representation related to applications for U Visas, T Visas, green cards, asylum, citizenship, and more.

“This grant addresses many of the barriers families face when seeking legal information and services, like cost and location,” said Raquel Farah, Briya Student Services Coordinator. “We’ll be able to provide free services for people within their communities, in locations they are already comfortable with.”

“We’re thrilled to have this grant so that more families can live more peacefully and tranquilly while they pursue their education,” Toro said.

Briya is one of ten organizations serving the immigrant community in DC who were awarded IJLS grants by Mayor Bowser.

“The Immigrant Justice Legal Services grant program is one way that my administration can help support DC’s immigrant community,” the mayor said. “The District is safer and stronger when residents know and understand their rights, and these ten organizations will help spread the message that our city has their back.”


About Briya PCS: Families enroll in Briya’s two-generation program together: parents study English, digital literacy, and parenting while their children receive a high-quality early education. Briya also offers a high school diploma and training for Medical Assistant and Child Development Associate credentials. The school believes, and research validates, that educating parents and children together promotes strong families and success in school and in life.

Briya participates in international UNESCO family learning workshop

Lorie Preheim, Academic Dean, represented Briya and the United States at a three-day workshop on intergenerational learning organized by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

The workshop, held in Hamburg, Germany, brought together family learning experts from twenty-one countries. These experts shared experiences and best practices from intergenerational learning programs in their communities, which will be used to create an evidence-based resource pack for others who are interested in starting similar programs.

“It was a fascinating experience,” Preheim said. “I know a lot about family literacy in the United States, but I didn’t realize how much family literacy was going on all around the world, where the intention is to raise the literacy level of both the parent and the child.”

unesco-group-photoDuring the workshop, representatives each shared about aspects of their intergenerational learning program and made recommendations for the concepts and materials to be included in the resource pack.

“It was interesting to see commonalities and differences among the programs,” Preheim said. “For example, family reading was something you saw in many different countries as a strategy for raising literacy. We also talked a lot about the importance of educators being from the community itself so they can better understand and connect with participants.”

The final resource pack will include a wide range of materials—including guidelines for program development and curriculum, recommendations and examples of program content, and assessment tools. The pack will be published in 2017 in both English and French.

Third class of medical assistant students celebrate accomplishments

“Let our passion shine out with all we do and impact someone’s life for the better,” said Eden Asmelash, co-valedictorian of Briya’s third medical assistant class. “Let us always be there in someone else’s shoes, feel the pain down in our heart, and stretch out our hands to help them.”

Asmelash was addressing her 18 fellow MA graduates, who were celebrating their accomplishments during ceremony this December.

Co-valedictorian Rosa Ramos also spoke at the ceremony.

“This past year has changed me,” Ramos said. “I had been working in a medical office, but I didn’t have enough experience and education to understand people and have compassion. I was treating them like someone who was coming in a restaurant. I wasn’t treating them like they were going through pain and needing help and comforting.”

“Now, the doctor at the medical office trusts me to deliver the right message to the patient, and that I owe to my year here in the MA Program,” she said. “Behind every patient is a different story.”

During the ceremony, students were recognized for their accomplishments, including five graduates who already have jobs as medical assistants. In addition, three students were recognized for having perfect attendance–meaning they did not miss a single class period during the entire program.

To close her valedictorian speech, Ramos expressed her gratitude to the MA Program staff.

“All of you are in our hearts because your patience and understanding cannot be underestimated, she said. “Thank you for supporting, caring, and believing in us. You taught us to carry patience, compassion and knowledge with us to practice in our daily living.”

Briya inaugurates new Fort Totten campus

Briya Public Charter School, along with Bridges Public Charter School and Mary’s Center, celebrated the opening of their joint Fort Totten campus with an Open House this October. Together, the three organizations will offer education, health care, and social services to the Fort Totten community.

Approximately 1,600 people—neighborhood residents, funders, political leaders, school families, staff, board members and others—attended the event, which included tours of the 81,000-square-foot facilities, activities for children of all ages, health screenings, food, and a short program and ribbon cutting ceremony.

Jennie Niles, Deputy Mayor for Education, spoke to the attendees during the program portion of the event.

“This really is a quintessential project of having disparate groups of people come together for the better of all,” Niles said. “This group of three organizations is doing something that we don’t see in other cities. It’s actually working from birth all the way through adulthood and everything in between to make sure that our citizens have what they need. I could not be more pleased to be here.”

Joe Bruno, President of Building Hope, and Don Soifer, Vice President of the DC Public Charter School Board, also addressed the crowd.

“If you look at the excellence that Briya represents, if you look at the excellence that Bridges represents, and if you look at the excellence that the Mary’s Center partnership has delivered for our community … you can see the way that this represents the very best of what public charter schools deliver to our city,” Soifer said.

To conclude the program, a group of organization leaders, board members, supporters, and students came together for a ribbon cutting to officially inaugurate the new building, which is Briya’s fourth location in D.C.

“It’s time to turn a page to a new chapter in Briya’s history book,” said Christie McKay, Executive Director. “I’m sure I am among many who are excited to see where our students lead us next.”

Briya student wins essay contest for Adult Education and Family Literacy Week

Briya student Maria Elena Van Maren came in first place in the ESL category of the DC Adult Education and Family Literacy Week essay contest. Another Briya student, Mayra Chavez, came in second in the category.

In their essays, the students responded to a prompt about barriers they face and overcome as adult learners.

As Van Maren wrote, barriers to getting her education started early: at age 11, she left school in her native Colombia to help her single mother provide for their family by cleaning houses. In her essay, she explained that she still faces many obstacles today, including balancing working, caring for her children and studying at Briya.

“We are so proud of Maria Elena and Mayra for their participation and success in the AEFL essay contest,” said Elise Gorman and Judy Kittleson, the students’ instructors.

“Their positivity in the face of challenges is inspirational for all our adult learners, and it highlights the need for more funding for high-quality adult education programs like Briya across the city.”

Van Maren was recognized for her winning essay at an event organized by the DC Adult Education and Family Literacy Coalition, where she received a prize. Van Maren and adult learners from other DC programs also participated in a panel about the issues they face.

As part of the panel, Van Maren shared her dreams for the future.

“I have many, many goals,” she said. “I want my kids to be proud of me. I want to become a leader in my community. I want to work in international relations so I can help my country, Colombia.”

“I love to help people, and how to be able to help people is with my education,” she said.

Fourth class of students enters Medical Assistant Program

Twenty-four new students were inducted into Briya’s Medical Assistant Program during a ceremony this fall.

Gina Pistulka, Briya instructor, welcomed everyone and spoke to the incoming students about the vital work they will do as medical assistants.

“You are the face of the healthcare team,” Pistulka said. “You are the one the patient will meet first. You are the one who will start to create the environment in which a person begins to heal.”

“You and the students who have come before you are some of the most inspirational people I have met,” she added. “You have already shown your strength and your persistence in moving your life forward and accepting challenges that will bring you and your families to a brighter place.”

A 2016 MA Program graduate, Lahana Bernard, then spoke to the class about her time in the 15-month program, which prepares students to work alongside doctors and nurses.

“I feel very prepared and confident,” she said. “I have gained a lot of knowledge and skills from this program, which will enable me to have a career–not just a job.”

Bernard also spoke about her positive experience with her teachers and classmates at Briya.

The instructors here are the best,” she said. “They really care and will work with you to make sure you understand the content. As students … we were all one big family. Students bonded and supported each other through tough personal and family issues and losses.”

After hearing from Pistulka and Bernard, each incoming student received a medical assistant pin from a program graduate. The new students then recited the medical assistant creed, officially becoming Briya’s MA class of 2017.

The new class left the ceremony with words of inspiration offered by Bernard.

“The program gave me a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “My advice to you all is when times are hard and you feel like you’ve hit a wall, don’t give up. Think about why you’re doing the program … and let that be your motivation.”

Video from Digital Promise highlights Briya’s strengths

Briya’s Two-Generation Program is showcased in a video created by Digital Promise in partnership with the Barbara Bush Foundation.

The video highlights Briya’s unique model, which enables parents to gain knowledge and skills (from basic literacy to earning a high school diploma) at the same time that their young children prepare for future success through a high-quality early education.

In the video, Briya’s Executive Director, Christie McKay, names keys to Briya’s successful outcomes:

  1. Having a steady funding stream for adult education.
  2. Simultaneously viewing adult learners as parents, workers, and community members, and then creating systems that support their needs holistically

“Adult students face a lot of challenges that young people don’t face,” Erica Schuetz, an adult education instructor at Briya, states in the video. These needs include supporting their families financially, caring for their children, and navigating the transportation system.

“As educators and as a school, we try to address those challenges by … letting students know they’re wanted here, that we miss them when they don’t show up, and also by networking them with a lot of support services within Mary’s Center and within the school and within the community.”

Briya’s adult and early childhood students achieve some of the highest outcomes in the country thanks to the education and the network of support they receive at Briya.

“[Briya is] a very rewarding place to work, and I feel a really strong relationship with the students,” Schuetz says. “I feel really lucky to be able to work in a program like this.”

Watch the video below.

Briya student earns high school diploma and looks to future

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” said Awa Traore, 2016 graduate of Briya’s National External Diploma Program, on earning her high school diploma.

“There was a time when I thought, ‘Oh, I can’t do it.’ But you just have to keep it in your mind that you can. Everything is possible.”

Traore grew up in the Ivory Coast and Mali. She came to the U.S. with her husband in 2009 knowing only a little English, and first enrolled in Briya’s Two-Generation Program in 2011 along with her infant son.

“My speaking, writing and reading have improved a lot,” she said. “I like Briya teachers because they are patient and they understand everybody.” Traore also learned parenting techniques at Briya that she has seen benefit her son, now four, and her daughter, who is almost two.

Before coming to the U.S., Traore had begun studying accounting in high school but wasn’t able to finish. She realized that earning a high school diploma was a vital first step toward achieving her goals of further education and getting a better job.

“Everything I want to do in my life requires a high school diploma,” she said. “It was great when I learned that I can get a chance here at the age I am now because back home we don’t have easy opportunities.”

Now that she has her diploma, Traore hopes to enter a program to get her Child Development Associate certification.

Briya CDA graduate wins 2016 STARS award

IMG_8383Maxine Gorham, a 2016 Briya Child Development Associate graduate, was awarded Most Outstanding Adult Student at the 2016 STARS Tribute. The tribute honors leaders in DC public charter schools.

“Gorham has been an exceptional student, role model and human being, constantly showing us that determination and commitment can guide us towards our professional goals in spite of obstacles,” said Mau Castro-Trujillo, who taught Gorham’s CDA class and nominated her for the award.

As a CDA student, Gorham not only worked hard to improve her own work and performed well academically, but she also welcomed opportunities to assist her classmates one-on-one. According to Castro-Trujillo, Gorham’s determination and caring spirit were inspirational.

“Gorham is an amazing person and teacher, and should be taken as an example for future generations of teachers and CDA candidates,” she said.

While taking class at Briya in the evenings, Gorham spent her days teaching three-year-old students at KIPP DC Grow Academy, as well as caring for her six-year-old son and her grandmother. Additionally, she participated in a professional learning community for charter teachers organized by the Flamboyan Foundation.

“Maxine Gorham is an inspiration to her students, a distinguished leader among her peers, and a beloved team member for her superiors,” said Susan Schaeffler, Executive Director and CEO of KIPP DC. “She is a wife, mother, teacher and student, and she balances all four beautifully.”

Gorham’s next step is attending the University of the District of Columbia to work toward a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. After getting her degree, she aims to become a reading teacher and eventually open her own childcare center.

“It means a lot to me, winning this award,” Gorham said. “It meant the most for me to share that special moment with my son. I want him to see that being a leader and working hard brings great reward.”

Briya to expand to Fort Totten neighborhood

Briya is excited to be opening a new school in the Fort Totten neighborhood in time for the 2016-17 school year! The Fort Totten campus will enable Briya to serve more students in the communities where they live, expanding the school’s services from Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant and Petworth to Fort Totten.

Picture2Beginning in the fall of 2016, Briya will offer classes at Fort Totten that are part of its family literacy program, which includes adult education (English, digital literacy and hands-on parenting) and early childhood education. In the future, high school diploma and workforce development classes will also be offered at the site.

Fort Totten students will benefit from many amenities—including a computer lab; a comfortable parent waiting area; rooms for tutoring and other small group activities; separate playgrounds for pre-K, infant and elementary-aged children; a large multipurpose room for events and indoor recess; and much more.

Briya will be joined at the Fort Totten campus by two partner organizations – Mary’s Center and Bridges Public Charter School – to offer even more comprehensive services for families under one roof.

Mary’s Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center, will offer a variety of medical care, dental care, social supports and social services for children and adults at Fort Totten. Mary’s Center and Briya’s joint presence builds on their 25-year commitment to providing holistic support to the families they serve together.

Bridges is an inclusion elementary school, specializing in educating children with special needs. Bridges will enroll children in pre-K through fourth grade for the 2016-17 school year, and will expand to fifth grade in future years.

The Fort Totten campus, located a five-minute walk from the Fort Totten metro station, previously housed a DC public school, Mamie D. Lee. Briya, along with Bridges Public Charter School, was awarded the building by Mayor Vincent Gray in December 2014. Part of the former building remains intact and new construction will expand and modernize the space for the three organizations.

Briya looks forward to welcoming families to its Fort Totten site!

For more information about Briya’s Fort Totten site, please contact Lauren Stoltzfus, Communications Specialist, at To enroll in Briya classes at Fort Totten, Petworth, Adams Morgan, or Mt. Pleasant, please call 202-232-7777.