My parents and older brother immigrated from India in 1980. In our trips back to India as a kid, I noticed the tremendous opportunity gap that existed between me and kids born into poverty and felt a need to level the playing field at a young age.
During my freshman year of college, a friend and I started an organization called D.C. Today…D.C. Tomorrow with the mission of empowering the students of DC today to be the leaders of DC tomorrow. We partnered with Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia and quickly recruited students.
We took high school students all over the city to do service work after school and then brought them back to their school to engage in service learning and reflection.
Over the next three years, over a hundred students would participate in our service trips. Teachers would approach us and share that our students were performing better behaviorally and academically and inquire about our academic enrichment curriculum. We weren’t facilitating any explicit academic content, simply exposing students to leadership opportunities in their community alongside caring mentors who chaperoned service trips.
This experience taught me that when students engage in meaningful opportunities during after-school hours with the support of caring adults, it can have a tremendous impact on their academic performance in school and greatly improve their entire life trajectory.
After college, Teach For America brought me to Baltimore City, where I served as a third-grade teacher at Bay Brook Elementary Middle School in South Baltimore. From there, I worked for Thread, a Baltimore-based mentoring program for a year before heading to TNTP, a national education non-profit.
I worked as the Program Manager for TNTP’s teacher preparation program in Baltimore called the Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR). BCTR has trained and certified hundreds of teachers to teach in Baltimore City Public Schools since 2002.
In 2015, I was promoted to Director of BCTR, during which time we made major program changes that improved the performance and increased the retention of BCTR teachers. In 2018, I was promoted to Partner at TNTP. Due to the strong performance of the Baltimore program, I was asked to both oversee the Baltimore program and start a new TNTP teacher preparation program in Minnesota.
My main focus in my last couple of years at TNTP was on removing barriers to entry for black teachers knowing that when students of color have teachers of color, they perform better academically. I worked closely with the Assistant State Superintendent on a new policy that would increase the number of black and brown teachers in Maryland classrooms.
Additionally, I was responsible for development efforts and raised just under $1 million dollars to support operating costs of Baltimore and Minnesota programs in my final year at TNTP.
The Executive Director position at Higher Achievement Baltimore allows me to focus on what I have been most passionate about in my career: afterschool programming for high-need students, program growth and expansion, and fundraising.
With your support, I hope to expand our programming to serve more Baltimore City students over the next three years. I am grateful for the community surrounding our scholars and look forward to partnering with you in our mission to close the opportunity gap.
Garima Bhatt Handley
Higher Achievement Baltimore Executive Director