When Pooja Adhikari moved to the United States from Nepal in 2006, she dreamed of becoming a teacher. But her dream wasn’t immediately achievable. Her need to provide childcare for her son, born a year after she arrived, was one barrier. And her lack of proficiency in and confidence using English prevented her from getting the U.S. college degree necessary to work as an educator.
“I couldn’t express what I wanted to say,” she says. “I was hesitant to approach people. When I [had] to talk in front of people, I was so nervous, like people might not understand me. I used to think, ‘Oh my god, what are they going to think?’”
Across the nation, many caregiver students are in a similar situation: They desire to attend college but lack the necessary prerequisites. In Pooja’s home of Washington, D.C., economists project that by 2020, 76 percent of jobs will require some postsecondary education. Many residents will not be prepared. Over 60,000 D.C. residents don't have a high school credential and 90,000 do not possess the basic reading, writing, math, or English language skills needed to succeed in postsecondary education and the workplace.
Two-generation programs are a solution, and Pooja’s alma mater, Briya Public Charter School (Briya), is an exemplar.
Briya provides a two-generation model of education where parents and their young children enroll together. Adults acquire English, parenting, and digital literacy skills while their children, six weeks through five years old, learn in their own classrooms across the hall at no cost to families. Parenting classes equip adults with skills to help their children succeed. And the real-world skills and confidence-building gained at Briya can make a significant difference in parents’ ability to manage life as a caregiver student.
Because the school recognizes that students cannot succeed in school if their basic needs are not met, Briya provides onsite medical, dental, mental health, and social services by strategically co-locating with Mary’s Center, a community health center. Co-location is important because caregiver students already have a scarcity of time balancing work, parenting, school, and running a household.
The majority of Briya students are immigrants and the first in their family to attend college. To ensure students make a successful transition from Briya to postsecondary institutions, the school employs a transition coordinator to assist with college admissions, applying for financial aid, and enrollment processes.
Briya’s comprehensive model garners tremendous results. Both the adult education and pre-K programs regularly receive the highest rankings from the D.C. Public Charter School Board based on measures of student outcomes and program quality.
Pooja enrolled in Briya with her son, then fourteen months old. She spent a year improving her English, as well as gaining parenting skills, while her son was nurtured and prepared for future success in his own class right across the hall. “I became a better writer,” Pooja says. “And we used to have discussions [on] different topics and we had to present in front of all the students. This helped me gain confidence and become a good speaker. And parenting classes nourished me with various skills and knowledge. I learned so many things as a parent at Briya.”
After achieving English proficiency at a high-school level, Briya students can take the next step on a path to a stable career by earning their high school diploma or enrolling in the school’s workforce development programs, which offer a tuition-free opportunity to become a registered medical assistant (RMA) or child development associate (CDA). The RMA and CDA are credentials with minimal barriers to entry that can serve as springboards for obtaining an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Pooja was excited to learn the CDA credential would allow her to work as an assistant teacher. She enrolled in the program while her son continued to attend early education classes at Briya. And upon graduating, she was offered jobs both at Briya and at the local public elementary school where she volunteered. She accepted the job at Briya, where she now works full time as an infant and toddler teacher.