Education in action: Thalia Theodore Washington ’00

Education in action: Thalia Theodore Washington ’00

By: University of Maryland Alumni Association
April 26, 2019

For Thalia Theodore Washington ’00, her turning point was middle school. As a first-generation American, testing into a high-performing high school changed her trajectory.

“I was suddenly surrounded by peers who were all going to college,” she recalls. “That rigorous high school experience put me on the path to both college and career success.”

Without her hard work in middle school, she says, she may not be where she is today: serving as Executive Director at Higher Achievement DC Metro. A nonprofit focused on closing the opportunity gap for DC-area students during the critical middle school years, Higher Achievement uses a unique engagement model to help students become college and career ready.

“This work is very personal to me because middle school is the age where I feel like everything started for me,” Theodore Washington says.

The program pairs students with mentors and offers enrichment opportunities after school, in addition to a Summer Academy and high school placement assistance. Higher Achievement serves more than 500 students in the DC Metro area. Its newest location in Greenbelt, Md. will open this summer to expand its reach to students in Prince George’s County.

“Having a personal relationship with a mentor afterschool helps students feel seen, loved and supported,” Theodore Washington explains. “That positively impacts their performance during the school day as well.”

While a student at Maryland, Theodore Washington was active on campus in the Honors program and as a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. She joined Teach for America upon graduating and relocated to the Bronx, where she taught first grade at a large, urban public elementary school. The experience shaped the rest of her career.

“Even after transitioning out of the classroom, I always worked in public education, either in school systems or serving schools with very similar demographics to the school that I taught in,” she says.

Now, in her role at Higher Achievement, she oversees the organization’s fundraising and program implementation to ensure that the next generation of students has access to the opportunities that she received.

“I was the first in my family to graduate from college, and education became the turning point for me,” Washington explains. “It was the ticket to everything that came next.”