Five New Books!

As elementary school reading tutors, our teens noticed that few children’s books reflect their realities. At Reach, we trust teens with real responsibility for things that matter to them. So, when confronted with this challenge, we did what seemed most appropriate: we had our teens write new books.

Last summer, Reach published four children’s books. This fall, in partnership with Shout Mouse Press and Shootback DC, we are publishing five more. Check out the summaries below, and read to the end to find out how you can get advanced copies by supporting our teens today!

In partnership with Shootback DC

The Real DC: A to Z
Ballou – Arveone, Marques, Shamya
Eastern – Fatimah, Neehma, Sean
Perry Street Prep – Napresha, Ricardo

DC A to Z PreviewSo many alphabet books tell the story of the monuments and the national mall. They tell the story of Washington, but our teens wanted to write a book about DC. With teen-taken photos and teen-written text, the alphabet has never been so much fun. C is for Carry Out, G is for Go Go, and Q is for Quadrants. Get ready for a true tour of our city.

In partnership with Shout Mouse Press

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.41.05 PMThe Hoodie Hero
by Ashley (Ballou), Daequan (Perry Street Prep), and Rico (Eastern)
Da’Monte walks home deflated after watching a friend get bullied. Afraid of the confrontation, he did nothing. Wishing he was braver, he confided in his grandmother, who provided a powerful surprise. With a magical hoodie provided by the family matriarch, Da’Monte becomes brave and bold. The bullies better watch out.

Khalil’s Swagtown AdventureScreen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.39.03 PM
by Litzi (Ballou), Kyare (Eastern), Za’Metria (Perry Street Prep)
Khalil is tired of hearing his parents fight. As they scream, he retreats to his closet and begins writing. Beckoned by Khalil’s writing, Khalil’s future self – called Bruh – shows up to provide support. Together, they visit Swagtown and learn how families can communicate better. Armed with strategies and confidence, Khalil emerges from the closet ready to build a better family.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.38.26 PMMariah Finds a Way
by Darrin (Eastern), Makayla (Ballou), Marc (Perry Street Prep)
Mariah really wants to take over her parents’ fruit shop one day, but they don’t think she can do it. Why? Because she’s blind. When her parents leave on vacation, Mariah gets her hands on the keys to the store. With the help of her parrot sidekick, Blue, she shows her parents what she can do. Frustrated by confusing coins and crooks, Mariah must find a way to get the job done.

Princess CoverThe Princess of Fort Hill Shelter
by Darne’sha (Ballou), Karta (Eastern), Zorita (Perry Street Prep)
Meet Princess McKenzie as she shows you around her castle (Fort Hill Shelter). Speaking mostly in verse, McKenzie shows the power of imagination in overcoming difficult circumstances. But, as the reader is introduced to the royal family, it becomes clear that the queen is missing. McKenzie leaves the shelter in search of the queen and finds something far more important.

Publishing books is far from free. You can help by making a contribution today. But, as they say, that’s not all! Your generosity will be rewarded by advanced copies of our newest titles. And, if you don’t have any young readers at home, you can gift your books to your favorite classroom or school.

With your support, we can publish relevant and engaging material that will build enthusiastic readers the world over. Join us by donating today.

The books will be published and distributed in October 2014.

Posted in Funding, Updates |Leave a comment |

Reach on WTOP!

Check out the clips below to hear Kyare and Za’Metria interviewed on WTOP!

Two short clips ran today on the radio, and you can read the write up here.

Use the player below to listen to the radio pieces:



Kyare & ZaMetria WTOP

And, if you missed it, check out this great piece that ran in Greater Greater Education last week. Our teens are famous!

Posted in Ed Reform Notes, Meet Our Tutors, Updates |Leave a comment |

Teens Give Back 2

After weeks of research and practice, six groups of teens stepped up to the microphone last Tuesday night. Teens Give Back, part of Reach’s unique summer program, gives teens the opportunity to be community philanthropists. We give them $3,000. There’s one rule: they have to give it away to charities they select.

Teens identify community challenges and select organizations they respect. They research those organizations and create 90-second pitches. At Tuesday’s event, six groups presented to an audience almost one hundred strong. Supporters, local funders, and Reach families gathered to see these presentations.

The team representing Courtney's House

The team representing Courtney’s House

Our young people spoke about a variety of issues – veterans, AIDS/HIV, teen pregnancy, youth incarceration, poverty, and human trafficking. While some nerves showed, the young people made some compelling arguments for support.

Like last year, many of the selected organizations reflected one of Reach’s core values: do the work that is most difficult to do and least often done. The six organizations – Courtney’s House, DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Mentoring Today, Metro Teen AIDS, SOME, and Veterans on the Rise – were all well represented.

Terrell spoke about the DC Campaign’s success cutting the teen pregnancy rate in half and Tavian discussed the importance of SOME’s capacity to address a variety of challenges. Ashley encouraged us to fight for those who fought for us, and Sasha stated the importance of Metro Teen AIDS’ educational programs. Each of these organizations was awarded Honorable Mention, which comes with a $250 contribution on behalf of our teens.


Jada receives her Junior Staff Hoodie

As the final votes were counted, a special ceremony took place. Five Reach teens were promoted to Junior Staff, Reach’s highest honor. Each of these young people was given an official Reach Staff Hoodie, a token of our appreciation for their exemplary work. Congratulations to Jada, Marc, Za’Metria, Napresha, and Jordan, our newest Junior Staff members.

There was laughter and there was applause…then there was an announcement.

The winning team, representing Mentoring Today

The winning team, representing Mentoring Today

Due to the incredible work of Litzi, Napresha, and Neehma, Courtney’s House won our $500 runner-up prize. As that announcement was made, smiles broke out on the faces of the young people representing Mentoring Today, our winners. In honor of Kyare, Za’Metria, Daequan, Fatimah, and Jada, we will make a $1,500 contribution to Mentoring Today, an organization that provides mentoring and support to young people involved in the juvenile justice system. Like Reach, Mentoring Today never gives up on a kid, and our young people respect that.

Thanks for all those who supported the event and congratulations to all the organizations that will receive our support. But, above all, thanks to our young people who showed us all something about giving back to their community.

Posted in Funding, Meet Our Tutors, Updates |Comments closed |

Our Growing Team: Lori

LoriOn July 1st, Lori Pitts became Reach’s fourth employee. She’ll be joining us, part-time, as our Curriculum & Creativity Coordinator.

You may not have heard that job title before – that’s because we made it up – so let me tell you a bit about how Lori’s past and present will contribute to Reach’s future!

A 2012 graduate of Davidson College, Lori brings experience as a Teaching Artist at Actors Theatre of Louisville and Imagination Stage. She also works with a great local nonprofit, Young Playwrights’ Theater.

Using her experience in theater and dance instruction, Lori will help Reach brings its curriculum alive. She will contribute to curriculum development efforts and support Program Instructors in the use of arts-integrated engagement strategies. She’ll also lead the effort to turn our children’s books into Readers Theater scripts for use in elementary school classrooms. Basically, her role is to use her creative instincts to make our curriculum and our instruction even more engaging to the tutors and students we serve.

Lori joined us in the Fall of 2013 as a Program Instructor co-leading our work at Eastern Senior High and Payne Elementary. As she transitions to our “central office” team, her experience as an instructor makes her uniquely qualified to ensure all our curricular materials and tools are aligned to support excellent instruction in the classroom.

Welcome Lori! We’re thrilled to have you join our team.

Posted in Updates |Comments closed |

Graduation Day

Four years ago, 20 9th grade students took a chance on Reach. To those students, Reach was a new program…a job. To me, that moment was a beginning. We had a belief that turning teens into tutors would lead to reading growth and improved academic outcomes. For four years, we have been monitoring indicators of progress. On Thursday, we were able to see the fruits of our hard work, and it was beautiful.

DC’s graduation rate is 63% – even lower for minority youth. From our founding, Reach has made a commitment to choosing to do the most difficult work. Without intervention, it is likely that our tutors would graduate at a rate even lower than the city average. That was not the case.

Of those 20 tutors that joined us in the fall of 2010, 16 have already graduated. Many of them attended multiple schools during their high school years, but they kept moving toward graduation. In addition to Perry Street Prep, members of that original cohort graduated from Anacostia, Dunbar, and Wise (MD). Of the four who have not graduated, three are on track to graduate within a year. One of the 20 is incarcerated, but he remains in touch with us, and he is working toward his GED. Reach’s first cohort of tutors will be heading to Morehouse, UDC, Trinity Washington University, Morgan State, the DC Firefighter Cadet Program, and more.

Reach’s graduation rate: 80%. And, our graduation rate could jump to 100% in the next year.

But, those numbers only tell part of the story. In the last four years, that cohort has been through so much. They have dealt with homelessness, incarceration, poverty, sexual assault, expulsion, neglect, and many other traumas. And still, as Dr. Angelou taught us, they rise.

In the last few days, many of these graduating tutors have taken time to tell us how much Reach meant to them. They told us they appreciated our unconditional support. To describe Reach, they used words like family.

In the last few days, I cried. I felt pride I didn’t know resided inside me. I got hugtackled (it’s a new word) by young people willing to share this moment with me. I consider myself lucky to know them. We are inspired by them and excited for them. We are honored to have been part of their journey. Congratulations to the class of 2014. And thank you. – Mr. Mark


Posted in Ed Reform Notes, Meet Our Tutors, Updates |Comments closed |

Reason #1

Reason #1: Napresha, Jordan, and Za’Metria

For the last 10 days, we have been revealing ten reasons to support Reach during DoMore24, a one-day local giving event that takes place June 19th!

Today, we share Reason #1:

At Reach, there is one honor above all others: The Hoodie. Reach tutors can earn promotions based on their performance both in and after school. The highest promotion available, Junior Staff, comes with a Reach staff hoodie. Until now, only two tutors – Rashaan and Kyare – had earned Junior Staff status. Today, three more tutors join this elite group, including our first two female Junior Staff members.

In addition to exceptional performance in the program, each tutor had to submit an essay explaining what it would mean to wear the hoodie.

  • Jordan’s (11th grade, Eastern High) response reflected his personality, quite serious. He spoke of The Hoodie showing that he doesn’t quit and that he is committed to helping others and improving himself. The Hoodie, he said, would show he is responsible and patient.
  • Napresha’s (11th Grade, Perry Street Prep) essay was filled with pride – she learned patience and credited Reach with “holding me together through high school.” Napresha, who hates accepting compliments, said she would proudly tell people she earned The Hoodie through hard work and commitment to her students.
  • Za’Metria’s (10th Grade, Perry Street Prep) response was the most emotional. “Reach isn’t just a program,” she said. “It’s my family.” She continued by telling us that Reach taught her to set goals and work toward them. And, by wearing The Hoodie, Za’Metria says she’ll be reminded that she can achieve her goals through hard work and consistent effort.
Junior Staff

Rashaan & Kyare sporting their Junior Staff hoodies

All of these tutors are leaders, role models, and heroes to the young students they serve. We proudly welcome them as Junior Staff members, and we look forward to presenting them with their hoodies at a ceremony this summer.

Tomorrow, we hope you’ll honor their work by supporting Reach during DoMore24, a one-day giving campaign. We have $20,000 in matching funds to compound the power of your contributions. Give tomorrow, and every dollar will be doubled. Give tomorrow to honor Napresha, Jordan, and Za’Metria. But, most important, give to support the possibility of teen potential unleashed.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter today to see what your generosity does when used to support the amazing young people with whom we get to work. Thank you.


Posted in Funding, Meet Our Students, Updates |Comments closed |

DoMore24: 10 Reasons to Give

#10) We have $20,000 in matching funds. One dollar from you = two dollars for Reach!

#9) Your gift will support the second year of our unique summer program, during which 30 teens will author books, make grants to local nonprofits, visit colleges, and read challenging texts.

jpatrick_201105122-59#8) Throughout his life, Brandon has experienced many challenges. He’s been expelled from school. He’s dealt with significant family challenges – including issues related to homelessness and incarceration. He’s failed classes. He’s been disrespectful to teachers.

But, then he became one. Now, he’s a leader, an author, and a voracious reader. And, in the fall, he’ll be a student at Allegheny College of Maryland.

#7) In four years, we have given away more than 2,000 books, allowing program participants to maintain reading gains during school breaks.

#6) We’ll let our students tell you. Our students from Payne Elementary school sent their tutors a card. One student wrote, “Thank you for helping me. It was so amazing. My test scores are off the hook because of you. I’ll miss you all. Love, Niamca.”

Kyare Reading#5) At Reach, we believe that teens have the ability to change their communities. When our tutors noticed that children’s books didn’t generally reflect their lives and experiences, we helped them become authors. In doing so, we allowed our tutors to inspire young readers and writers across the city through public readings that look quite different than the typical author event.

#4) We don’t talk about this often, but we believe it’s true. Teaching them to be tutors now also teaches them how to be parents (much!) later.

Arveone#3) Some of our tutors arrive with a hardened outer shell. We often hear phrases like “I don’t care” or “I don’t want to be here.” But, usually, they continue to show up, regularly showered in the affection of their young students.

On the last day, students were given a chance to share their favorite memories from the year. Two students spoke about how much they enjoyed their time with their hard-shelled tutor. You could barely hear the tutor’s words as she responded softly to another tutor standing nearby: “I may need to leave. They’re gonna make me cry.”

#2) Reach has only twice had rising seniors. And twice, we’ve had an alum selected to be a summer intern with Urban Alliance, DC’s most competitive high school internship program.

When asked about Sejal, Urban Alliance staff said, “She was amazing. We’re used to having interviews with young people. With Sejal, we had a conversation.”

Sejal, when asked about the interview, said, “I was confident. I mean, how many other applicants are Lead Tutors and published authors?”

What’s #1? Click to find out!

Posted in Funding, Meet Our Students, Updates |Comments closed |

Cheryl Irving: A Remembrance

20 years ago, I was in 7th grade. My English teacher was a woman named Cheryl Irving. I thought she was mean. Nothing I did was good enough. And, worse than that, she called me lazy.irving She said things about my unrealized potential…and she said them to my parents!

But there was a secret in my life – something she knew nothing about. My father was dying. Each morning, I would get up to help my father get ready for work. I would pack surgical wounds with gauze, tape a towel over the wounds to keep blood from staining his shirts, and head off to school. When first period arrived, I had already been up for hours.

Sometimes I slept. Sometimes I stared off, lost in thought. Many days, I arrived unprepared for class. Mrs. Irving would have none of it. She didn’t know that I deserved her pity. And, had she known, I don’t think she would’ve given it anyway.

The year ended, and the summer brought my father’s death. My relationship with Mrs. Irving grew over time. When she started a writing center to help those struggling in school, I was one of the first people she brought on as a tutor. Apparently, this woman who mercilessly tore apart everything I handed in actually thought I could write.

When I wrote my personal statement during the college application process, I dug out an old comment from Mrs. Irving. It served as the header of my essay. The writing that followed discussed the way I had learned to tap the potential she had seen in me. In recent years, when I returned to the school as a member of the board, Mrs. Irving always sought me out. She was so proud of all of Reach’s kids (and me).

On Wednesday, Mrs. Irving died unexpectedly.

She taught me how to write. She did this not by saying I was good at it, or by saying I could be better, but by artistically weaving the two together in a way only a master teacher could. It’s what I try to do every single day.

Mrs. Irving wasn’t my favorite teacher, but she may have been my best.

Each day, I remember three things I learned as a struggling 7th grade student in her class.

  • First, I refuse to offer pity. Like my father’s death from Cancer, the traumas experienced by Reach’s students are explanations for their struggles in school. That said, we can’t treat them as excuses. The moment we lower our expectations, we fail our students.
  • Second, I don’t aim to be the teacher Reach’s kids want today. I want to be – and I want my staff to be – the teacher our kids will appreciate later. There’s a big difference. Mrs. Irving drove me crazy, but I thank her every day.
  • Third, I make clear as often as possible how much I care about and believe in Reach’s kids. Even when I have to be tough, I do it from a place of caring – I frame it around my belief in their eventual success.

Mrs. Irving taught me all these things. There are few teachers that have had such an impact on my life, few educators whose loss could make me cry. One day, I hope to be half the educator Mrs. Irving was for so many years.

There will be a time in the next couple weeks when one of Reach’s kids tells us about life challenges getting in the way of school. We will show compassion. And then, without question, we will push them to succeed anyway. If Mrs. Irving taught me anything, it’s that they’ll thank us later.

Posted in Ed Reform Notes, Updates |Comments closed |

Hecker Named W.K. Kellogg Community Leadership Network Fellow

Local Nonprofit Leader Selected for Major National Fellowship
Reach Incorporated Founder one of 24 selected for national cohort of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network Fellowship.

jpatrick_201105122-13BATTLE CREEK, MI, May 13, 2014 – The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) named Mark Hecker, Executive Director of Reach Incorporated, a member of the inaugural cohort of the foundation’s newly launched Community Leadership Network.

The WKKF Community Leadership Network Fellowship targets individuals who can be transformative social change agents in their communities so that vulnerable children and their families can achieve optimal health and well-being, academic achievement and financial security.

Launched in 2010, Reach Incorporated recruits high school students who have experienced academic failure to work as elementary school reading tutors. Through this unique model, elementary school participants experience 1.5 grade levels of reading growth per year of participation. This growth, equal to that which might be expected in the classroom of a highly effective teacher, is generated by teens tutors who themselves experience more than 2 grade levels of reading growth.

“I’m ecstatic about this opportunity,” said Hecker, a former DC social worker of the year. “I look forward to learning from the other fellows so I might better support the amazing work of our staff, tutors and students. DC’s challenges are significant. With the Kellogg Foundation’s support, I look forward to contributing to the growth of a movement that recognizes the importance of community in creating equitable access to educational opportunities.”

Of the 24 fellows selected for the national cohort, four come from the District of Columbia. Joining Hecker are Lynsey Wood Jeffries, National CEO of Higher Achievement; Kim Bookard, Program Manager at the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative; and Oronde Miller, Senior Associate at the Center for the Study of Social Policy.

Reach Incorporated develops confident, grade-level readers and capable leaders by training teens to teach younger students, creating academic benefit for all involved. By trusting teens with real responsibility for real outcomes, Reach’s unique programs build foundational skills in an engaging and empowering way. To learn more about Reach Incorporated, visit

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast pioneer Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. To learn more about the fellowship, visit

Posted in Updates |Comments closed |

On 5 Years…

This month, Reach celebrated its 5th birthday. It’s hard to know how to celebrate survival. For every new organization, the question is central: Will we make it?

We did. Half make it three years. A third make it five years. Here we are.

What do we have to show for it? We offer three stories:

IMG_4800A young man at Eastern is having a rough time. He’s having trouble finding motivation to do well in school, even though he continues to thrive with Reach. Today, when asked what reward we could offer to motivate him to improve his grades, he said, “I know what I want.” When asked, he explained, “Every Wednesday, we can check my grades. If I improve, on Thursdays, Mr. H (pictured above) will help me with my homework.” Given the opportunity to have anything he wanted, he wanted time with one of our staff members. At five years old, we see relationships matter.

A young woman at Perry Street Prep wants to be part of Urban Alliance, DC’s most competitive high school internship program. Yesterday, she interviewed. Today, I spoke with a member of Urban Alliance’s team. “She was kind of awesome,” he said. “With most of the kids, we have an interview. With her, we had a conversation.” She was surprised to hear the nice things we had told them about her. Always pushing her to do better, she didn’t realize how far we already recognized she had come. When given the opportunity to compete with teens from around the city, she rose to the top. At five years old, our teens can compete with anyone in the city.

A new tutor from Ballou was struggling. On a particularly bad day, she let the whole school hear her anger, filling the elementary school hallway with curse words. She was asked to leave the elementary school…permanently. But, we don’t fire tutors.CAM00368 There were meetings and meetings and meetings. Eventually, she had the opportunity to meet with the principal. Prepped by our staff, she did exceptionally well. Three weeks later, she returned and is working with a particularly difficult student. “Actually,” she says now, “she reminds me a little of what I was like when I was a kid.” Her student (pictured right) didn’t smile much before. After five years, we know that you get proven right when you refuse to give up on kids.

This experience has been exceptional. Each day, we learn. Each day, we fail. Each day, we succeed. But, more than anything, we are honored and humbled to work with the young people we get to spend time with each day.

Thank you for allowing us that opportunity. And thanks, as always, for reading.


Posted in Meet Our Tutors, Updates |Comments closed |