Briya hosts college and career panel for medical assistant students and alumni

“Our immediate goal may be to train people to be medical assistants, but our ultimate aim is to help people achieve their big dreams, no matter what those dreams may be,” said Reena Gadhia, manager of Briya’s Medical Assistant (MA) Program, as she reflected upon the first MA College and Career Panel Briya hosted.

During the panel, three speakers presented information about health care career pathways, college admissions, and scholarships, with the goal of helping attendees understand and envision possibilities for their future. The panel’s audience included current students and alumni from Briya’s MA Program, as well as medical assistants from Mary’s Center and additional interested Briya students.

College and Career fair student and speaker

The first speaker was Michelle Dorsey, an educational counselor at the College Board, who detailed how her organization helps students access higher education through scholarships and admissions processes. Tiffany Solis, from Trinity Nursing School, and Jason Williams, of the Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning Division at University of District of Columbia, presented on the opportunities offered by their respective institutions.


“I think the panel had a great impact on the students,” said Beth Kushner, Briya’s Transitions Coordinator. “It’s easy to talk about college and write it down as a goal, but to actually meet those who are involved in the everyday college process brings a necessary realness.”

At the end of their presentations, each speaker engaged with the audience for a question-and-answer session. The event concluded with students having one-on-one time with panelists, allowing them to get answers to their specific questions and concerns.

Gadhia hopes that information from the panel will help Briya’s students achieve their goals and, ultimately, have a positive effect on the health care field. “The diversity these students can bring as well-trained, bilingual, and ethnically and culturally diverse health care workers is enormous,” she said. “Their success can be a powerful change agent!”

Briya English teacher wins 2017 teacher excellence award

Judy Kittleson, one of Briya’s English teachers, was awarded the 2017 TIERific Teacher Excellence Award by the Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), which oversees all charter schools in the District. She was honored at a ceremony on December 11, 2017.

This award recognizes an outstanding DC public charter school teacher who demonstrates dedication, excellence, and care to their students and school.

Judy speaks at awards ceremonyKittleson has been teaching ESL to adults for 25 years, and 12 of those years have been at Briya. In addition to teaching English, she teaches parenting classes, mentors new teachers, and works one-on-one with students in Briya’s National External Diploma Program, which she was instrumental in bringing to the school.

“I went into teaching because it uses my whole self—my intellect, my creativity, my personality, my sense of humor—and teaching English language learners feeds my curiosity about cultures, my love of language, and my desire to work for social justice,” she said.

During the ceremony, Kittleson gave a speech in which she mentioned her experiences teaching at Briya, described how she connects with her students, and offered advice to school administrators. “By knowing our students’ experiences, we connect new information with what matters to them,” she said.

Kittleson is a committed, extraordinary, and creative teacher. Judy is one of the best teachers I have ever had,” said Rebeca, one of her students. “I can ask her anything, whether it has to do with academics or something personal. If there is a vocabulary word that we don’t know, she acts out the word until we understand what it means.”

Kittleson also supports her students in expanding their goals. “I wanted to learn English but I never thought of going beyond that,” said Anabel, another of her students. With her help, I have been able to have a more ample vision, including going to college.”

Fourth class of medical assistant graduates celebrate accomplishments

“It is a privilege to be standing here tonight with you all celebrating our successes,” Enwet Abebe said, addressing her 19 fellow Medical Assistant Program graduates at a ceremony this December.

“Our class was full of intensive work and fun,” Abebe, the class valedictorian, continued. “Do you remember what we felt during the practice sessions when we began giving injections, drawing blood or even taking vitals and patient histories? There were all kinds of feelings including excitement, nervousness, frustration and more, but we did it well and now it is our daily job.”

Valedictorian giving her speech

Briya’s program, which was begun in 2013 and is offered in partnership with Mary’s Center, prepares students to pass the nationally recognized medical assistant exam and go on to stable careers in doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals.

At the time of the graduation, 12 of the 20 graduates, including Abebe, had already been offered jobs as medical assistants.

“It makes a difference when you apply for jobs and say you are from Briya,” Abebe said. “I have found that everywhere I go, they like the Briya students, which makes me feel like I am from a wonderful school.”

During the ceremony, students were recognized for their outstanding achievements—including those who graduated with high honors and those who had perfect attendance.

Abebe left her classmates with words of encouragement as she concluded her speech.

“Fellow graduates, we should feel proud of ourselves for being successful and passing all those challenges,” she said. “This is the starting point of our dreams, and I wish you all the best in achieving them. It is challenging, but we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be willing to learn.”

Briya earns top ranking from DC Public Charter School Board for third consecutive year

Briya was recently ranked as a Tier 1 high-performing school in both adult education and early education for the 2016-17 school year by the DC Public Charter School Board.

The DC PCSB oversees all public charter schools in the District and evaluates them annually based on common standards. Schools are then ranked in tiers according to their performance.

This is the third consecutive year Briya has been ranked Tier 1 in adult education, ever since the rankings for adult education schools first began. This is the first year that early education charter schools in DC received tiered rankings.

Briya was honored alongside other Tier 1 schools at a ceremony, during which Jennie Niles, DC’s Deputy Mayor for Education, addressed the group.

“As education leaders, our job is to ensure that all students, in all schools, across all neighborhoods, have access to a high-quality education,” Niles said. “I’m proud that the number of top-performing charter schools in the District continues to grow, from early childhood to adult education, and that our schools continue to work together to give every student the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Fifth class of students enters Medical Assistant Program

“It is something I wanted to do and I’m finally doing it. I am helping and making a difference,” Shenell Williams, 2014 Medical Assistant Program graduate, reflected on her MA experience during a celebration on Wednesday, August 23.

Shenell Williams addresses the audience at Briya's MA Induction ceremony.

Proud family and friends gathered together to celebrate the induction of the fifth class of students into Briya’s Medical Assistant Program. Christie McKay, Briya’s Executive Director, welcomed the 28 students and spoke about how proud she is of this program, its students, and its growth.

Dara Koppelman, Chief Nursing Officer at Mary’s Center, also addressed guests, sharing how much she values Briya MA students. She announced that Mary’s Center has hired a total of 17 Briya MA graduates.

Koppelman praised the work of those graduates, stating, “They are hard-working, intelligent, empathetic, and just all-around wonderful staff members.”

Stressing the importance of the students’ work, Koppelman highlighted their career path. “You are all about to start, or perhaps continue on, a journey to be in the most important career path there is, healthcare,” she said. Further highlighting the significance, she went on to share that healthcare “touches everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic, immigration, or insurance status.”

Williams, the first MA from Briya’s program to be hired by Mary’s Center, then enthusiastically addressed the new students and shared her story of her journey through the program.

Williams shared that for her, Briya’s MA program provided a second chance, and when she found out she was accepted into the program, “it brought tears to [her] eyes and joy to [her] heart.” She continued to tell students to prepare to work hard, as she often found herself staying late for tutoring.

Williams’ dedication and respect for the program was clear. “I am proud to say that I am currently employed at Mary’s Center as a Medical Assistant,” she said. “I love working at Mary’s Center. I have grown a lot while in the Briya program and at Mary’s Center.”

She expressed her gratitude for the staff who supported her every step of the way and happily laughed as she admitted that when she finally took the national Registered Medical Assistant exam, it was much easier than she had expected.

After all three speakers, students were then handed certificates of scholarship and received their MA pins. Instructors and former students pinned them on as family and community members cheered in support.

In the past three years of Briya’s Medical Assistant program, every student who has taken the nationally recognized exam to become a registered MA has passed. This statistic truly captures the strength of this exceptional program, made possible through Briya’s longstanding partnership with Mary’s Center and the dedication of students and staff.


Briya high school graduates celebrate their achievements

“Getting my diploma was challenging, but I did not give up,” Alba Hernandez said, addressing her fellow Briya high school graduates and their guests during a ceremony this June. “I felt frustrated and like I couldn’t do it, but at the same time, I knew I had to. No matter what the barriers were, my goal was to get my diploma, and I am so happy to finally graduate.”

Five students earned their high school diploma through Briya’s National External Diploma Program (NEDP) in spring 2017, and they celebrated with faculty, family, and friends during a graduation ceremony. The NEDP, which Briya offers to students in the most advanced English level of its Two-Generation Program, is specifically designed to meet the needs of adult learners.

Alba Hernandez, 2017 NEDP graduate

“I decided to enter the NEDP because in my country, Guatemala, I couldn’t finish high school,” Hernandez said in her speech. “And I learned many things in NEDP, including improving my reading and writing, as well as practical things that help me in my everyday life.”

Hernandez shared that for her, one of the most relevant topics turned out to be learning about diabetes in the health unit of the program. Months later she was diagnosed with diabetes herself, and she felt much more confident in her understanding of the illness and its treatment because of what she had learned through the NEDP.

During the ceremony, students each received a copy of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” a gesture to celebrate their hard work and bright futures, as well as to honor the importance of their young children and families. Lenora Robinson Mills, COO of the DC Public Charter School Board, then officially conferred the diplomas on the graduates.

Judy Kittleson, Briya’s NEDP Coordinator, congratulated the students on the dedication and perseverance they showed as they balanced their studies and the rest of their lives.

“These students have demonstrated the competencies required for the NEDP,” she said, “but they’ve also demonstrated that they are invested in their children’s schools, in their work, in the lives of their families, and in their communities. You all should be very proud of these graduates and what they have accomplished. Thank you, graduates, and congratulations.”

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.”

During 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

Eden Asmelash, co-valedictorian of Briya’s third medical assistant class“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, speaking to the attendees during the program portion of the event.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.”