2013 Grant Recipient – Washington Jesuit Academy

The Washington Jesuit Academy is a tuition-free, extended-day / extended-year, academically demanding private middle school for Washington, DC’s most vulnerable children – under-served, adolescent males. WJA empowers these youth to break the cycle of failure and poverty through their own education.  With their 12-hour school day, 11-month school year and aggressive academic curriculum, WJA is preparing students for the opportunities and challenges of college-prep high schools and set them on an early path toward college.

WJA was established in 2002 by community leaders who wanted to improve the odds and outcomes of Washington, DC’s under-served children of all religions with the launch of a sixth grade class.  WJA expanded to sixth – eighth grades by 2004, and expanded again to a fifth grade in June 2012. WJA purchased and relocated to its permanent home on Varnum Street in Northeast Washington in 2004, established a revolutionary healthy meals partnership in 2008 and achieved accreditation in 2010. WJA serves 86 students, as well as 129 alumni across eight cohorts who are still engaged with its Graduate Support Program.  100 percent are enrolled in or have graduated from high school, and the first four cohorts maintain a 79 percent college enrollment rate.

WJA serves a demographic of children who may be the least likely to read – adolescent boys from low-income neighborhoods and disadvantaged backgrounds. These boys enter WJA in fifth or sixth grade having been deprived of basic reading skills from their woefully inadequate neighborhood schools, sometimes as many as five grade levels behind. Further, they grow up in a culture where reading is considered worthless or “uncool,” where few parents demonstrate reading at home and where teens are susceptible to peer pressure not to achieve or try in school.

To address these challenges, WJA uses teaching methods that have been proven to be effective among reluctant, disinterested and underperforming readers. Its curriculum focuses on getting boys to enjoy reading as they gain the comprehension and vocabulary required to read at higher levels. Youth who enjoy reading will want to read more, and will become better readers as they grow into adults.  “Reading the WJA Way” is effective, with the faculty consistently raising student reading levels by an average of 4.5 grades throughout middle school. Classroom strategies include:

  • Full periods of both Reading and Language Arts
  • “Read Alouds” – teachers read stories out loud to show that reading can be fun and to give students opportunities to enjoy stories beyond their individual reading levels; and
  • “DEAR” – Drop Everything And Read – daily opportunities where students read books, magazines or newspapers of their choice to promote personal reading, and reading notebooks, in which students record vocabulary and responses to reading.

WJA serves 86 boys from low-income neighborhoods in the Washington, DC metro region, specifically from Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8 and from Prince George’s County, MD. While WJA admits students without regard to race, ethnicity or religion, all students must demonstrate significant financial need. Of WJA’s current students: 91% are African-American and 9% are Latino; 85% are non-Catholic; 71% are raised by single parent/guardian; the average household income is $32,800, and 80% qualify for Federal Free/Reduced Lunch programs.

The grant from the JLW will serve as an investment in WJA’s literacy education to their under-served youth, especially for the new fifth graders. WJA will allocate the $25,000 grant for the fifth grade literacy instructors, offset costs for classroom technology and replenish classroom and library books, all as a part of the “Reading the WJA Way” program. 

For more information about the JLW’s 2013-2014 grant cycle, including the availability of and deadline for submission, please email grantsandvolunteers@jlw.org or visit our website.