Alumni & Parent Spotlight: Adar, Charlene, Felicia, and Patrice Howard

Higher Achievement Alumni and Mother

In 1990, Charlene Howard and her daughters Adar, Patrice, and Felicia lived in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, DC–a diverse neighborhood known for its equal proportions of black, Hispanic, and white residents. 1990 was one in a series of years where DC was named the US “Murder Capital,” with 472 murders that year alone. The effects were felt by residents of all ages. Adar Howard says, “Growing up, we had a really tight-knit community with my neighbors, my families, and extended families. But I wasn’t completely oblivious to [crime].” In 1991, when a police officer shot a Salvadoran man after a Cinco de Mayo celebration, the Howard family witnessed their neighborhood erupt in riots. “I remember very distinctly the Mount Pleasant riots, [it] changed our course from walking home to Higher Achievement at Sacred Heart,” says Adar.

Despite the turmoil in their neighborhood, the Howard sisters had one reassuring constant: their mother. As a single mom, Charlene worked hard to ensure that her daughters received the education they deserved. As she describes it, “I didn’t want them to be in a box. I wanted them to be exposed to as much as possible to open up their world.

Enrolling her daughters in Higher Achievement did just that. While the sisters all excelled in school, Higher Achievement gave them confidence–the confidence to ask for help, the confidence to learn, and the confidence to pursue their goals. Adar explains that, “In my family, we all knew that we were going to go to college. It was something that was a standard. But, Higher Achievement gave us the tools that would make going to college possible. Higher Achievement opened the doors of higher education.”

Patrice elaborates: “Higher Achievement provides the environment that people in other wealthier socioeconomic classes can create for themselves. Higher Achievement creates an environment for low-wealth communities to have that type of educational experience that people in higher wealth have.”

Higher Achievement was a key part of Patrice, Felicia, and Adar’s upbringing. The sisters walked to Afterschool Academy with their neighbors, who were also Higher Achievement scholars. Every year, their families would have a friendly competition over which scholar would win the Spelling Bee. They would even practice with their neighbors for Olympics of the Mind, Higher Achievement’s annual academic competition. Higher Achievement wasn’t just part of their day, it was part of their community.

After graduating from Higher Achievement, Felicia went on to Wilson SHS, Patrice went on to Holton-Arms High School, and Adar went on to Banneker High School. Though they were no longer scholars in the program, they eventually returned to be mentors and summer teachers. Additionally, Charlene deepened her commitment to Higher Achievement by joining the Board of Directors after her daughters graduated, during particularly challenging financial times in the organization’s history.

Patrice says proudly, “My mom was right there in the trenches when Higher Achievement was trying to decide whether it should go on, and what its identity would be. She helped to form their identity as a national platform for education reform. I am proud to say, ‘Hey, my mom was not only there when was I a student, but after I finished Higher Achievement she joined the Board. She made this’.”

As Patrice and Adar have continued on in their lives, Higher Achievement has traveled with them through friendships, memories, and professional lives.

Felicia went on to Clark Atlanta University earning a degree in Journalism, subsequently earning a Master’s in Journalism at Regents University. She is currently an HR specialist who trains new hires on compliance and professional etiquette. She volunteers with the Boys and Girls clubs, Tampa bay etiquette academy, and the YMCA.

Patrice attended North Carolina Central University for her undergraduate studies and then went on to get her PhD from Columbia University. During one of her courses on program evaluation, the class was presented with different programs, and given the task of evaluating them. One day, while she was reviewing her notes, the professor announced that Higher Achievement was the program they would analyze that day. As they continued to describe the program, she exclaimed, “Me, that’s me! I am Higher Achievement!”

Currently Patrice is a political scientist at the US Department of Justice, serving on the Community Oriented Policing Services team where she evaluates – and works to improve – relationships between communities and police officers. Patrice is also an adjunct professor at the University of the District of Columbia.

Adar went Florida A&M University, where she originally enrolled with the intention of becoming an architect. But during the first years of her undergraduate studies, she noticed that not all of her classmates were prepared for the rigor of college. She realized that her experience as a Higher Achievement scholar was truly unique. This inspired her to transfer to Ashford University where she graduated with a degree in Education Policy, and went on to American University to earn a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and Educational Policy. After finishing school, she joined the DC Teaching Fellows, and taught English at local DC high schools for five years. Now, Adar is a college preparatory advisor at the College Success Foundation, where she supports DC youth as they pursue higher education. She also volunteers with literacy and mentoring groups that focus on global educational opportunities for low-income students in DCPS leading trips to China, France, and England.


Where will Higher Achievement be in 40 years?

Charlene: In 40 years, I see Higher Achievement on a wide national scale and organizations taking that model, and moving on with it. I see them selling their model.

If Higher Achievement was a person celebrating their 40th birthday, what kind of party would it be?

Patrice: It would be the green scene from Emerald City in The Wiz. There would be everything; vogueing, Cirque de Soleil, and fantastic costumes. It would feel like that scene in FAO Schwarz from Big, where Tom Hanks is dancing on the piano.

I expect when Higher Achievement turns 80 for it to be no less extravagant than those 2 movie scenes put together. I hope those movie scenes are remembered 80 years from now. Maybe they’ll be on Turner Classic Movies and I’ll be an old lady watching them. Yeah, I put in my vote now for a recreated The Wiz Emerald City/Big marriage of those movie scenes as a theme for HAP at 80.

Imagine a world where every child has a chance to be part of a program like Higher Achievement.

Adar: It would probably be a completely different world. Unemployment would be down, because Higher Achievement does something unique that a lot of programs don’t do. They ask you not “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but “what problems can you solve?” It creates a huge populous of thinking people, and that’s what’s innovative, and that’s what changes the world.