Friendship Summer Learning Academy

Not your traditional summer school


For many families, summer is a time when children take well-deserved breaks from the rigors of school to explore new interests though travel, camp experiences, and cultural excursions. These experiences afford students opportunities to extend traditional learning, using the world as their classroom and the sky as their limit.

But not all families are so fortunate. In fact, for some 25 million students in America, a more dismal phenomenon brews, threatening academic strides and further broadening the achievement gap in the “home of the brave.”

According to the National Summer Learning Association, “summer learning loss is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth, and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate.”
Friendship Public Charter School (Friendship) witnessed these conditions firsthand and responded with an effective experience that yields promising results. Having revamped the traditional summer school model, quelling old stigmas that have inclined many students to opt out of summer learning, Friendship created its Summer Learning Academy (SLA). Using data to tailor project-based learning experiences, Friendship engages more than 1,200 students from pre-school to grade 12 each summer through SLA.


“Traditionally, summer school provides second chances to students who require remediation in core classes,” said Friendship Director of Extended Learning Programs Michael Robinson. “Our approach has evolved. SLA provides exciting learning experiences for all Friendship students. From science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes to college and career awareness workshops and trips, SLA provides experiences for all students, despite their achievement levels.”

With just a few weeks before SLA begins on June 27, Friendship’s Office of Extended Learning has developed a month-long learning program, which includes engaging classes, inquiry-based excursions and an array of cultural and social experiences designed to give students the very best platform for success.
According to Deputy Director of Extended Learning Programs Shakira Hemphill, Friendship CEO-Elect Patricia Brantley is committed to providing Friendship students unparalleled learning opportunities.
“Ms. Brantley wants us to give students the very best of ourselves as educators and mentors,” said Hemphill. “She believes extended learning is an added opportunity to provide environments where students thrive and become confident learners.”
SLA also exposes rising sixth and ninth graders to the rigors of middle and high school through its summer bridge programs. Summer bridge students get a glimpse into the kinds of cultural and academic opportunities they will experience the following school year.

CEO-Elect Brantley affirmed summer learning is central to Friendship’s academic model: “SLA is an integral tool toward closing the achievement gap and building confidence among Friendship students. Our data shows that students who struggle during the school year make significant gains in core subject areas during our Summer Learning Academy,” said Brantley. “When our summer students return to school proficient in skills they didn’t have before, they learn that things that seem impossible are possible. They begin to believe in their own potential, and strive higher.”

For more information on Friendship’s Summer Learning Academy, please click here.


Armstrong Arts Showcase

Students Learn Through Reggio Emilia Approach


Kindergarteners Akira Holston, Lola Oqunfiditimi, and Taylor Wade present their stool, a mosaic inspired by a thunderstorm and a sunny day.

Armstrong’s Emilia Reggio program hosted its first art showcase and auction Friday, June 3, 2016. Students, parents, faculty, and guests were given a peek into the creative minds of the Reggio scholars, and if the art spoke to them, an opportunity to purchase the works of the emerging artists.


Armstrong Reggio Developer Tanya Morgan introduced the program inspired by an educational philosophy developed after World War II in the villages of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The approach uses painting, sculpting, drama and other art forms to teach principles of respect, responsibility, individuality, curiosity, and community.


Eliza Harris, Special Education Teacher for 1st & 2nd grades is excited about her purchase from the Reggio art showcase.

Excitement for the program is evident by the hard work students put into each creation – from the use of vivid colors to the mosaic arrangements. One example is a step stool created by kindergarteners Akira Holston, Lola Oqunfiditimi and Taylor Wade. Using a variety of mosaic tiles, the students created a stool reflecting a sunny day and thunderstorm. Their stool placed one of the auction’s highest bids!


Tanya Morgan shared how this project has impacted Armstrong: “This experience is certainly a labor of love. Throughout the year, I watched the work happening. I know which pieces will evolve into parts of the show. In the end, the staff are always chomping at the bit, waiting for the showcase to begin. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing the school community supports the work of the scholars.”

Additional artwork included sculptures, photography, custom jewelry, candles and even mini Jackson Pollock-inspired paintings. All auction proceeds will be used to purchase supplies for the upcoming school year.

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Donald L. Hense, The Man Who Founded Friendship Schools


From an early age, Donald L. Hense was encouraged to think big.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, during a time when the dangers of racism inclined many Black parents to teach their children to “be seen and not heard,” Donald’s mother, Lillie Ivy, told her middle son that the fireworks and parades held on Independence Day were in his honor. Indeed, Donald’s birth was so significant that the nation paused to celebrate.

“When I was very small, I thought people were celebrating my birthday on July 4th,” Donald said. “That’s what my mother told me.”

A precocious child, Donald entered school already reading. His father, Fred Hense, began teaching him as soon as he could hold a book.

And to no surprise, Donald developed as an exceptional student – in part because of his love for learning and because every Monday his father visited his school.

“My father came to the school every Monday. Every Monday,” he said shaking his head at the memory. “We lived across the street from the school, so it really was every Monday. The other kids thought my father was on the Board of Education.”

A favorite among classmates and teachers alike, Donald earned countless awards along his secondary school career, including an academic scholarship to the University of Missouri.

But during his senior year, while attending the National Baptist Sunday School Convention in St. Louis, Donald heard a series of speakers who would inspire him to make an unprecedented decision.

During the convention’s evening plenary, Donald was mesmerized by the words of Dr. Benjamin Mays, then president of Morehouse College; Dr. Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, Howard University’s first Black president and a Morehouse graduate; and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also a Morehouse man. Their examples inspired him to make a cold call to Morehouse College to vie for admission.

“After seeing these great men speak, where else would I go?” Hense asked. “So, I got on the phone and called Morehouse.”

Hense recalled that in the 1950s, Morehouse was much smaller college. Dr. Hamilton, the school’s registrar, answered his call personally.

“I said my name is Donald Hense, and I saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. I want to come to Morehouse,” said Donald.

Although Dr. Hamilton informed Donald that Morehouse didn’t admit students over the phone, he persevered, tapping into the confidence that had been deposited in him from the time he was a small boy.

“I told Dr. Hamilton that I was really, really smart and that my transcripts would arrive the next day. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I wanted to go to Morehouse…The next day, I called just before the office closed. Dr. Hamilton answered, and said, ‘You really are smart,’ and subsequently invited me to Morehouse as a college freshman,” Donald recalled.

According to Donald, his Morehouse experience was integral to shaping his outlook on what it means to be a servant-leader. Among his most memorable moments, Donald served as a student representative on Morehouse’s Board of Trustees, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated his junior year.

Following the assassination, Donald was charged with selecting student ushers for the funeral service at Morehouse. Among those ushers was classmate and acclaimed actor Samuel L. Jackson.

After Morehouse, Donald completed graduate studies at Stanford University in California and devoted himself to expanding educational and economic opportunities for underserved communities. He was also a Rockefeller intern in economics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, a Merrill Scholar at the University of Ghana, a Ford Foundation Fellow at Stanford University, and a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.

Years later, as executive director of the Friendship House in Washington – a 100-year-old, social-service agency dedicated to children, families, and older adults – Donald would experience an epiphany that would chart the next two decades of his career.
Because of his own path to Morehouse College, which included continuous family support, he recognized the connection between failing schools and deteriorating family structures.

“You cannot provide a child with a vision if the parent doesn’t know where rent or the next meal is coming from,” Donald said. “How are parents with that kind of stress going to tell their children they can become the next president of the United States?”

Under Donald’s leadership, Friendship House expanded its early childhood education programs and GED services for parents. But he soon realized that wasn’t enough. He grew concerned that the students coming through Friendship House were going to public schools unequipped to guide them through high school and on to college.
Donald answered the call for quality public education by founding Friendship Public Charter School in 1998, the first multi-campus charter school in the country.

Over the past 18 years, Friendship has grown to become one of the nation’s premier public school systems, preparing thousands of students for college, career, and life. Overall, more than 2,500 students have graduated from a Friendship high school, with over 95 percent of graduates accepted to college.

This July, Friendship CEO and Chairman Donald L. Hense will retire, passing the baton to long-time colleague, friend and current Friendship COO Patricia Brantley.

As Donald looks toward the next chapter in an extraordinary life, he said this about his journey in education:  “I believe the best thing you can do to get people out of poverty is to educate them. The most valuable skill in today’s economy, where jobs can be located anywhere there is an Internet connection, is knowledge. And knowledge, for the vast majority, is nurtured within our local public schools. We all share the responsibility to make a difference in the lives of our children. I know it can be done. We do it every day at Friendship.”


Friendship Nominated for Prestigious Board Prize



This year, the innovation and perseverance that binds the Friendship Public Charter School (Friendship) community could pay off in a big, big way. For the first time since its inception, Friendship has been nominated for the prestigious Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools.

The $1 million dollar Broad Prize honors public charter management organizations that have demonstrated outstanding overall student academic performance while reducing achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color.

“This is a great honor for Friendship, and an affirmation of the dynamic work of our schools and students,” said Joseph Speight, Acting Chief Academic Officer for Friendship. “The nomination alone declares we are winners.”


A review board of prominent education experts from across the country — composed of distinguished college professors, researchers, and policymakers — uses student achievement data from multiple sources to select the winning charter management organization.

Friendship Founder and Chairman Donald L. Hense opened the Chamberlain and Woodridge campuses in 1998, making Friendship the nation’s first multi-campus charter school then serving 1,200 students. Today, Friendship serves nearly 5,000 students on nine school campuses throughout Washington, D.C.

As a charter management organization, Friendship has partnered with public school systems in Baltimore, Maryland, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana to help guide their struggling schools towards higher academic and cultural achievement.

Should Friendship win the Broad Prize, it will become the fifth charter management organization to receive this distinguished honor.


It’s About Abilities not Deficits;

Students of All Backgrounds Find Path to College at Friendship

This year, more than 30 Friendship alumni will graduate from institutions of higher learning. Some will receive bachelor’s degrees and enter the workforce as well-rounded professionals eager to contribute to their communities. Others will earn professional or master’s degrees, emerging as experts in specialized fields.

While these college graduates are forever connected by their Friendship Public Charter School (Friendship) experience, their personal paths through high school and on to college were quite different.


Congratulations to all Friendship alumni graduating from a college or university this year!

Some lived in homeless shelters and struggled to balance Friendship’s rigorous college-preparatory classes with the social and economic challenges common among America’s homeless population. Others trudged the murky paths of urban frustration, daily confronting gang violence, drugs and extreme poverty. Many were the first in their families to attend college, and some made choices that seemingly placed college out of reach.

And then there were students who came from solid middle-class families, having parents, grandparents and other relatives who paved the way for them as college graduates.

Yet despite their diverse backgrounds, all of these former Friendship students made it to and through college.

So what was the common denominator – that unique “thing” – that each Friendship student experienced propelling them from college hopeful to college graduate?

According to Friendship Alumni Affairs Coordinator Ashref Elshazli, in addition to an intentional “college-culture,” the advisory services offered high school students play an integral role.

“Designating a class period to college preparation is significant. The relationships that can be built with a teacher who designs his or her instruction around getting students into and through college is huge,” Elshazli explained.



Friendship Alumni Affairs Coordinator Ashref Elshazli (front and center) with Friendship alumni.

Percee Goings (Columbia University, C’16) and Dominique Smith (Livingstone College, C’15) exemplify the diversity among Friendship’s recent college graduates.

Percee always knew he would attend college. A high-performer, ranked among top students nationwide, Percee comes from a close-knit, supportive family.

With 12 Early College credits under his belt before graduating from high school, Percee praises Friendship for preparing him for college and pushing him closer toward his dream of opening a school for homeless citizens.

“I’ve always wanted to help people. When I was a little boy, I wanted to open a school for the homeless, and I knew that making it to the NFL would give me enough money to do so,” he said.  “As a future Columbia graduate, I feel like I can really do it.”

Dominique, however, didn’t always consider herself college material. A series of personal tragedies – the absence of her father and loss of her mother at a young age – forced Dominique to focus more on survival than college dreams.


Livingston College graduate and Collegiate Academy alumna Dominique Smith

“Dominique was a long shot from going to college. Not only had she lost both parents as a little girl, she also lost her elder brother during her senior year of high school,” said Elshazli. “Her advisory teacher was definitely vested in her and made sure Dominique was vested in herself.”

Dominique graduated from Livingston College last year. She plans to attend graduate school and work with expectant mothers.

“Our students represent a spectrum of personal experiences.  As their educators, we must meet them where they are,” said Friendship CEO-Elect Patricia Brantley. “We know the odds they face, but we must do what it takes to get our children to and through college, and beyond.”



Friendship Chairman and Founder Donald L. Hense at Friendship Collegiate Alumni Day



Southeast Scholar Puts Safety First!



Friendship Southeast Scholar Nya Offutt


Eleven-year-old Nya Offutt is a fifth grader at Friendship Southeast Academy and a proud American Automobile Association (AAA) School Safety Patroller for her campus. As a school-age leader in traffic safety, Nya teaches other students safety tips and helps keep them safe on school grounds.

But now it appears Nya has taken her commitment to school safety to a level not frequently seen in someone her age. Currently ranked as a captain in the program, Nya took the initiative to research ways to make her campus even safer.

She was inspired when she noticed that some lower-grade students were easily distracted between the time they were dropped off for school in the morning and when they entered the building. Nya solicited the help of her Safety Patrol supervisor, Friendship Security Officer Ms. K. Lake, to help her plan a “school safety week.”

According to Officer Lake, Nya expressed interest in having Otto the Auto –  AAA’s three feet tall remote-controlled talking car – visit Southeast and engage lower-grade students in safety activities that reinforce the importance of buckling up and looking both ways before crossing the street.


Friendship Southeast Safety Officer Ms. K. Lake with AAA Patrollers Nya Offutt (far left) and Vernon Stevenson (middle)


“She told me what she wanted, and I found out how to get Otto the Auto to Southeast.  Within weeks, Otto was here teaching students in kindergarten through second grade about safety,” said Lake. “Nya did all the work. I just supported her.”

Having earned a few grades that Nya admits didn’t reflect her full potential, she is currently earning all A’s. And according to Nya, her grades have improved because of her participation in the Safety Patrol.

“I’m still working on my grades, but I’ve moved them up. Right now, I have all A’s,” she said.

Officer Lake, who reestablished the Southeast Safety Patrol in 2014, explained that most of the students participating in the program have made significant academic improvements since joining.

“When the patrollers report for duty, they look at it as reporting to their jobs. They become more responsible, and that makes them better students,” explained Officer Lake. “They are the leaders of their school and their classrooms.”

In June, AAA will honor Nya with the 2016 AAA School Safety Patrol Award for preventing a potential mishap at her school. After a second grader was dropped off for school, he became distracted by a stray kitten. The boy nearly darted towards the kitten before thoroughly checking his surroundings for safety.

According to witnesses, Nya quickly grabbed the boy, holding him close  until the coast was clear and Officer Lake arrived to assist.


Officer Lake hugs Vernon Stevenson

Nya is excited to be honored, mostly because her family and mentor Officer Lake will attend the luncheon.

“Every time I see Officer Lake, she helps me to become stronger and more responsible,” Nya said. “If I’m the little birdie, she’s the mother bird. She’s my role model. She helps me with everything.”

According to Friendship Public Charter School CEO-Elect Patricia Brantley, we all play an integral role in providing a world class education to students. “Learning happens in and out of the classroom at Friendship. Any one of us could be the person to change the trajectory of a student’s life. One acknowledgment or word of encouragement can pull the best out of a student,” said Brantley. “Nya is a role model. We are very proud of her and the great work of the Southeast Safety Patrol under Officer Lake’s leadership.”


Bigger than Basketball

Bigger than Basketball

Collegiate Academy graduate creates a magical experience for Friendship students & families 

by Derrick Watkins



Coach Johnson discussing plays with the Wolfpack.

It started out like any normal Saturday morning in Washington, DC. The air was crisp and the sun bright while residents drank coffee and “caught up” along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.

By 10 am the parking lot of Friendship’s Southeast Campus was full, as parades of families hurried from their cars to the side entrance leading to the gym.

Inside, the rhythm of bouncing basketballs and screeching shoes against the gym’s oak floors accompanied cheers from cheerleaders wearing their schools’ colors with pride and dignity, while posing for group-selfies with their mini bands-of-sisters.

In the hallways, mothers and aunties made tight ponytails in their daughters’ and nieces’ hair, while fathers and uncles everywhere held discrete conversations with their son and daughter athletes, reminding them to apply the recommendations they’d just discussed at home the night before.

2006 Friendship Collegiate Academy graduate and former football player Coach Terry Johnson was all over the place, showing opposing coaches to their rooms and directing photographers to photo-opps.

Although it was clear to all that somebody was about to play [some] basketball, a less obvious, but equally important phenomenon had begun to slowly reveal itself – a phenomenon bigger than basketball.


As the first buzzer sounded, the Armstrong Wolfpack and the Woodridge Warriors made their ways to the floor, their faces, collectively and individually, conveying victory and pride. Seconds after tip-off, a group of like-minded spectators, including immediate and extended family, boldly showered the athletes, as if they were all just one team, with love and encouragement, yelling affirmations like, “You can do it,” and “Go Warriors! Go Wolfpack!”


Friendship families excited about the game.

Dads held children tightly as they fought urges to coach from the bleachers. Moms leaning against daughters studied all of the children with mother-eyes, ensuring safety. Big brothers and sisters yelled their siblings’ names, reminding them that everyone present was here just for them.

Southeast, DC native and Armstrong coach Terry Johnson, is the brains behind the Friendship Elementary Athletic Association. Although he initially planned to start a mentoring program in response to the number of DC boys with absent fathers, he saw a void in opportunities for all DC school-aged children to participate in organized sports.

“I wanted girls and boys to be able to play football and basketball together, as well as to learn competitive cheering,” Terry said. “We want to expose them to every opportunity to develop as big thinkers and good decisions makers.”

With encouragement from Friendship CEO Donald Hense and COO Pat Brantley to officially present his idea, Terry called on his friend and colleague, Armstrong Dean of Students Victor Bell, to help develop the academic and character development components of his athletic program.

“Friendship is committed to our students through college and beyond. We provide the platform for students to accomplish all of their dreams, knowing that they can rely on their Friendship family to support them along the way,” said Friendship COO Patricia Brantley.


Coach Johnson and the Armstrong Wolfpack.

Terry, also the head of security for Armstrong, knows first-hand the value of self-esteem and high moral character among DC youth.

“I was always one of the smartest kids in school, but I made bad decisions; some of which could have destroyed my entire life,” he said. “That’s why we do not bend on our expectation of excellence from our athletes. Today is much bigger than basketball. Look at all of the fathers here. And this is nothing compared to how many usually come!”


Terry Johnson and Victor Bell

With Victor’s support, athletes in the program are consistently monitored for academic and social growth with progress reports and informal conferences with teachers. Each athlete must maintain a 2.5 GPA or greater, and make impeccable strides toward model student behavior. And when they don’t meet those standards, athletes endure consequences, which may even include missing a game.

Of the more than 200 athletes, including cheerleaders, active in FEAA, 100% have maintained 2.5 GPAs, while Armstrong’s basketball team is currently carrying a 3.0 GPA.

“If we teach them early, by the time they get to high school they’ll be ready for the academic and social challenges they may face,” said Victor Bell. “We are preparing them for college and life after college.”




Woodridge Coach Marcus Thompson gets his warriors fired up!

An active dad of a four-year-old son attending Armstrong, Terry says that this is just the beginning of his vision, citing expansions next year to include soccer and T-ball.

“I completed three years at South Carolina State University, where I studied electrical engineering. Some of the decisions I made kept me from finishing, but the same teachers that helped me get into that program – Peggy Jones, Cherice Green, and Carlos Richardson – never turned their backs on me. In fact, I am very close to them all right now. They held me accountable for my actions, but never stopped believing in me.”

According to CEO Donald Hense, Friendship doesn’t give up on students. “Our teachers and school leaders don’t throw students away simply because they’ve made bad choices. Our students are our investments toward making the world a better place.”

For more information on upcoming games, or to support the Friendship Elementary Athletic Association, contact Terry Johnson at tjohnson@friendshipschools.org.


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