A much larger Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School campus in Northeast D.C. held its grand opening Nov. 4 with goals to expand even more services to an estimated 60,000 adults without a high school diploma, according to a school executive.

The school, located in Ward 5, educates 275 adults with low literacy skills. Not only are the students learning how to read, they are also earning high school equivalency degrees and obtaining job-related skills. This improves their chances of supporting their families, securing jobs that pay a living wage and improving their career opportunities.  The academy, in existence since 1985, operates an existing facility on Alabama Avenue, SE in Ward 8.

Paul Reggie Bryant ran away from home in the eighth grade and became a drug addict soon after, but now he is working towards getting his GED. (Photo by Lenore Adkins)

“We need our community supporters to help us do this work,” said Lecester Johnson, CEO of Academy of Hope, in a statement. “And today is not only about cutting the ribbon to open the building, but opening it up to the community so that we can all work together to make D.C. and Ward 5 a great place to live.”

The services are critical. More than 21 percent of working adults in the District don’t have a high school diploma. By 2018, 71 percent of all jobs in the District will require post-secondary education, according to the District’s Department of Employment Services.

“Academy of Hope is part of the future of our city and in making our city a place of opportunity for all,” D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-large) said in a statement. “Adult education is important not only to the adults, but to their kids and that’s really key to the future of our city.”

Adult learner Paul Reggie Bryant, 67, says the school means everything to him and that he finally feels like people are invested in his success. He was reading at a third-grade level when he arrived at the center in 2014. The native Washingtonian suffers from dyslexia and said that when he was in elementary school, his fellow students teased him because he couldn’t read.

Bryant dropped out of school in the eighth grade because none of the teachers knew how to help him overcome dyslexia. The grandfather recalled that whenever he asked a teacher how to spell a word, the response was, “look it up.” But he couldn’t look it up because he didn’t know how to put a word together.  “I used to think it was simply because I was dumb,” Bryant told the AFRO. “But it was because of my learning disability.”

Bryant ran away from home a year later and became addicted to heroin for the next 40 years as well as serving brief stints in prison.  He decided he wanted something better for himself, so he kicked his drug habit in the late 2000s.  When Bryant sought a career change from carpentry to residential monitoring a few years ago, he realized he’d need a high school diploma to secure the positions that paid more money.

The father of seven was not required to have a high school diploma for the residential monitoring job he has now. But, his eventual goal is becoming a certified addiction counselor, which he’ll need a college degree for. Once Bryant graduates from the academy in June, he hopes to continue his education.

“This is a springboard,” Bryant said. “This is the beginning of the journey and the journey continues.”