SEED Co-Founder Eric Adler Receives Wharton Club of New York's Social Impact Award

Twenty years ago, SEED was just an idea that was beginning to bloom in the minds of our cofounders, Raj Vinnakota and Eric Adler. Now, it is a network of public boarding schools serving more than 900 students and nearly 400 graduates. Eric's vision and tenacity were most recently recognized by his alma mater, Wharton, which awarded him the Social Impact Award. An excerpt from his interview with them can be read below; read the full transcript to learn about the source of Eric's inspiration, how they convinced their first donors to support them, and the biggest challenges they faced.

This is a how-to story for someone who wants to start something big, fast. Eric Adler, WG’96, created a public boarding school 20 years ago, for kids from economically disadvantaged single-parent and no-parent homes, chosen by lottery without regard to academic talents. Now, with 355 students in D.C., 400 students in Baltimore and 180 students in South Florida, SEED students enter in the sixth grade and board until 12th grade. About 95% of the students at SEED schools graduate from high school, and 94% attend college.

He did all this while winning a fight against pancreatic cancer and then dealing with its complicated aftermath, including 35 surgeries last year.

Eric, within 18 months, you conceived an idea, lobbied Congress to amend a law, raised millions of dollars and opened a public charter boarding school for inner-city youth. How were you able to move that quickly?

Well, the arrogance of youth is incredibly powerful. My Co-Founder Rajiv Vinnakota, and I, we both had this idea for a public boarding school. If we’d been a little older, we might have thought twice about it. But we didn’t. We just did it. We met on February 11, 1997 and agreed, “Let’s open the school in September 1998 and back-map it to today for everything that has to get done.” We wrote it out on this whiteboard and said, “Well, we need a facility starting here. We won’t have the money until here, so that’ll leave three months. OK, so we’ll just build in three months.” Again, not knowing anything was really useful.

We’re on our third school now, and it’s so much harder to do because we have board members we have to bring along with us, and we have schools that already exist that have to be protected. There’s a real freedom in having nothing to lose, and nobody to tell you, “No.” You just go and you do it.

Why were you inspired to start SEED?

Before attending Wharton, I taught high school physics at St. Paul’s, a prep school outside of Baltimore. I taught mostly white upper-middle-class kids who were paying, not kids of color from the inner city who came in with varying levels of academic preparation.

One kid from the inner city had received a scholarship, and he commuted 90 minutes to school. Nobody was at home to cook his meals or iron his clothes, or make sure his homework was done. He had a huge disadvantage, and it showed. That’s when I had the idea. But I didn’t have the tools to do it, so I just tabled the idea. Read on.

SEED DC Students Jump-Start Their College Careers in Atlanta

Is it better to attend a public college or a private one? A historically black college/university or a predominantly white institution? A small college or a big university? At SEED, we know that the answer varies from student to student, and we want them to see a wide cross-section of universities so that they can determine what their own "right-fit" college looks like. 

SEED DC 9th-, 10th-, and 11th-graders had exactly that opportunity during their recent whirlwind college trip to Atlanta. Over the course of three jam-packed days, our high-schoolers visited Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and Spelman and Morehouse Colleges (the young ladies and men split up to visit these single-sex colleges.) In addition to tours, information sessions, and meals on campus, students were able to get a taste of what each university had to offer. At Georgia Tech, students met with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; at Georgia State University, students learned about GSU's many connections to local companies, particularly business and film.

Though the student participants of this trip all hailed from SEED DC, it was truly a network-wide project. SEED DC's new College Counselor, Dr. Christopher Vick, organized and led the trip; students were also accompanied by Liz Middleton, the Foundation's College Success Advisor, and Mildred Harris, SEED Maryland's College Counselor, as well as several other SEED DC staff. In addition, the tour of Spelman College was arranged by the Foundation's College Success Manager, Joi Baker--a proud Spelman alumna herself. 

During their short breaks between college stours, SEED students were also able to squeeze in some Atlanta flavor: they explored the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, visited the birthplace and burial site of Martin Luther King, Jr., and visited the Georgia Aquarium. For some students, it was their first time in an aquarium--but most of them were still brave enough to touch the critters in the Touch Tank! Check out the photo album below for more highlights from Atlanta.

At SEED Miami, The City Is Their Classroom

SEED Miami students expanded their horizons and gained a stronger appreciation for their community as they explored the state-of-the-art Perez Art Museum Miami. The museum, which is dedicated to modern and contemporary international art, is located in the heart of downtown Miami. Students particularly appreciated the opportunity to experience the three-dimensional exhibits and creating their own artistic masterpieces. We are deeply grateful to SEED supporter Dorothy Terrell for making this wonderful opportunity possible!

SEED Maryland Students Take an Emotional Journey on Challenge Day

Singing, dancing, giant beach balls, sharing feelings, and lots of hugs: these were just a few of the highlights of The SEED School of Maryland's two Challenge Day events, which took place last Wednesday and Thursday. The program shows students how to "be the change they want to see" in the world by teaching them positive coping mechanisms for life stresses and demonstrating the tangible benefits of compassion.

By sharing their hopes and dreams for the future, as well as some of their current concerns, students got to know one another--and their educators--on a whole new level. In addition to many SEED Maryland staff and a SEED Maryland parent, members of The SEED Foundation and SEED Miami staffs also participated in Challenge Day, making this program a truly community-wide bonding experience.

SEED Students Catch a Glimpse of their Futures at the SEED Graduate Panels

How do college dorms compare to SEED dorms? What SEED programs were the most helpful in preparing our graduates for college? And what exactly does CTS support "to and through college" mean? 

These were just a few of the questions that our graduates answered for 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-graders at SEED DC and SEED Maryland during our annual graduate panels. Each panel featured graduates from both SEED schools who currently attend (or graduated from) a wide range of colleges--HBCUs and PWIs; small schools and large; private and public institutions; located in rural and urban areas. This gave SEED students the opportunity to learn about the incredible array of educational opportunities available to them, and how important it is that they "thoroughly research all the universities" that they are interested in, as panelist Eriel Holloway (SEED DC '12, Alabama State University '16) exhorted them to do.

Other SEED graduate nuggets of advice  include:

  • The best academic preparation for college are SEED's AP courses--take advantage of them!
  • SEED students should all study abroad while they have the chance, as SEED makes studying abroad more convenient, and more affordable, than many universities do
  • CTS advisors will answer graduates' texts day and night, visit them on campus, and have even helped graduates gain additional scholarship funds from their universities
  • Students should start networking and interning in their desired fields right away, to gain the connections they'll need for their future careers

And above all:

  • "Just go to class. I know it's cliche, but just do it."

SEED Graduates Have a Ball (and Bowl a Few) at the Annual Graduate Bowling Party

The 2016 CTS Annual SEED Graduate Bowling party had the largest turnout ever, with graduates from both SEED DC and SEED Maryland attending, and representing our very class (2004) up to our current college freshmen (2016) . Graduates had an awesome time catching up with one another--especially those who were home from out of town--and getting to know graduates from other SEED classes and SEED schools.

It was also an awesome opportunity for them to reconnect with their advisors and friends on the CTS team! The bowling party is one of our favorite events of the year, and we're delighted that our graduates feel the same way. Special shout-out to Ayodele (SEED DC '12, UPenn '16) for getting the word and organizing the logistics--thank you for making the Bowling Party such a success!

SEED DC Student Lakeya Earns POSSE Scholarship!

The SEED School of Washington, D.C.'s college acceptance season kicked off with a bang: a full-tuition scholarship, courtesy of the Posse Foundation! Lakeya, a senior at SEED DC, earned the prestigious Posse scholarship to attend the University of Rochester next fall. 

The Posse Foundation was established in 1989 and identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential. They offer those students the opportunity to pursue personal and academic excellence by placing them in supportive, multicultural teams (Posses) of 10 students. Posse scholars also receive four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships to one of Posse's 57 partner universities. 

Lakeya follows in the footsteps of other SEED graduates who have received Posse scholarships, including DaQuan, a senior at University of Wisconsin - Madison.  The CTS team can't wait to visit her at the University of Rochester for her official College Outreach Visit next fall!

Lights, Camera, Action: SEED DC's Falcon Theatre Brings It On

The SEED School of Washington, D.C.'s Falcon Theatre brought the house to their feet on Thursday evening with their rendition of "Bring It On: The Musical." Supporters, friends, and students from their sister school SEED Maryland attended the show at THEARC as our guests, thanks to the generosity of Eileen Shields-West and Robin West. 

The SEED Falcon Theatre has won numerous accolades, including the opportunity to perform in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they will represent the United States at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. On Thursday, they regaled the crowd with two and a half hours of cheering, singing, dancing, and of course, a giant leprechaun. 

SEED DC Falcon Theatre Presents Bring It On: The Musical!

After the show, Myiah (SEED DC '16, current Georgetown freshman) distributed flowers to her former fellow castmembers and discussed the impact of SEED in her own life. Guests were also treated to a meet-and-greet with the cast and a light reception after the show. We are so grateful to everyone who braved the traffic to share this wonderful production with us!

The SEED Parent College Prep Academy Takes to the Ivies

SEED DC students, families, and staff at the University of Pennsylvania.

SEED DC students, families, and staff at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, SEED DC 9th- and 10th-grade students and families caught a glimpse of their future on a college campus thanks to a visit to the University of Pennsylvania. The trip was led by the SEED Parent College Prep Academy, a partnership between SEED DC, the Foundation's College Transition & Success team, and the Flamboyan Foundation.

Students and families met SEED staff bright and early at SEED DC to hit the road. After they arrived in Philly, they were treated to a personal tour led by SEED staff and SEED DC graduate Ayodele (SEED DC '12, UPenn '16). After lunch on campus, they learned what to expect from the college application process at "The College Process 101" workshop and about the costs associated with college during a Financial Aid Workshop. 

One of the highlights of the visit was the SEED graduate panel, featuring four recent SEED graduates attending colleges in Philadelphia--Olatunji, SEED DC ’16 and Bijion, SEED DC ’16 and current freshmen at Temple University; Faith, SEED MD ’15 and sophomore at Villanova University; and Siri, SEED MD ’16 and freshman at Drexel University. We love when our community members have the opportunity to learn from each others' challenges and successes in college.

Keep your eyes peeled for the SEED Parent College Prep Academy's next college tour, slated from Spring 2017!


The SEED Foundation Raises $36,394 on Giving Tuesday!

Giving Tuesday Post-Event Graphic.png

On November 29, The SEED Foundation joined more than 45,000 non-profit organizations worldwide to celebrate Giving Tuesday, an international day of philanthropy. We asked our community to join us in supporting the work of the College Transition & Success team, who just finished visiting 108 SEED graduates at 43 colleges in 14 states, for a total of 370 on-campus advising hours. 

To make your gifts go even further, and to demonstrate their commitment to our graduates, the SEED Foundation's own leadership team pledged to match every donation made on Giving Tuesday, up to $10,000. 

As donations flowed in from graduates, colleagues, former staff, and friends, one supporter was so inspired that she pledged to match another $5,000 of donations.

The response from our community was overwhelming: together, your donations came to $21,394--totaling $36,394 with the matching funds. 

We are truly humbled by your confidence in our mission, our work, and our graduates. Thank you so much for your friendship and your support.

Janasia's Persistence Pays Off with a Visit to Michelle Obama!

When SEED Miami eighth-grader Janasia signed up for AileyCamp Miami, hosted by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, she never dreamed that it would lead to a meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama! But sure enough, her participation in this exposure opportunity led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To witness a burst of pure joy, watch Janasia's spontaneous hug with First Lady Michelle Obama!

This summer, Janasia participated in AileyCamp Miami, a summer program for middle-school students that teaches self-expression and self-esteem through dance and drumming. Her extraordinary determination and persistence distinguished her in the program, making her the perfect candidate to represent the program when it received the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in Washington, D.C. 

Janasia's hug with the First Lady was just one of several highlights from her trip to Washington, D.C.! It was also her first time traveling on a plane or outside the state of Florida, and she took full advantage of the trip by visiting the new National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Mall while she was in D.C.

Road-Tripping with Purpose: Part 4

Jordan visits Cody (SEED DC '16) at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

In the fourth and final installment from fall 2016, Jordan gives his first-hand account of visiting recent SEED graduate and college freshman Cody. Scroll further down our blog for earlier recaps! 

9:00am: Arrive at University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

Good morning again! I'm Jordan Frasier, College Success Advisor for the SEED Foundation's College Transition and Success (CTS) program. I am excited to take over The SEED Foundation's social media pages to highlight an exciting part of our programming. I am currently at University of Pittsburgh at Bradford visiting Cody, who is a SEED Graduate from The SEED School of Washington, D.C. Class of 2016! Cody is a freshman computer information systems and technology major. I'm looking forward to touring campus, meeting administrators, observing English class, and catching up. Through our College Outreach Visits, we experience a day in the life of our enrolled graduates. I am excited to share my day with you!

11:00am: Checking Out Cody's Dorm

I just finished touring campus and checking out Cody's Dorm. Cody is checking to make sure one of his final scholarships is processing before we meet with a few administrators on campus. Cody is enjoying University of Pittsburgh at Bradford so far and has really gotten connected on campus. He is glad he attended U PITT beginners (Freshmen Orientation) over the summer. There, he met his roommate and most of his current friends on campus.

12:00pm: Meet with School Leadership from Admissions, Advising, Financial Aid, and Enrollment! 

I just finished meeting with University of Pittsburgh at Bradford Director of Admissions, Director of the Academic Advising Center, Director of Financial Aid, Vice President for Enrollment Management, and Cody's financial aid counselor. They wanted to get in on the social media fun after a great meeting discussing the enrollment, financial, social/emotional & academic services on campus. They all work closely together and embody the family feel at UPITT-Bradford.

2:00pm: Shadowing Cody in English Class

In Cody's English class, they worked on the newest updates to MLA formatting. The professor had the students conducting a scavenger hunt in their writing manual so they know where to find the resources outside of class time. Cody shared with me that he currently has a B+ and rising in English as of the mid semester.

3:00pm: Financial Aid Planning!

We found time to make sure Cody's financial aid is straight for the rest of the year, that his FAFSA is submitted for 2017-2018, and that he fills out an application for the TRIO program. It is important for our graduates to be up-to-date on their financial aid and connected to the right resources on their college campuses. Cody has gone above and beyond in the short two months he has been on campus making sure he is set for success.

4:00pm: Farewell Hugs & Pictures

I've known Cody since he was a sixth grader at The SEED School of Washington, D.C. It was great to see him flourishing on his college campus the same way he did at SEED. He is hoping to apply to be a Resident Advisor next year, to continue his passion for the arts as he did with The SEED Falcon Theatre, and to continue to stay on top of his academics. He is proud to say that he is happy to be a Panther with his new diverse group of friends, great supports on campus, and his involvement in clubs & organizations. I look forward to following Cody's journey and hope to share more updates on his continued success.

Now on to my next stops to see more of our SEED Graduates at Mercyhurst UniversityAllegheny CollegeLee University, and Alabama State University this week!

Don't forget to like The SEED Foundation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to follow all of our adventures in real time!

Road-Tripping with Purpose: Part 3

Liz visits Bijion and Olatunji at Temple University

This is the third installment of SEED's College Transition & Success tales from the road, where our advisors give a first-hand account of a day in the life of a College Outreach Visit. Scroll further down our blog to see earlier adventures!

9:30am: Arrive at Temple University

Good morning SEED family! My name is Liz Middleton, and I'm a College Success Advisor with SEED's College Transition and Success (CTS) team. I've had a week of wonderful College Outreach Visits to four Philadelphia-area schools this week, and I'm excited to share my fifth and final visit of the week with you today! I am on my way to Temple University in Philadelphia, where I'll be visiting first-year students and 2016 SEED DC graduates Bijion and Olatunji. I am excited to tour campus, sit in on a class, explore on-campus resources, and have lunch with these two!

10:30am Tour of Campus with Bijion

Bijion is a first-year biology major and pre-medicine student at Temple. She is giving me a quick tour of campus before heading to take a Chemistry quiz (which I know she will ace!) We also had time to review her financial aid package and to explore work study opportunities on campus.


Ola is also a first-year at Temple and is a recently-declared Chemistry major. He walked me around campus to show me the academic buildings where his classes are held, and I got some updates on his classes this semester. I dropped him off here to take a math quiz, which he feels prepared for! Once he's done, all three of us will go out for lunch to catch up a bit more.

12:00pm: Exploring Class Registration Choices for Spring

Both Ola and Bijion participate in Temple's "Fly in 4" program, which provides academic and financial support to ensure that students graduate in four years. One perk of this program is priority course registration--they get to choose classes for next semester before everyone else! Registration opens soon, so Ola and Bijion are planning now for which classes they'll choose when it's time. We love when colleges commit to helping our SEED grads succeed! 

1:00pm: Team Lunch! (Our Graduates' Favorite Part.)

After spending all morning on campus, we are having lunch in Center City, not too far from Temple. Bijion and Ola love living in Philadelphia and have been exploring their new city whenever they have some free time!

4:00pm Farewell Hugs & Pictures

I had a great day catching up with Ola and Bijion at Temple, and I am so happy to see that they're enjoying it here. They've worked hard all week and are looking forward to relaxing this weekend! As for me, I'm headed to New England next for some more College Outreach Visits. Thanks for following today!

P.S. You can follow these adventures and lots more in real time by liking The SEED Foundation on Facebook or following us on Twitter!

Road-Tripping with Purpose: Part 2

Jordan Visits DeAsia and Jasmyn at Bennett College for Women

College Outreach Visits have always been a SEED staple because they cement the graduate-advisor relationship and ease the transition to college. This fall, we asked our College Transition & Success (CTS) advisors to take over our social media handle and share first-hand accounts from their college outreach visits across the country. Below is our second installment, from when Jordan visited first years DeAsia and Jasmyn as well as upperclasswomen Markeisha, Cierra and Imani. (Scroll down to see our first installment from Joi and Liz!)

9:30am: Arrive on Campus

Good morning! I'm Jordan Frasier, College Success Advisor for the SEED Foundation's College Transition and Success (CTS) program. I am excited to take over the SEED Foundation's social media pages to highlight an exciting part of our programming. I am currently in Greensboro, NC at Bennett College for Women visiting DeAsia & Jasmyn, who are first year SEED Graduates!

Also, I'll be checking in later with our older graduates Markeisha, Cierra, and Imani, who are in their second and third years. Through our College Outreach Visits, we experience a day in the life of our enrolled graduates. I am excited to share my day with you!

1:00pm: Campus Tour & Catching Up with DeAsia

DeAsia gave me a tour of campus and her dorm. She was placed in the honors dorm on campus. Also, during our time she shared that she Aced her Spanish midterm, Yay! I'm really enjoying checking in on her transition into Bennett College.

3:45pm: Reflection with Markeisha, a sophomore

I just finished spending time catching up with Markeisha, who is a 2nd year Bennett College Belle. We had a great conversation about persistence and resilience. She is fresh off her fall break and ready to get back to work. Also, it helps that she got the chance to see President Obama speak at North Carolina A&T State University yesterday.

8:00pm: SEED Family Dinner

We have had a great day at Bennett College! In SEED tradition, we are having a SEED Family dinner with all the students at Bennett College & North Carolina A&T State University.

9:15pm: Farewell Hugs & Pictures

Well everyone it's time for me to sign off! We had a great day at Bennett College for Women. Jasmyn and DeAsia are doing well and getting a feel for their new lives in college. Thank you for following me today and please be on the lookout for the next CTS Takeover!

Road-Tripping with Purpose: Tales of College Outreach Visits straight from our CTS Advisors (Part 1)

Joi and Liz visit Myiah, SEED DC '16, at Georgetown University

College Outreach Visits have always been a SEED staple because they cement the graduate-advisor relationship and ease the transition to college.This fall, we asked our College Transition & Success (CTS) advisors to take over our social media handle and share first-hand accounts from their college outreach visits across the country. Below is our first installment, from when Joi and Liz visited Myiah, a recent SEED DC graduate and freshman at Georgetown University! 

8:00am: Arrive at Georgetown (coffees in hand)

Good morning! I'm Joi Baker, College Success Manager for the SEED Foundation's College Transition and Success (CTS) program. I'm joined today by Liz Middleton, College Success Advisor on the CTS Team. We are excited to take over the SEED Foundation's social media pages to highlight an exciting part of programming. We are headed to Georgetown University to visit Myiah, a 1st year SEED graduate! Through our College Outreach Visits, we experience a day in the life of our enrolled graduates. We're excited to share our day with you!

11:00am: Attend Myiah's "Problems of God" theology class

Myiah is a first year International Relations major in the School of Foreign Services. This is Myiah after her theology class, Problems of God. She shared with us that this class is about building relationships, so student participation is really important here. We're thankful we weren't called on during class discussion!

11:50 am: Speak with Georgetown administrators in the School of Foreign Service

Myiah is introducing us to the deans in her department, the School of Foreign Service. She has already made wonderful connections within her school--everyone in this office knows her name! These deans help students like Myiah navigate topics like academic planning and time management. While we wait, Joi and Myiah discuss adjusting to life on a college campus. #CTStravels

12:15pm: Lunch! 

It's the grads' favorite part of the trip--lunch on CTS! We took Myiah to Mai Thai of Georgetown.

2:12pm: Meet Myiah's Financial Aid Advisor

Myiah, Ms. Middleton, and I visited the Office of Student Financial Services. We met Myiah's Financial Advisor, Ms. Vairapandi, who was VERY helpful and knowledgeable. Myiah has some great supports!

3:40pm:  Farewell Hugs and Photographs

We got a quick picture of Myiah in front of Healy Hall with the iconic statue of Georgetown founder John Carroll, before dropping her off at her International Relations class and saying goodbye. We had a wonderful visit at Georgetown today and can't wait to keep visiting our grads on campus! 

P.S. You can follow these adventures and lots more in real time by liking The SEED Foundation on Facebook or following us on Twitter!

2016 SEED Summit

All SEED staff from across the network had the opportunity to gather, learn, and grow together at the annual SEED Summit, which took place on August 4th at SEED DC and August 5th at SEED Maryland. School staff relished seeing the other schools’ campuses, and they were even more excited to share best practices during four 70-minute workshops. Staff led and selected workshops based on their interests and job responsibilities; workshops included everything from Understanding the College Matching Process to Positive Youth Development to Differentiated Reading Strategies. 

The 2016 SEED Graduate Institute

On July 15-17, while so many Americans found themselves on vacation or trying to beat the heat, SEED graduates were hard at work honing their resumes, learning how to invest their money, networking, playing laser tag, and reuniting with friends at the 11th Annual SEED Graduate Institute (SGI).

Professional Development sessions ranged from financial education, including “The Art of Budgeting” and “Understanding Credit, Saving, and Investing”; a resume-writing workshop; a meditation and yoga session; and a professional networking mixer. Graduates were also able to choose interest-specific career workshops, such as “Creating the Perfect Art Portfolio,” “Developing and Presenting a Research Proposal,” and “Effective Internet Marketing & Writing.” In addition to learning from SEED friends and supporters–who volunteered to lead these sessions and help graduates hone their skills–participants also benefited from the wisdom of older SEED graduates during a graduate panel question-and-answer session.

We are deeply grateful to all the donors and supporters who made this extraordinary weekend of professional and personal development possible for our young graduates! To catch more highlights from this event, check out our photo album. Here is just a small glimpse into our graduates’ packed weekend:

Building Partnerships: An Example 13 Years in the Making

SEED is a partnership between students, families, and SEED staff. When our students face challenges, we all work together to morph into the support system that the student needs.
— The SEED Foundation CEO Lesley Poole, with Tamia Spells, SEED DC ’10

The SEED Foundation’s new CEO, Lesley Poole, has seen the power of partnership between families and staff during her 18 years at SEED. Ms. Poole’s 13-year relationship with Tamia Spells is just one story of how these partnerships can make all the difference in our students’ path to college:

Part I: A Leap of Faith to SEED DC

Tamia, during a SEED-sponsored trip to India, where she volunteered at a school.

Tamia, during a SEED-sponsored trip to India, where she volunteered at a school.

According to Tamia, Ms. Poole was “a constant, nurturing, and commanding presence.” Tamia’s family welcomed Ms. Poole into their home for an informational visit, where she convinced them to take the leap of faith in SEED and apply. After Tamia enrolled, Ms. Poole’s consistent presence on campus helped cement their confidence in SEED. And when a health crisis struck Tamia’s mom, Ms. Poole and Tamia were the first family members to reach her bedside.
“Ms. Poole didn’t have to be the one to drive me to the hospital—to coordinate with doctors, tell me what was happening with my mom, help my family with the paperwork—but she made it a priority,” says Tamia.

Ms. Poole’s motivation was simple: “Our investment in Tamia was far too important to let this tragic situation undermine it.”

Ms. Poole wasn’t just there for the tough times—she also watched Tamia grow and expand her worldview through SEED’s many opportunities, including challenging academic coursework, varsity sports, and exposure trips in India and Greece.

Part II: Becoming a Hokie...and a College Graduate

Tamia and her grandmother at her college graduation.

Tamia and her grandmother at her college graduation.

Numerous SEED staff members, including Ms. Poole, continued to help Tamia and her family navigate the next big phase of her life: transitioning to college at Virginia Tech. Ms. Poole witnessed Tamia mature and learn how to ask for help when needed—especially from The SEED Foundation’s College Transition & Success Team, which helped her find housing, jobs, and mentors on her campus. But their relationship was a two-way street: “[Ms. Poole] watched me grow, and I watched her grow—from a faculty member at SEED DC to advocating for the opening of SEED Miami. Seeing a black woman in a position of power was inspiring,” says Tamia.

Part III: Giving Back & Paying it Forward

Tamia’s career has brought her SEED story full circle. Not only has she devoted herself to students from underserved communities in Miami as a Teach For America corps member, but she also volunteers at the very school that Ms. Poole helped to found in 2014. Tamia helps recruit students alongside SEED Miami Head of School Kara Locke, another mentor from her time at SEED DC. As she visits with prospective parents and students in their homes, Tamia is living proof that SEED is worth their leap of faith.

Tamia confers with a SEED Miami student during an end-of-year celebration

Tamia confers with a SEED Miami student during an end-of-year celebration

SEED DC Educator Topher Kandik Named DC's 2016 Teacher of the Year!

State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang announced today that Topher Kandik, a nine-year teacher at The SEED School of Washington, D.C. (SEED DC), is the 2016 District of Columbia Teacher of the Year!

Over the last nine years, Mr. Kandik has stoked the passion of hundreds of SEED students in his English classes by turning the city—and the country—into his classroom. Mr. Kandik has tapped into the rich resources available in DC to integrate the arts into his curriculum. He has brought students to the White House for poetry workshops; through a partnership with the local literary advocacy organization 826DC, Mr. Kandik’s students have had their original short stories and poems published. Through the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program, Mr. Kandik’s students have welcomed several MacArthur Geniuses into their classroom to discuss their work. Mr. Kandik has also built partnerships in his own hallway, ensuring that his own curriculum aligns with the lessons being taught in other subjects.

A constant in Mr. Kandik’s work is the value he places on his students’ voices and opinions: “I value their voice on what they think is important. Often, students don’t value their ideas. I want them to figure out their own voice.” Mr. Kandik’s Why New Orleans Matters unit exemplifies this philosophy. After designing a curriculum to compare and contrast low-income communities in New Orleans and D.C., Mr. Kandik followed his students’ lead as they pitched school leadership for permission to plan a capstone field trip to New Orleans. Students—by their own design— researched relevant places to visit, crafted budgets, and executed fundraising plans. “It was everything I loved about education,” he later reflected.

Teaching is Mr. Kandik’s second career, but his former position as an arts fundraiser has helped him succeed in his classroom. As he says, “the experience I had fundraising has paid off in a way that makes me a better teacher. Those skills—organization, time management—all translate.”

Mr. Kandik’s teaching skills have translated to exceptional student outcomes. According to Dr. Manuel, SEED DC’s head of school, “what makes Mr. Kandik’s classroom special isn’t just that his students score above average on state assessments….it’s that his students develop a real joy for learning and intellectual engagement that will help them become not just strong students, but intelligent and engaged adults.”

Lesley Poole, CEO of The SEED Foundation, adds: “This wonderful recognition is a byproduct of Mr. Kandik’s work, his effort, and his commitment to excellence. His success means that young people in DC have the opportunity to become better students and more thoughtful people. It means that our children win.”

On behalf of every student who has learned under Mr. Kandik and every teacher who has worked alongside him, we are very, very grateful to Mr. Kandik and to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) for shedding a much-deserved spotlight on this exceptional teacher.