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.

Did you know…?: APIA Facts

By Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos by Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator

As our Maryland Middle School youth head into week three of after-school programs, AALEADers at Parkland are starting their lessons on Asian American history and cultures. This week, AALEADers learned about Asian and Pacific Islander American facts. Youth also discussed the use of social media in their everyday lives, and how messages can be conveyed through social media. Social media sites such as Youtube and Tumblr provide an effective platform for marginalized and underrepresented voices and experiences to be heard and seen. Asian Americans, a historically excluded presence in American society, popular culture, and history, are making a name for themselves, and gaining a large following, by using such social media sites (i.e. Wung Fu Productions on youtube, Angry Asian Man blog, etc.)

AALEAD youth would like to share APIA facts through social media, and will be making more in the near future. Youth worked in small groups to design posters with APIA facts for this fun photo project for our own media site, the AALEAD blog. Enjoy!

International Day of the Girl

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

“On this International Day of the Girl Child, I call on all governments to take action to end all forms of  violence against girls in all parts of the world.  Together, we must create a world where violence against women and girls is never tolerated and girls are always empowered to reach their full potential.”
–Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


Three years ago, the United Nations declared October 11th to be International Day of the Girl “to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.”  This past Saturday, six female Middle School AALEADers attended an event at Broad Acres Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD held by a local non-profit, Community Bridges, to celebrate and recognize the special day of October 11th – International Day of the Girl!  Community Bridges “empowers girls from diverse backgrounds to become exceptional students, positive leaders, and healthy young women.”  With a mission that embodies the purpose of October 11th’s International Day of the Girl, Community Bridges held an event that recognized their youth’s talents, highlighted the importance of girls and education, and gathered a diverse group of girls to rally on the need for more educational rights for girls.  Guest speakers included Community Bridges’ Executive Director, Cynthia James, and Montgomery County Councilmember, Nancy Navarro.

Our AALEAD youth enjoyed cultural dance performances by Community Bridges’ youth, spoken word poetry about the power of being a girl by a Community Bridges staff member, and participated in a rally where the girls at the event chanted phrases like, “What do we want? Education! When do we want it?  Now!”  AALEAD youth were able to find differences and similarities among all the girls that attended the event, which in turn, created a sense of unity that formed throughout the day.  It was powerful to see young females taking a stand on an issue that is recognizable throughout the world.  By the end of the event, AALEAD youth reflected on October 11th, 2014.  AALEAD youth were asked, “Why do you think it’s important to celebrate and recognize International Day of the Girl?”  Answers included; “Girls need to be seen as equals,” “Girl power!” and “Because I want to grow up and be whatever I want — like an astronaut or the President of the United States!”  It was a first for our AALEADers to attend an event to highlight International Day of the Girl, but it definitely will not be our last because of how important it is to recognize girls and education.

By Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos by AALEAD Staff

Despite the dreary weather and gray skies last Friday, over 100 youth and families from AALEAD’s Maryland, D.C., and Virginia middle and high school programs attended the annual kick-off picnic at Wheaton Forest Park in Silver Spring, MD. Hugs and handshakes could be seen everywhere as youth from different schools and across program sites reconnected after a long summer or met for the first time. AALEAD staff also had the opportunity to meet parents, guardians, and siblings of youth in their programs. The picnic was a wonderful way to kick off the after-school program year now that all programs have begun in all of our sites.

Picnic activities included an intense and hilarious relay race, parent’s meeting, and dinner. The relay race, called Banana Olympics, required youth to work in teams to complete a series of tasks involving a banana in order to win. Youth had to use a banana as a microphone to sing to their staff referee, balance a banana on their head as they walked up and down the course, and hop with a banana between their knees, among other tasks, as laughter rang throughout the park. While the youth played the game, parents were able to learn more about AALEAD, ask questions, hear from and speak to Surjeet Ahluwalia, Executive Director, and meet other parents. Youth and families then came together to enjoy a great dinner and free time.

As AALEAD continues to expand, it is important for AALEADers to not only develop relationships within their individual programs but also integrate into the larger AALEAD family. With new staff members, a new VA high school program, a revamped DC middle and high school program, as well as numerous new participants to MD programs, the picnic provided a great opportunity for AALEADers to connect and build a strong foundation across states, schools, and grades. As a Program Coordinator, it is always inspiring to see youth step out of their comfort zones to meet more people and maintain new friendships they have developed by attending large events like this picnic.

This year’s kick-off picnic drew the largest number of participants at this event in recent years, reminding us of how far and wide AALEAD has grown since its humble beginnings in D.C. 16 years ago. Let’s keep the positive energy and momentum from this picnic going as we head into another exciting year of after-school programs!

The success of events such as this kick-off picnic is made possible by the support of local businesses.
AALEAD would like to acknowledge and thank the following businesses for their generous food contributions:

Armand’s Pizza
Hollywood East Café

AALEAD FY2014 Highlights!

We had an amazing FY14! Please take some time to check out our highlights below. As we kick off FY15, we truly look forward to another wonderful year.

Make sure to stay connected and up-to-date by checking back on our blog and following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Thank You AALEAD

My experience with all of you has been nothing less than inspirational. I remember the first day I stepped into the Maryland office and was interviewed by a large panel of youth. They asked me questions about what I liked to do and tough questions about the job.  I tried to put on my confident voice and smile, but little did they know I was truly scared and nervous!

That was four years ago.

With every year came a new twist and turn…a new tear and a new smile. Each year we learned how to say goodbye to staff and students, we learned how to welcome and love, and now it’s my turn.

If you have ever worked with AALEAD as a Coordinator or graduated from AALEAD Programs as a student, you must know that leaving this organization is not very easy.  There’s something about AALEAD that makes you feel:

empowered, passionate, fulfilled, and loved.

When you leave as a student, you remember all of the good times you had with AALEAD and the relationships you built with Coordinators. As a staff member leaving, I’m at a loss for words to honestly express how blessed and grateful I am to have been a part of the AALEAD journey.

From staying with youth through the most troubling of times to working with staff to address data and program design, each moment with AALEAD holds a special place in my heart and has motivated me in ways I never thought possible. In a world with so much negativity, war, and brokenness it almost feels natural to follow the world’s negative ways; but the minute I stepped into work or the classroom with students, these people helped the world shine a little brighter.

After reading so many encouraging notes and sharing heartfelt goodbyes with my students, I’ve learned that our youth are able to cry without feeling weak, are able to dream without feeling discouraged, and are able realize that they can be in control of their futures.  There is no other greater feeling than to understand that they are prepared for this moment, and that they are ready to do their part in helping to carry on the AALEAD legacy that we have created together.

For Staff, we’ve been through the trenches together; laughed and cried. It has been such an honor working alongside all of you. Each of you brings something so unique and special to AALEAD and it always starts with the staff. While I will miss working with you every day, I know that AALEAD will continue to grow and do great things…and I can’t be too sad about that! Thank you AALEAD for helping me become the leader that I am today and for having me be a part of your family.

Love Always,


AALEAD on the Big Screen!

By Keo Xiong, Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos by Melor Suhaimi, MD Programs Manager

How many of you can say you have had a video you made be featured on a big screen at a film festival? AALEAD youth can proudly say that they have had this experience! DC Asian Pacific American (APA) Film held its annual film festival this past Thursday, October 2 – Saturday, October 4 at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. The short videos made by AALEAD middle and high school youth as part of the Ghandi Brigade Youth Media Project last year were featured before the showing of Asian American filmmaker Jeff Fong’s dramatic comedy, Ru, during Saturday’s indie screening.

Ru, the title of the film and name of the protagonist, is a film about a young man pressured by his family to enter into the family business or risk losing his place within his family.  Ru struggles to challenge the strict path his family has chosen for him while discovering what kind of life he truly wants for himself. Like the character Ru, the videos created by AALEAD youth stress the importance of moving beyond stereotypes and family expectations to find one’s own identity and pursue their passions.

Three AALEAD youth had the opportunity to attend the screenings of the films, and even participated in Q & A at the end of the screening. They stood alongside Jeff Fong and shared their experiences about film-making with the audience. Jeff Fong expressed sadness at the lack of Asian American actors and starring roles for Asian Americans in the film industry, but remained hopeful that through his films and others like his, undiscovered Asian American talents can shine and be seen. AALEAD youth were inspired by the film festival, which featured films produced by and starring Asian Americans.

In a society and industry in which Asians and Asian Americans are consistently rendered invisible or stereotyped as nerdy, foreign, angry, or funny, with limited roles as math whizzes, comical sidekicks, or martial artists, it was refreshing to see Asian Americans push back against these limitations and be humanized as real people with real problems, dreams, hopes, and talents.

AALEAD is honored to have had the opportunity to share our youth videos at such an important community event. We would like to thank Christian Oh, Executive Director of DC APA Film, and Wyman Lee for allowing us the opportunity to show our videos at the film festival! We look forward to a continued partnership to create more youth-led videos and inspire Asian American youth to explore film-making.

To learn more about DC APA Film, please visit

To learn more about the videos created by AALEAD youth, read this blog post: Lights, Camera, Action!

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

Yesterday was the long awaited first day of MD Middle School Programs and what a first day it was. The coordinators and youth alike have been waiting eagerly for this day; to get the ball rolling and to continue to AALEAD tradition of having incredible years and creating incredible memories. From my side, Loiederman Middle School started off with a bang.

The day started with formal introductions but as we got more familiar with each other, the energy grew significantly. Old and new faces were there to contribute to the bustling environment in the room. We started with creating name tags and allowed the opportunity for youth to express themselves verbally, showing a solid sense of self in such a way that they can properly convey themselves to their peers. The student’s interests ranged from working out and dancing, to acting and watching anime. We have a lot of AALEADers bringing a lot of things to the table!

There was then a time for the students to really take ownership of their program by creating the program rules. With the creation of rules such as “love and respect each other” and “no foul language,” it showed that Loiederman AALEADers had their heads on straight. AALEAD youth knew what was important but did not sacrifice the desire to make everyone feel welcomed and loved in the process. AALEAD is fortunate to have such dedicated and mature individuals in the program, not just at Loiederman, but all across programs.

To finish the day, we had an activity that connected the students as a team. The name of the game was “Yellow Brick Road.” As one could guess, this game is based off the Wizard of Oz. The students lined up and were put in groups of four. Each student in the group is either Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, or Cowardly Lion. Dorothy, who cannot talk, is the only one walking the yellow brick road, created with numbered yellow sheets of paper. The rest of the group is guiding her by saying what number she should step on, guessing what path Glinda the Witch (which was played by me!) is looking for. If they get the path wrong, the next group of four go. The game was challenging because the game was a lot of trial and error, but it helped create reliance, group thinking, and critical thinking among the youth.

The first day was stellar and it really has set the pace for the rest of the year. I cannot wait to see what else our AALEADers will learn from each other and the program. Here is to another great year! I am also looking forward to the Kick-Off BBQ where all of MD programs are invited to “kick-off” the new school year. Below is a picture from last year’s BBQ!

VA High School Programs Kick Off!

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

The past few weeks have been super exciting for AALEAD’s VA High School program. After many a lunch recruitment session we officially began after school programming this week. The students at Annandale High have shown much interest and have been very keen to find out what AALEAD is all about. The lunch sessions gave the them the opportunity to get more insight about what the after school program entails. At this time students watched an introductory video and were able to ask questions about AALEAD. The kids enjoyed pizza for lunch and hanging out with their friends.

This week students worked on basically getting to know each other through fun ice breaker and team building activities. They broke up into groups and played a few highly competitive rounds of Tic Tac Toe Trivia, and gasped their way through an extremely creative round of 2 Truths and A Lie. The students also compiled a list of expectations and goals they hope to gain from AALEAD this year. This collaborative brainstorming process led to some great ideas. Some said they hoped AALEAD will help them be more prepared for the college process, while others simply want a place where they can have fun and hang out with friends all while gaining more exposure to their community.

The future looks bright for AALEAD at Annandale. As a team we hope to reach our goals and expectations for this year, all while having immense amounts of fun!