Emanuel Jimenez-Moreno Benjamin Banneker Academic High school (10th) explains his robotics project.
Emanuel Jimenez-Moreno Benjamin Banneker Academic High school (10th) explains his robotics project.

Earlier this summer, amid ongoing attempts to avoid negative influences, George Alexander started his summer job at the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services’ (DYRS) Achievement Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast where he learned about robotics and architectural design.

From left: Morgan Alexander Bard High school early college DC (11th grade), Keyira young Eastern high school ( 11th grade ), and Emanuel Jimenez-Moreno Benjamin Banneker Academic High school (10th)
From left: Morgan Alexander Bard High school early college DC (11th grade), Keyira young Eastern high school ( 11th grade ), and Emanuel Jimenez-Moreno Benjamin Banneker Academic High school (10th)

Six weeks later, George and his peers presented a major project before an audience of youths, parents and government officials during a Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) Showcase at the DYRS Achievement Center. 

That project — a replica of Downtown D.C that includes the White House, Washington Monument and other national landmarks — culminated weeks of hands-on instruction about woodworking. As George explained, completing the project required teamwork and a willingness to learn. 

“As time went by, we made the project representing where we live, and we got better,” said George, a rising ninth grader at Bard Early College High School in Southeast. “I thought about how we did something new. For the most part, we had fun.” 

George counted among 48 young people who took on Marion Barry Summer Youth SYEP assignments at DYRS Achievement Centers on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast and the H Street corridor in Northeast. 

On Aug. 2, the Southeast-based Achievement Center hosted its second annual Summer Youth Employment Program Showcase. During the showcase, students reflected on what they learned while under the instruction of First Impressions Enterprises, a nonprofit dedicated to providing educational and socioemotional development for young people in D.C. and Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

In the weeks leading up to their major project, two dozen young people who were assigned to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue learned how to shape wood into birdhouses and boxes. Those who studied robotics applied their knowledge to the design of functional robotic automation. The architectural design students used their skills to replicate Downtown D.C. Their finalized project included landmarks, colorful street designs, the flags of various nations, and foliage that tourists visit while walking through the National Mall. 

Toward the end of the showcase, each student received a certificate and specifically tailored words of affirmation from First Impressions Enterprises CEO Dr. Sabrina Hayden. She said the experience left a lasting impression on them. 

“We’re teaching life skills and exposing them to career paths,” Hayden said. “The program opened them up to thinking about doing hands-on work. We want to inspire them to do something that takes them further than the six weeks they are here.” 

Kayla Edwards, a rising 10th grader at Banneker Academic High School, said the DYRS Achievement Center assignment, which she sought out, further confirmed her passion for architecture. She said she wants to build upon what she learned over the last six weeks. 

“This project allowed us to make things out of nothing but wood,” Kayla said. “We came together [and] as long as each of us did our part, it all worked out. The best part was seeing nothing become something great in the end knowing that I worked hard and used my mind to bring something together.” 

MBSYEP participant Timothy Wilson Jr. said the program exceeded his expectations. He cited it as further inspiration to walk on a straight and narrow path this upcoming school year when he enters the ninth grade at Digital Pioneers Academy Public Charter School in Southeast.  

“When I started out, it was difficult but fun,” Timothy said. “It’s important for young people to stay out of the way and do something productive. We got to make money in a good way, rather than get in trouble.” 

DYRS conducts year-round programming for young people between the ages of 13 and 24, including those who are not detained or under court supervision. At Youth Services Center on Mt. Olivet Road in Northeast, youth participate in workforce development, tattoo artistry and music production programs. During the upcoming fiscal year, these programs will be available for up to 12 weeks. 

Meanwhile, students at Kramer Middle School and Johnson Middle School in Southeast receiving DYRS services can learn about barbering and music. Tier three and four students at those schools — in addition to Cardozo Middle School in Northwest, McKinley Middle School in Northeast, and Sousa Middle School in Southeast —  have also been connected with credible messengers dedicated to increasing academic performance and attendance while decreasing referrals among that population. 

In the weeks since the D.C. Council’s passage of emergency public safety legislation that would keep youth detained for gun-related crimes, there has been concern about staffing issues at the Youth Services Center. 

On the morning of the showcase, Acting DYRS Director Sam Abed, who recently entered his role, focused his attention on how to prevent violent crime and young people’s introduction to the courtroom. He expressed plans to further support the Achievement Centers and all else that DYRS does to engage young people. 

“When we leave young people without opportunities, that contributes to the deterioration of public safety,” Abed said. “Making this [program] widely available for young people is good so I’m glad [that we] have these resources. DYRS provides food to the young people when they’re here. They can also come in with family members and get food if they have families struggling with food insecurity.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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