In celebration of Black History Month, the DC Out-of-School-Time Coalition is spotlighting Black leaders in the District who came up through OST programs. OST programs can help uplift youth and encourage them to embrace their interests, abilities and talents outside of an academic setting. Our Black History Month features celebrate the District’s OST programs and the educators who lead them.
Briana Wallington Ferguson, also known as "Bri" to loved ones, colleagues and friends alike, serves a principal-like role as one of the learning directors for Higher Achievement, an academic enrichment and mentoring program serving middle school youth. Bri oversees programming and team building, and advocates for what scholars, teams, and families need to be successful. Bri is not only a Learning Director but a wife, daughter, educator, and an example of a successful alum of out-of-school time (OST) programs. A native Washingtonian, Bri has experienced the opportunities provided by OST as a youth and is now part of the adult support system who lead these programs.
As an avid reader and former YMCA participant, Bri excelled academically, but her fourth grade teacher believed it was important that she engage with a program outside of the normal school time. After a discussion with her mother, she was enrolled in Higher Achievement.
“Higher Achievement is really a program that believes that talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not,” Briana noted.
Being in Higher Achievement from fourth grade onward not only made middle school bearable by giving her an outlet to build community, but it also allowed Bri the space to engage in goal setting and explore options for future leadership opportunities. In working with middle schoolers, Higher Achievement allows scholars to explore possible interests, career goals, and abilities while also working to help them get into their high school of choice and prepare for college.
Many out-of-school-time programs follow a similar pattern, going beyond the academic standards and core curriculum of schools to help elevate youth to enrich themselves academically and explore their interests outside of academia. Programs such as Higher Achievement hold their scholars to realistic but high expectations where they are given room to learn about a variety of subjects. They also allow youth to connect with mentors, who serve as trusted and caring adults who provide guidance and a listening ear.
Growing up in Higher Achievement has helped set Briana on a pathway for success. Her experiences in Higher Achievement first as a youth scholar, then as an intern, and later as a program coordinator developed her passion for educational equity, especially as she thought about the people in her community who didn't have the same guidance she received.
“If someone just took the time to hear them out and learn their experience and who they are and help them make their potential a reality, maybe their life would have turned out a bit differently," Bri said.
Youth everywhere deserve a space where they can explore, receive the support they need and be uplifted to reach their full potential. With providers like Bri and the educators at Higher Achievement and other OST programs, young people in the District have a chance to learn more about themselves.
“Seeing their growth in who they are and who they want to be is so rewarding,” Bri explained. “Success looks so different for each of them and when they meet their individual goals and graduate from middle school ready for high school is rewarding. No matter their circumstances or experiences, they are capable of doing great things with support from people who care about them.”