FOCUS Virtual Tour

In April, Briya held a virtual tour for DC city leaders, funders, and educators. This was part of a series of events organized by FOCUS DC (a DC charter advocacy organization) to show how charter schools are innovatively adapting to distance learning. The tour featured Briya’s English and Medical Assistant programs, as well as our 2 generation model. Briya students were also invited to speak about their experience learning at Briya.

Watch the tour here:

Fourth class of students enters Medical Assistant Program

Gina Pistulka, Briya instructor, welcomed everyone and spoke to the incoming students Twenty-four new students were inducted into Briya’s Medical Assistant Program during a ceremony this fall.

Gina Pistulka, Briya instructor, welcomed everyone and spoke to the incoming students about the vital work they will do as medical assistants.

“You are the face of the healthcare team,” Pistulka said. “You are the one the patient will meet first. You are the one who will start to create the environment in which a person begins to heal.”

“You and the students who have come before you are some of the most inspirational people I have met,” she added. “You have already shown your strength and your persistence in moving your life forward and accepting challenges that will bring you and your families to a brighter place.”

A 2016 MA Program graduate, Lahana Bernard, then spoke to the class about her time in the 15-month program, which prepares students to work alongside doctors and nurses.

“I feel very prepared and confident,” she said. “I have gained a lot of knowledge and skills from this program, which will enable me to have a career–not just a job.”

Bernard also spoke about her positive experience with her teachers and classmates at Briya.

An incoming student receives a medical assistant pin from a program graduateThe instructors here are the best,” she said. “They really care and will work with you to make sure you understand the content. As students … we were all one big family. Students bonded and supported each other through tough personal and family issues and losses.”

After hearing from Pistulka and Bernard, each incoming student received a medical assistant pin from a program graduate. The new students then recited the medical assistant creed, officially becoming Briya’s MA class of 2017.

The new class left the ceremony with words of inspiration offered by Bernard.

“The program gave me a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “My advice to you all is when times are hard and you feel like you’ve hit a wall, don’t give up. Think about why you’re doing the program … and let that be your motivation.”

Induction Ceremony Speech – Lahana Bernard

Good evening.  My name is Lahana Bernard.  I am a MA student from this past MA program school year.  I would first like to congratulate you all on starting this exciting new journey.  I personally feel like this program has definitely changed my life for the better.  If I hadn’t found the program, I would be still doing the same rinky dink jobs working at restaurants and coffee shops.  I felt like these jobs weren’t stable because my hours were always being cut and I wasn’t paid much.  Then I went to an appointment at Mary’s Center and started talking to Shenell who graduated from the MA program.  She told me about Briya, so I called to enroll.

When I first started the program, it was difficult because I started out with no knowledge. As time went on, I started grasping it and felt like I really knew the information.  The instructors here are the best.  They are supportive and understanding.  They really care and will work with you to make sure you understand the content. The students were passionate about getting the RMA, and the teachers were equally as enthusiastic and encouraging in the classroom celebrating how far everyone has come and excited for our success.

Before I heard about the program, I had complications from my pregnancy which inspired me to learn more about health related items.  Every day, I googled everything I thought was wrong.  I found all of it so interesting.  That is where the spark to go into the medical field started.  When I first started the program my son was only 6 months old. He wasn’t in daycare which made going to school while being a new mom a little difficult at times.  As students, we were all adults and had things going on like children and jobs, but we were all one big family.  My classmates took care of my baby like he was their own.  We grew attached to each other. Students bonded and supported each other through tough personal and family issues and losses. We even cried together. I will be the first to tell you that there were times when I wanted to quit, but I thought about my son and how far I had already come.  The program gave me a light at the end of the tunnel.  So my advice to you all is when times are hard and you feel like you’ve hit a wall, don’t give up. Think about why you’re doing the program in the first place and let that be your motivation.

This experience helped shape what I want to do.  Now, I feel like the medical field is my passion.  I have gained a lot of knowledge and skills from this program which will enable me to have a career… not just a job. My dream is to get some hands-on experience for a year before I go back to school in nursing.  My ultimate goal is to be a physician’s assistant and due to my experience delivering my son, my area of interest is high risk OBGYN.  Now that my year in the MA program is ending, I feel very prepared and confident.  On Monday, I am going to take my RMA exam and after that I will be ready to get out there.  For you all, the 12-15 months is just starting but it will be over before you know it and you will get to walk away with the title “Registered Medical Assistant” just like me.  Thank you all for your time and good luck!

Briya CDA graduate wins 2016 STARS award

Maxine Gorham, a 2016 Briya Child Development Associate graduate, was awarded Most Outstanding Adult Student at the 2016 STARS Tribute. The tribute honors leaders in DC public charter schools.

“Gorham has been an exceptional student, role model and human being, constantly showing us that determination and commitment can guide us towards our professional goals in spite of obstacles,” said Mau Castro-Trujillo, who taught Gorham’s CDA class and nominated her for the award.

As a CDA student, Gorham not only worked hard to improve her own work and performed well academically, but she also welcomed opportunities to assist her classmates one-on-one. According to Castro-Trujillo, Gorham’s determination and caring spirit were inspirational.

“Gorham is an amazing person and teacher, and should be taken as an example for future generations of teachers and CDA candidates,” she said.

While taking class at Briya in the evenings, Gorham spent her days teaching three-year-old students at KIPP DC Grow Academy, as well as caring for her six-year-old son and her grandmother. Additionally, she participated in a professional learning community for charter teachers organized by the Flamboyan Foundation.

“Maxine Gorham is an inspiration to her students, a distinguished leader among her peers, and a beloved team member for her superiors,” said Susan Schaeffler, Executive Director and CEO of KIPP DC. “She is a wife, mother, teacher and student, and she balances all four beautifully.”

Gorham’s next step is attending the University of the District of Columbia to work toward a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. After getting her degree, she aims to become a reading teacher and eventually open her own childcare center.

“It means a lot to me, winning this award,” Gorham said. “It meant the most for me to share that special moment with my son. I want him to see that being a leader and working hard brings great reward.”

Briya to expand to Fort Totten neighborhood

Briya is excited to be opening a new school in the Fort Totten neighborhood in time for the 2016-17 school year! The Fort Totten campus will enable Briya to serve more students in the communities where they live, expanding the school’s services from Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant and Petworth to Fort Totten.

Beginning in the fall of 2016, Briya will offer classes at Fort Totten that are part of its family literacy program, which includes adult education (English, digital literacy and hands-on parenting) and early childhood education. In the future, high school diploma and workforce development classes will also be offered at the site.

Fort Totten students will benefit from many amenities—including a computer lab; a comfortable parent waiting area; rooms for tutoring and other small group activities; separate playgrounds for pre-K, infant and elementary-aged children; a large multipurpose room for events and indoor recess; and much more.

Briya will be joined at the Fort Totten campus by two partner organizations – Mary’s Center and Bridges Public Charter School – to offer even more comprehensive services for families under one roof.

Mary’s Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center, will offer a variety of medical care, dental care, social supports and social services for children and adults at Fort Totten. Mary’s Center and Briya’s joint presence builds on their 25-year commitment to providing holistic support to the families they serve together.

Bridges is an inclusion elementary school, specializing in educating children with special needs. Bridges will enroll children in pre-K through fourth grade for the 2016-17 school year, and will expand to fifth grade in future years.

The Fort Totten campus, located a five-minute walk from the Fort Totten metro station, previously housed a DC public school, Mamie D. Lee. Briya, along with Bridges Public Charter School, was awarded the building by Mayor Vincent Gray in December 2014. Part of the former building remains intact and new construction will expand and modernize the space for the three organizations.

Briya looks forward to welcoming families to its Fort Totten site!

For more information about Briya’s Fort Totten site, please contact Lauren Stoltzfus, Communications Specialist, at To enroll in Briya classes at Fort Totten, Petworth, Adams Morgan, or Mt. Pleasant, please call 202-232-7777.

Pre-K Tree Study 2016

PreK students become tree experts

The 20 PreK students at our Ontario Road site just finished up 10 weeks of studying trees.

To begin, the children observed the parts of trees—roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit—and learned the purpose of each part. They planted seeds and guessed if they would grow better in the sun or out of the sun. This experiment helped them realize that trees start as seeds and need sun and water to grow.

The students also learned about the variety of resources trees provide—fruit like apples, oranges, and bananas; wood that can be used for items like furniture and instruments; and more. Students explored some of these resources by making homemade paper, baking apple pies, and doing other hands-on activities.

In addition, children learned how to care for trees and about tree “doctors” called arborists. The classes even took a field trip to the National Arboretum to explore trees and plants there.
“We began studying trees in the fall because it’s such a beautiful time to observe how trees change,” said Emily Gordon, a PreK instructor. “We like to connect our studies to the students’ lives. We talked about trees they see out of their apartment windows, trees they see on the way to school, trees they see in our school neighborhood, etc.”

Student learning about treesStudying one topic for an extended period of time allows children to dig deep into the topic rather than just touch the surface of many topics. Throughout the study, teachers reviewed what students were taught in previous weeks to reinforce their learning.

At the end of the 10 weeks, parents were invited into the classroom for a celebration. Students happily shared what they had learned and created, and everyone enjoyed a delicious fruit salad made from the students’ favorite fruits—that grew on trees, of course!