By Charles Kuo, DC Elementary School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
Year to year, families and youth move to DC hoping to stay here and find a sense of belonging. AALEAD is a community first and foremost and we welcome families who are new to the area. In our DC Elementary School Program, we’ve served youth who have come to DC locally (from Virginia, Maryland) and even internationally (Vietnam and China). Moving can be difficult especially when you have previously lived in another place for your whole life. “I lived in New York for 6 years,” Sean J., an AALEAD 1st grader at Thomson, explains. “But you’re six now, so you mean your whole life,” says Selena J. (his oldest sister who is in 5th grade). “Oh yeah,” Sean responds.
The J Family moved from Brooklyn to DC in August of 2015. Currently, all three youth of the J Family: Selena, Sylvia (a 3rd grader) and Sean attend AALEAD programs. At the time, the move came as a shock for the youth. “When we moved from New York to DC, I felt sick and threw up in the car” said Sean. “The drive was so long,” Sylvia said, while nodding her head. “My Mom told me that I could stay in New York for one more year at my school [because I was in fifth grade] but then told me she was joking. I didn’t think it was that funny,” explained Selena. The main reason for moving, though unclear to the youth, was to bring their family closer. Mr. J started working in DC several years ago, and went back and forth from DC to NY (most weekdays being in DC and weekends in NY. ) The commute was extremely stressful and Ms. J decided that it was “time to help him (Mr. J).” The family wanted to be around each other more and needed a change. The decision to move felt fast but it was a long time coming.
The decision to join AALEAD, however, was definitely fast. Mr. J enrolled his youth into our program simply by coincidence. “I was registering my kids for the school year and I met Mr. Kuo and he shared more about the program to me.” In New York, the J Family were on and off with after-school programs and struggled to find a program that could meet their needs. The parents didn’t want a program where their youth would just be “playing.” AALEAD felt different because the youth were receiving enrichment lessons and participating in project-based activities.
After several months, AALEAD has left quite an impression on the J Family. “I love all of our projects (especially the art ones!). Today we made stress balls and were learned about stress, too,” explained Sylvia. “I love all of the field trips, especially the ones with the middle and high school youth! My favorite field trip was the park clean-up because I could jump and clean. I also enjoyed helping the community and picking up trash from car accidents,” shared Selena. Mr. J shared that AALEAD has helped with instilling values in his youth that he didn’t expect. “They have learned things here, like respect, obedience, and kindness, that they can’t learn elsewhere. AALEAD also has great teachers who clearly care about the youth and their development. The program has helped me in more ways that I can say,” he shared. AALEAD has also been a resource for the family with the support in the My School DC Common Lottery Process and getting to know the area. Selena, Sean, and Sylvia also shared that, while they still miss their home in NY, AALEAD has helped them and become their second home. To close, Selena, Sean, and Sylvia were asked to describe AALEAD in their own words. Here’s what they said:
AALEAD is cooperation
AALEAD is fun
AALEAD is exciting
AALEAD is peaceful
AALEAD is safe
AALEAD is compassion
AALEAD is community
AALEAD is my second home.