AALEADers Exploring College!

By: Shaima Ahmad, VA High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Shaima Ahmad, AALEAD Staff

This past Saturday, 6 high school students from our Virginia and DC programs attended a college admissions workshop. The workshop was organized collaboratively by the Montgomery County Muslim Foundation and the USPAK Foundation. After a warm welcome, we had lunch and the opportunity to network with the large group of attendees. Shortly thereafter, the program began with introductions and welcomes followed by a panel discussion. The panel discussion was led by 4 college students attending various schools along the east coast: Harvard University, UMD – College Park, and UMD – Towson. The panel walked the students through how to prepare a college list, the Common App, early versus regular decision admission, SAT versus ACT, and much more. The panelists were able to talk from experience and boost the confidence of the high school attendees. The panel then opened the floor for questions from the audience, an opportunity of which several students took advantage.

The second presentation was led by the Chief Editor of Winning Essays, who gave an overview of the 5 ingredients to a superb college essay. We then had the opportunity to listen to some creative essays and discuss the pros and cons of each example presented. Our AALEADers felt that this was especially helpful as many of them are in the midst of writing and submitting their own college essays. The workshop concluded with a presentation on Financial Aid 101, by a representative of the financial aid office at Montgomery College. We learned the ins and outs of the different options college students have to fund their education and how to go about in accessing these resources. On the whole, our students felt that it was a very informative event and were super excited about the prospect of sharing all the knowledge they gained with their fellow AALEADers. We would like to extend a special thanks to the MCMF and the USPAK Foundation.

AALEAD is FUELing the Legacy!

By Antwoine Johnson, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff

“As you move forward and plan your day, figure out what issues are important to you and what fuels your fire.”

- Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote

These were the words of the first keynote speaker of this year’s FUEL Conference, as she encouraged everyone to make the most of the conference and really do some introspection as to what fuels their desire for change.

The FUEL Conference this year was a hit!  The conference took place on Saturday, November 8 at the University of Maryland, College Park.  Hosted by the University of Maryland’s Asian American Student Union,  the conference focused on the life and accomplishments of one of the most important figures in Asian American advancement in America: Yuri Kochiyama.  Yuri was a Japanese American hailing from the west coast who gave her life to promote the connection between minorities groups and fought for what she believed in.  Yuri believed that everyone should be on equal grounds and have an equal voice. This magnificent woman has inspired generations and her legacy continues, even after her passing this past summer.

Fourteen AALEAD youth from MD Middle and High School Programs had the opportunity and privilege to be a part of a movement that encourages youth and young adults to let their voices be heard and to tear down the walls that would divide them. The conference encourages youth that their voices can be more powerful as they harmonize together for the sake of what they believe to be right, whether it be women’s rights, equal rights for all races, or just to simply see changes in their local neighborhoods. AALEADers attended workshops and received practical advice on how to tackle things like racism, bridging the gaps between minorities groups, how to create a change on your campus, and so much more.

After the conference, as a reflection, AALEADers concluded that they had learned a lot, drawing from those older than them and also just seeing Yuri living on in the lives of people who were not too much older than them. All in all, the FUEL conference was an amazing event that sparked the passion of change in our youth that will be sure to live on for years to come.

Thomson Tales: Thanking our Veterans

By Charles Kuo, DC Elementary School Program Site Coordinator & Parent Outreach Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

AALEAD introduces “Thomson Tales”! In this blog series, you will be enlightened with the latest happenings at our DC Elementary School Program at Thomson Elementary School. Now take a deep breath… and prepare to be amazed!

Today, November 11, we celebrate and thank our veterans for their willingness to serve and sacrifice for our country. It is a day to honor their selflessness and courage. Last week, our AALEADers took the initiative in thanking our veterans by making personalized cards and posters. As part of their current unit, our Turtles (Grades K-1) class have started a BOB (Building Outside the Box) series. The series encompasses lessons on life skills, community service, and  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and  Math) skills.

All of the cards started with the same salutation of “Dear Hero”. However, each of the students took time to write their own personal and encouraging messages. It was great to see them seriously thinking of how to express their gratitude in a creative way. More importantly, it was a great moment for the students to think outside of themselves and to practice giving back to their community.  The cards and  a joint group poster were all sent to Operation Gratitude which “annually sends 150,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items, plus personal letters of appreciation, to New Recruits, Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors, Care Givers and to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas.” (Resource:

Many of students said they felt “good” and “happy” after their acts of kindness and were looking forward to their next project! We are excited to provide them that future opportunity. Until then, we’ll definitely keep you updated with our other happenings at our DC Elementary School Program at Thomson Elementary School!

Thank you for reading this edition of “Thomson Tales”. Remember to check back on our blog weekly for program and staff updates. Follow us: Twitter and Instagram (@aalead). Like us on Facebook (Asian American LEAD)!

Halloween Celebrations with MD AALEAD

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff

What’s better than free candy?  Spending Halloween with MD AALEADers, trick-or-treating for that candy together, and finishing the night off with a movie!

The night started out warmly as youth arrived at the MD AALEAD office, equipped with inventive costumes and an appetite for a good time. Many folks from different schools met for the first time and connected over shared interests. It was a sight to see such unorthodox pairs bonding: an Oven and “Something From My Imagination” connected over sharing similar backgrounds and senses of humor! Who’d have known!

After adding the final touches to their costumes, AALEADers ventured into the chilly night with a map and a mission to get as much candy as possible. One high school youth took the lead on guiding the group through the winding neighborhood streets. Three other high schoolers stepped up as group leaders to ensure that everyone was safe during our trek. One highlight was the house with an unexpectedly-mobile “scare crow” that sent some of the AALEADers running and screaming as it jumped up from its sitting position toward them. Laughter ensued after the moment of fear passed and the AALEADers took it in stride, continuing to collect candy from houses, albeit more cautiously.

After an hour of collecting various sweets, we headed back to the AALEAD office for the AALEADers to count their spoils. Being Halloween, dinner and a spooky movie was in order. Everyone enjoyed their food over laughs, gasps, and sighs during the ups and downs in the movie Coraline.

Despite the piles of candy collected, the sweetest part of the night was seeing AALEAD youth from all different schools and of all different ages and backgrounds coming together to create a warm, welcoming, and joyous space. Nights like this are what remind us of the beautiful community members that AALEAD has, each one bringing something special to the table. What a treat to spend Halloween with such wonderful people!

Holiday Park Senior Center Halloween Event!

By Melor Suhaimi, MD Programs Manager
Photos courtesy of Melor Suhaimi

Halloween is tomorrow, but MD Middle School AALEADers enjoyed a taste of Halloween last night!  Thirteen MD Middle School youth volunteered at Wheaton, MD’s Holiday Park Senior Center for their first annual Halloween dance. The Halloween dance was open to the Senior Center patrons, who regularly attend the Center for recreational activities and meetings.  Our AALEADers were asked to dress in their (not-so-scary!) Halloween costumes to help with setting up the dance party and to interact with the patrons.  As patrons arrived at the Senior Center, the DJ started playing music from Michael Jackson hits to songs from the movie Grease. At first, both our AALEADers and the patrons were quite shy to show off their dance moves.  And even though our AALEADers were instructed to engage and make sure the patrons participated in the dance party, our AALEADers still had to warm up a little bit to bring out their energy.

However, within 15 to 20 minutes, our AALEADers saw how excited the patrons were to hear a few of their favorite songs!  The patrons showed their awesome dance moves to our AALEADers!  For the rest of the night our AALEADers and the Senior Center’s patrons were dancing the night away and enjoying each other’s company.  As patrons took a quick break in between songs, comments to our AALEADers included; “You guys have so much energy!  We love it!”  to “You have better dance moves than me – this is so much fun!”  This inter-generational event allowed our AALEADers to share their positive energy with senior citizens in the community.  Even though Halloween is known to be a spooky celebration, our AALEADers enjoyed their time spending it with Holiday Park Senior Center’s patrons.  It was a fun and memorable event!   Special thank you to Montgomery County Recreation Department’s Division Chief, Robin Riley, and Holiday Park Senior Center’s Center Director, Dolores Ustrell!

AALEADers Explore Georgetown University!

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

This past weekend, seven youth from Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Mentoring Program, MD High School Program, and VA High School Program had the exciting opportunity to participate in a tour of Georgetown University (GU) with Georgetown University, School of Medicine’s Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (GUSOM APAMSA). It was a beautiful day to explore the campus and learn more about what college life is like from current university students! Our awesome tour guides started us off with a round table discussion about our youth and what they are interested in studying. They then opened up the floor for our students to ask any questions they might have pertaining to college. AALEADers had so many great questions, ranging from Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and Advanced Placement (AP) class preparation to how to select your own majors, and even college entrance requirements.

From there, the GUSOM APAMSA team divided our group in two for the first half of our tour around the School of Medicine. Fortunately for us, it was also homecoming weekend, so campus was buzzing with energy, and youth got to see all of the alumni returning to campus as well. We kicked off the tour with a visit to some of the school’s lectures halls and the Dahlgren Memorial Library, which is open 24/7. Youth also had the opportunity to check out maps of the United States where School of Medicine students are placed for their residencies, hallways dedicated to a variety of societies that each School of Medicine student is placed in, alumni photos, and the Caduceus Student Lounge. AALEADers were especially impressed by how hi-tech the lounge was and the emergency shower dispensers located around the school.

Our group then embarked on the second half of the tour and visited the undergraduate campus, where youth discovered a variety of dorms, libraries, and famous buildings. From the beautifully remodeled Healy Center to the McDonough School of Business and even the historical Healy Hall, students were enthralled by the wonderful mix of modern and traditional architecture around the university. We ended the tour at the University Bookstore, where AALEADers received a small taste of GU spirit and perused all of the school paraphernalia available there.

For many of our youth who participated in this tour, it was either their first time visiting GU and/or a college campus. Opportunities like college visits connect our youth to the local community and all of the great resources and universities that are available right here in the heart of their hometowns, the greater DC Metro area. Additionally, providing a safe space where youth can explore different options beyond secondary school allows them to build confidence in making the appropriate decisions for themselves.

A million thanks to the wonderful GUSOM APAMSA, who coordinated the tour, and to the amazing AALEADers and mentors who joined us for this event. We hope everyone enjoyed the lovely day we got to spend together as much as we did and can’t wait to see you all again next time!

As some of you have already seen on social media, we put together a document sharing some of our exciting highlights from Fiscal Year 2014.  It was quite a year!  From community recognition to expansion of our programs and improved performance management, last year was full of growth for AALEAD as an organization and for AALEAD youth.

As this month began FY2015, we are excited to see our youths’ enthusiasm for our expanded Middle and High School Programs in DC and new program at Annandale High School.  We now are running DC Middle and High School programs at community sites in Mount Pleasant / Columbia Heights two days per week and Chinatown two days per week.

We have gotten a great start at Annandale High School two days per week and look forward to serving more youth in Northern Virginia.

And, our Montgomery County programs are going strong!  We had over 100 people out to celebrate at our annual kick-off picnic on a Friday evening in Silver Spring.  Looking forward to seeing all we will accomplish this year together!

Montgomery County Service Day

By Melor Suhaimi, MD Programs Manager
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

During the week of October 18th through October 26th, Montgomery County, MD celebrated Community Service Week and MD Middle and High School AALEADers took part in the celebration this past Saturday on October 25th.

Three of our High School youth attended Glen Echo Park’s annual Fall Frolic event.  The Fall Frolic event is a Halloween-themed family event where patrons are invited to Glen Echo Park to enjoy hands-on crafts, Halloween activities, and trick-or-treating.  AALEADers volunteered at the event and assisted at the different craft stations from pumpkin decorating to creating Halloween Chinese lanterns.  AALEADers even had the opportunity to interact with the 2 to 5 year old patrons dressed as pumpkins, pirates, and princesses!

Eighteen of our Middle School AALEADers celebrated Community Service Week by making Halloween goodie bags for patients at the Children’s Hospital.  AALEAD collaborated with a volunteer that we worked with last year, Elliot Rosen, who provided the supplies and candy for our AALEADers to make the goodie bags.  Our Middle School AALEADers made around 200 goodie bags at the Wheaton Community Center!  It was a successful service event!  With October 25th being AALEAD MD Programs’ first community service event of the 2014 -2015 school year, our youth celebrated Community Service Week with the rest of the county, along with learning the importance of giving back to their local community.

Thomson Tales: An Art Exhibition!

By  Charles Kuo, DC Elementary School Program Site Coordinator & Parent Outreach Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Micah Shearer, AALEAD Staff

AALEAD introduces “Thomson Tales”! In this blog series, you will be enlightened with the latest happenings at our DC Elementary School Program at Thomson Elementary School. Now take a deep breath… and prepare to be amazed!

AALEADers work on their mixed media art pieces

It has been more than a month since our DC Elementary School Program has started, and I must admit that every day brings new surprises. One of those surprises occurred during a brainstorming session in our 4th and 5th grade class in the beginning of the year.  As our students provided suggestions for curriculum, events, and activities, we found that they were particularly excited about one thing: ART!

"Stitch" by Johnny, Jonathan, and Jianheng

I was particularly surprised because our youth not only wanted to learn and do art, they also wanted to showcase and teach it, too! This past Friday, our 4th and 5th grade class hosted AALEAD’s first ever Thomson Art Exhibition! During the Art Exhibition, our 4th and 5th graders showcased original art, provided informative art tours, and facilitated workshops. The event was program-wide and held in Thomson’s cafeteria. Over the past few weeks, our students worked on three specific techniques of art:

Mixed Media (a collaboration of different art materials, giving students artistic license to express themselves)
Color Resistant (typically with water colors and crayons, the crayon will “resist” and/or repel the water color away from it, highlighting a message and/or image)
Abstract (the use of masking tape and paint to make complex patterns)

Simon leads one of his many tour groups

Despite initially being novices to these different techniques, our youth instantly fell in love with the art forms and started implementing their own perspectives and interpretations. For example, in the abstract piece entitled “Bella,” 4th grader Siyan described how she and her classmates put the piece together:

First, we got green, blue, and purple. Imara mixed them. I (Siyan) was watching the Twilight saga, and Bella was mysterious. Indigo is mysterious too, so I thought they matched. Next, Rahel came up with this wonderful idea for this picture.

"Bella" by Siyan, Rahel, and Imara

The exhibition was set up to be interactive, and students from our respective pre-K to 3rd grade classes were so excited to make art projects of their own.  It was a treat to witness the collective excitement that took place in the venue. Everyone was engaged and ready to learn. Truthfully, what will resonate the most with me about this experience was the process. It was a joy to see our youth prepare and contribute to this event. Despite their initial doubts, they were 100% accountable and willing to serve every step of the way.

To many, art is considered to be one of our few universal languages or a means of communication that is said to be understood by all living things and beings. At this Art Exhibition, our youth exemplified that belief. Our youth took an interest that was personal and chose to share it. They empowered others to make art their own by simply taking an opportunity to lead.

A special thanks to Mr. Justin, our 4th and 5th grade teacher, for leading this event and mentoring our youth.

AALEADers at Terrapinoy Day!

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos By Filipino Cultural Association of the University of Maryland

This past Saturday, AALEADers participated in Terrapinoy Day, an annual exploration of identity, culture, and leadership for middle and high school students hosted by the University of Maryland’s Filipino Cultural Association (FCA). AALEAD was represented by four high school and three middle school youth who boldly engaged in workshops on cultural identity exploration, leadership skills, and deciding careers. The AALEADers stepped up to the challenging materials with excitement, creating a space of sharing, learning, and community between all students in attendance.

Youth participated in a leadership workshop where they identified and modeled the qualities of a good leader. After a generative conversation on positive leadership qualities, youth developed and performed skits exemplifying good leadership. While the responsibility of leadership can sometimes feel intimidating, participants were able to recontextualize every day experiences into leadership opportunities. Youth came away understanding that they could be the one person who is able to make the necessary difference in a situation. Even while groups created their skits, they were practicing the leadership skills they learned, supporting each other, making sure all voices were heard, and encouraging each other to step into the spotlight.

During the Culture and Identity workshop, youth navigated questions of personal identity with the support of their peers. Facilitators read statements about culture to which participants would answer by standing in the designated “strongly agree, “ “agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree” areas of the room. At this point, youth made connections within their small discussion groups, sharing their experiences and reasons to statements like “I feel that people understand and value my culture.” This activity provided a venue to work through questions of individual identity within a supportive and safe environment. One AALEAD youth reflected, “I’ve never actually thought about those questions before, and they are really hard questions which I’m going to be thinking about more now.”

In the Deciding Careers workshop, youth explored the possibilities and dreams of their futures. “Draw a picture of your life twenty years from now,” one workshop facilitator instructed as they passed out paper to each youth. The room went silent as everyone fell deep into thought about their best life imaginable. Afterwards, each person shared their images depicting their goals, ambitions and passions. Many of the college-aged volunteers also shared their own experiences and imparted the understanding that failure, hard work, and commitment to a goal are a part of the process of achieving your dreams. AALEADers asked the college students questions about their experiences, connecting with their older counterparts and finding role models that overcame challenges similar to their own.  This was a memorable experience for our AALEADers to share their stories in a college setting with their own peers and college peers.