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Community Spotlight: The Fishing School

The Fishing School has been teaching children to “fish in the rivers of their minds” since the late 1980s, when a retired District police officer transformed an abandoned crack house into an afterschool center for neighborhood children. Since then, The Fishing School has worked to close the achievement gap for over 5,000 underprivileged children by providing them with an afterschool curriculum from grades 1 through 8. This curriculum integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEM) with language, life skills, and homework help. The Fishing School also exposes children to college preparation and offers interest clubs for topics like dance, theater, sports, and more.

We chose The Fishing School as our Community Spotlight this month because of their success in helping the District’s children. In the last city-wide evaluation, they were ranked first in math and second in reading outcomes for youth programs funded by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. We spoke to Dr. Porsha Childs, Director of Programs, to tell us more about what this program has to offer.

  • How did your founders choose your organization’s unique name?

The name of The Fishing School (TFS) was inspired by the experiences of our founder, Tom Lewis, based on the old adage, “If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.” He believed then, as we do today, that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Our goal is to give students the tools they need so they can be successful in school and in life.

  • Why are after school programs so important in closing the achievement gap?

Education is one of the greatest determining factors in the success of a child’s life. Yet sadly, the achievement gaps in DC are among the widest in the country, particularly for children in DC’s low-income communities and communities of color. According to results of the 2017 DC Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, only 15% of African-American students in grades 3-12 were proficient in Math, compared to 76% of Caucasian students in the same grades. Similarly, only 20% of African-American students were proficient in English Language Arts, compared to 84% of Caucasian students.

The stark disparities in test scores by race and income evidence the compelling need for strong and proven academic interventions in the predominantly African-American and economically- disadvantaged communities within which TFS works. Recent research has shown that unless significant academic interventions are undertaken, students who fail English or math are 75% more likely to drop out of high school. These dropouts have a 40% year-round joblessness rate and a median annual income of approximately $12,000. Once formed, these achievement gaps can be nearly impossible to bridge.

Research clearly evidences that participation in high-quality, out-of-school time (OST) programs can help to eliminate the achievement gap for youth in poverty-stricken and underserved communities. However, cuts in government funding have radically reduced the already inadequate availability of afterschool programs at DCPS schools. What has emerged is an urgent need for effective afterschool programming for DC’s underserved youth. According to the Afterschool Alliance, 32,436 DC children from K-12 are waiting for an available afterschool program and 19,718 remain alone and unsupervised between 3 and 6pm. These are the peak hours in which youth commit crimes; become victims of crimes; and experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex. The reduction in DCPS afterschool offerings impacts students, families, and whole communities as students who are unable to enroll in afterschool lose valuable opportunities to gain academic support, and working parents struggle to find inexpensive, high quality afterschool programming

  • Tell us more about your Cohort Model?

Our program is based on the highly-successful Cohort Model, a two-generational continuous commitment to children and their parents from 1st through 5th grade in which students are grouped into "cohorts" upon enrollment and progress through a multiyear program continuum together. Our goal is to commit to each student and their parents to prepare them for success in high school and life. Our model directly addresses realities facing many of our city’s children and is based on research on what helps them thrive in spite of systemic challenges. We believe that if children succeed academically, have sound school and life skills, and are supported by their parents and caregivers, they can achieve success in school, in life, and beyond.

  • What activities do your students participate in during a typical afternoon?

TFS’ Elementary Afterschool Program for 1st to 5th grade students operates from August through June, 3:15 to 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Students spend at least 90 minutes weekly on an instructor-supervised online curriculum. On a weekly basis, students participate in an hour-long, Common Core-aligned STEAM curriculum that provides opportunities for youth to become young scientists as they engage in hands-on, inquiry-based activities. TFS uses Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) as a foundation to expose our elementary students to college and various aspects of the college going process. Likewise, TFS’ afterschool program addresses social emotional learning (SEL) and life skill development through its Life Skills component. In addition, students spend 45 minutes weekly on read-alouds, which develop students’ early language skills, reinforce their reading and comprehension skills, and build a stronger foundation for school success. Twice a week, students participate in TFS-sponsored clubs for an hour, and four days a week students receive at least 30 minutes of homework help. On average, TFS students receive 650 hours of intervention annually.

  • How does your summer camp differ from the after school program?

During summer camp, students receive support to build and maintain academic and social skills in an effort to prevent summer learning loss. Our summer camp activities further students’ life skills progress, expand students’ horizons, and provide a safe and healthy learning environment. This intensive, fun, and engaging program runs from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday for a minimum of five weeks and is exclusive to TFS Afterschool enrollees.

  • How does The Fishing School engage parents?

In TFS’ Parent Engagement Program, parents participate in year-round activities and events designed to increase their knowledge of youth development and empower them to make use of best practices so that they become stewards of their student’s progress. This two-generational approach is currently emerging as one of the most widely accepted and effective models in the industry.

Parents are exposed to critical skills and fundamental components of parental involvement, gaining the tools necessary to support the academic needs of their children.

  • How do students qualify for The Fishing School?

TFS is not selective in our recruitment. Our year-round programs are free for students and parents at our partner schools. We accept students in grades 1-5 on a first come, first served basis until we have reached our enrollment cap.

  • Do students at The Fishing School pay tuition?

TFS’ afterschool program, summer camp, parent engagement activities, and all program activities/events are provided at no cost to students and their families. TFS relies 100% on donations from private and public sectors to fund its program operations.

  • How can the D.C. community support The Fishing School?

Support The Fishing School with financial gifts, in-kind resources, and volunteering. Visit www.thefishingschool.org, like us on www.facebook.com/TheFishingSchool, and follow us on Twitter @TFSinDC.