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The Big IDEA: 20th Anniversary Celebration

In 2018, IDEA celebrated our 20th anniversary. As part of our commemoration of two decades of educating DC's young people, we highlighted several alumni. Here are their stories. 

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
Oluwaranti (Ranti) Agbe-Davies
Class of 2012

When Oluwaranti Agbe-Davies, better known as Ranti, transferred to IDEA as a senior, she harbored thoughts of dropping out of school altogether. “I had just had twins,” Ranti explained. She was worried about being judged and about balancing motherhood and school. “Once the people at IDEA found out what I was going through, everybody just started giving and it changed my life. It was a fresh slate and I couldn’t have asked for a better 12th grade year.”

At the time, IDEA partnered with a program for teen parents. The program’s representative at IDEA was Jasmine Miller, who became one of Ranti’s lifelines. “She talked with my teachers so they understood my situation. I was not thinking about going to college when I came to IDEA, but Ms. Miller pushed me to stay in school and apply to colleges, and I earned scholarships.”

A few months before graduation, Ranti’s mother told her to move out and take her baby girls. She was on her own, but not without steadfast support from her IDEA family. Ms. Miller helped Ranti find transitional housing. IDEA helped pay for her senior dues, and more importantly, helped Ranti--originally from Nigeria--renew her green card, which her mother had let expire. On her birthday, Ms. Miller made Ranti a cake. Another staff member, Ms. Randolph, took Ranti to celebrate by getting her nails done. For prom, Ms. Miller gave Ranti a dress that she’d worn to a wedding.

After graduating, Ranti enrolled at Trinity Washington University and was working at Walmart to support herself and her girls. Soon afterward, Ranti’s grandmother died. “She was the only one that accepted me when I got pregnant, and she had pushed me to go to college.” The grief was too much for Ranti and she stopped going to school, and later lost her job. A counselor then connected her with a caseworker, who helped Ranti obtain a housing voucher and start a vocational training program.

Now Ranti is back on her feet. She works for the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and is studying psychology at Montgomery College. “When I was a teenager I didn’t know my value. I didn’t know I had a life ahead of me. I want to go into psychology so I can work with teenagers to help them find out who they are. The people at IDEA were so helpful. Students don’t realize just how much help is available. Some may be too proud or too scared or may not think they have a voice. There are people at IDEA who have so much they can give you. All you have to do is open your mouth and ask.”

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
Shanta Bryant

Class of 2014

As a seventh-grader at IDEA, Shanta Bryant did not like to read. When Shanta confessed to her English teacher that she hadn’t yet read The Hunger Games, about which she was supposed to give a presentation the following day, her teacher informed Shanta she would fail the class if she didn’t do the work. “I finally sat down and read the book in one night,” Shanta recalled. “Ever since then I’ve loved reading.” Shanta graduated from IDEA in 2014 as the Salutatorian of her class.

Now, as a 2018 graduate of Trinity Washington University, Shanta still loves to read and works at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where she completed several internships during college. Shanta was awarded the prestigious Andrew Mellon Foundation Grant for research she conducted at the Folger on how the race of actors performing the role of Othello has influenced understanding of the play and of race itself. Shanta plans to continue her research as well as going back to school next fall to pursue her master’s degree in library science.

After graduating from Trinity in May, Shanta traveled to Accra, Ghana to study at the University of Ghana in Legon, thanks to another grant. “I studied Twi, one of the most popular languages in Ghana, and African storytelling,” Shanta explained. “It was my first time being out of the country and it was amazing. We’re so used to the media portraying Africa in just one way. But you to Accra and it looks just like DC. Ghana is a modern, flourishing country.” Shanta said she feels like a more complete person having spent time in Africa. The experience also inspired her to consider exploring African studies or African-American studies in the future.

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
Andy Carter
Class of 2006

When Andy Carter transferred to IDEA for his senior year, he was motivated by the hands-on technology courses offered at the time and the JROTC program. “I love troubleshooting devices and building things,” he said. “What I learned at IDEA gave me the foundation I needed to become a computer technician and network engineer.” In fact Andy loved IDEA so much that he stayed on after graduation as an IT specialist for seven years. “I did everything from running cables to troubleshooting servers, fixing routers, and maintaining the phone system. IDEA was my experimental network and I learned how to fix everything. That set me up really well for the future.”

Since then, Andy has worked for the Defense Information School at Ft. Meade; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he currently works as a network engineer. He also plans to open an IT school in Maryland for students of all ages. “I want to provide that training so they can support their families.”

In addition to gaining technical skills at IDEA, Andy credits JROTC with helping him attain discipline and leadership skills. “I learned to be self-aware, how to interact with all kinds of people in a professional way, and how to make good decisions.”

Andy’s hard work and excellent problem-solving ability, combined with the opportunities he had at IDEA both as a student and employee, set Andy up for the success he has achieved today.

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
Steve Cheuko
Class of 2017

When Steve Cheuko moved to the US from Cameroon at age 16, he never imagined the opportunities that would be offered to him at IDEA and beyond, or what he might achieve. But now, as a sophomore studying computer science and engineering at George Mason University, Steve has already participated in local and national leadership programs and completed prestigious internships. During his 10th grade year--his first at IDEA--Steve participated in WILL, an environmental conservation and leadership program, and served as a WILL teaching assistant for the next two years. His knowledge about protecting the environment led Steve to IDEA’s Green Club and to work with IDEA administrators to place recycling bins outside the school. Steve participated in the Student Conservation Corps & Congress and the Hugh O’Brian Youth Fellowship. As a senior, Steve worked as an intern at the international law firm Sullivan and Cromwell. Last summer Steve worked in the office of the DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economics. “I sat in meetings with contractors to see what they wanted to build, and learned how the city is being renovated,” he said.

Steve said the teachers and staff at IDEA helped him develop the skills he needed to succeed in these demanding programs and jobs. “The teachers helped me express myself and speak up for myself,” he said, “They always pushed me to make good decisions and work hard.” And work hard he has. Steve was valedictorian of his IDEA class and maintains a 3.02 at GMU. He is also an active member of the African Students Group, where he helps African students navigate a new and often overwhelming environment, remembering what it was like when he first arrived in the US.

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
D’Angela Davis
Class of 2009

Especially when they’re frustrated, high school students complain that their teachers don’t understand them. IDEA Special Education Assistant D’Angela Davis, however, tells students she has walked in their shoes before. As a 2009 graduate of IDEA, D’Angela experienced her own struggles in high school and now motivates the scholars in her self-contained special education class to recognize they are more than their disabilities.

“When you’re young, you think you have plenty of time to get it together,” D’Angela explained. “It wasn’t until my 11th or 12th grade year when I buckled down with academics and took school seriously. I wanted to go to college and become a nurse. When I started going on college tours and saw you had to have a certain GPA to get in, I realized I had to focus on my future.”

D’Angela enrolled in the pre-nursing program at Trinity Washington University, but wasn’t applying herself, and became discouraged, leaving after a year and a half. She took time off but couldn’t find a job, so she enrolled at Garrett College. “I decided to redefine who I was and I was able to restart.” She earned her associate’s degree at Garrett, then transferred to Coppin State University. D’Angela realized she was more interested in psychology than nursing and became a psych major. “Once I did that, it was a ball of fireworks and I was on the road to graduate.” For her undergraduate internship, D’Angela chose a school for children with disabilities. “I saw the impact I had working with the kids every day and just being consistent with them,” she said.

Now as a special education assistant, D’Angela uses her skills to give students extra support. “We all learn differently, so I show them different ways to understand things. I help them put the pieces of the puzzle together.” Equally important is simply encouraging her students. “I tell them, ‘You all really have a lot of potential. Don’t let anyone downplay that. Your disability doesn’t have anything to do with what you’re capable of doing.”

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
Davonia Moore-Porter
Class of 2015

Even early into her senior year at Hampton University, Davonia Moore-Porter’s resume of accomplishments demonstrates the focus and fervor with which she pursues her goal of working as a family attorney. Davonia has completed internships as a guardian ad litem investigator with the Children’s Law Center (where she would love to work full-time someday) and as an associate organizing a women’s networking conference and doing government relations for BP America. On campus, Davonia participated in the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute, serves as a peer advocate to help students who have experienced domestic or sexual violence, a peer mentor to help freshmen acclimate to the college environment, and a peer counselor through the university’s counseling center to provide mental health checks around campus and reduce the stigma around seeking help for emotional health. As a psychology major with a concentration in marriage and family, Davonia maintains a 3.7 GPA and serves as treasurer of Psy Chi, the international honor society for psychology students. Last year she worked as a resident assistant, and she serves on the board of DC-based nonprofit Urban Alliance, organizing professional development opportunities for young adult alumni of the group.

Davonia attended IDEA from seventh through 12th grades, and was Valedictorian of her class. During high school she  interned for two summers at the Holocaust Museum and served as an ambassador of the Stephen Tyrone Johns Summer Youth Leadership Program, where she learned the importance of standing up for people who are oppressed.

Her experiences working with mentors, teachers, and staff at IDEA made a lasting impression on Davonia and shaped her success as a leader and listener among her peers. “IDEA is not a place where you graduate and leave forever,” she said. “You always have someplace to return. Teachers’ doors are always open. When I come home for breaks I always go back to help the teachers.” Davonia keeps in touch with mentors who influenced her at IDEA, and draws on those relationships now that she serves as a mentor. “I try to keep an open mind, regardless of the situation. I am always listening to what someone has to say. Sometimes they just need a listening ear.”

Davonia plans to take the LSAT this winter and work for a year before enrolling in law school, to make sure that she’s mentally and financially prepared for the next essential step toward her goal of advocating for families to help them find safety, stability, and peace.

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
Jerron Plater

Class of 2013

Jerron Plater enrolled at IDEA for the JROTC program, initially aspiring to join the military. While he ended up on a different track, he still values the time he spent as a cadet. “JROTC gives you structure,” he explained. “You have to have a nice clean uniform and shoes, you take things seriously, and it helps you learn to be responsible.” Jerron still remembers the life lessons that his JROTC instructors--Maj. Lewis and Sgt. Bee--imparted. “They were real with me about how life works, and how important it is to get everything you can from school.”

After graduating, Jerron knew he had to get a job, but didn’t settle on a career path until his uncle encouraged him to join the DC Fire and EMS Department cadet program. “Halfway through the program, I realized I could do this,” he said. Jerron spent six months studying and practicing emergency medicine and six months studying and practicing firefighting. “There was a lot of book work and learning how the human body works and recognizing what’s going on with someone, and extreme workouts and learning how to control your breathing when you’re going into a burning building. I think I was just made to do this.”

Jerron has been a full-fledged emergency medical technician and firefighter for three years. “I love helping people and giving back, knowing I’m doing something for the community,” he said. What he learned at IDEA still holds true in his current work: “No matter how hard stuff gets or how discouraged you get, continue on.”

The Big IDEA 20th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
Victor Settles
Class of 2016

As a wildlife ecology major at the University of Maryland, Victor Settles explores how living organisms interact with each other and operate within their environment. On a smaller scale, Victor looks back on his four years at IDEA as an ecosystem that helped him become who he is today. “My experiences at IDEA shaped how I interact with people and face challenges,” he explained. “I learned how to work with so many different kinds of people. Being at IDEA helped me become more creative in how I approach my goals.”

Victor’s long-term goals include working on a thesis about the effects that animals have on human culture and development, earning his master’s degree in zoology, then his doctorate, and eventually becoming a professor. Right now, Victor is studying insects and their interactions with humans. In addition to a full-time courseload, Victor works in an entomology lab. “I document the populations of bees native to America and how those population shifts affect crop development,” he said. In his spare time, he sings with a multilingual a cappella group, participates in the mixed martial arts club and geography club, and works as a model. As an IDEA student, Victor served as student council president and a JROTC officer, ran cross country, managed the baseball team, practiced Kung Fu, and was named Valedictorian of his class.

Looking back on his time at IDEA, Victor recognizes how the support and encouragement he received contributed to his confidence and success. “I have a long list of staff members who influenced me and who were helpful,” he said. “So many staff members and students believed in me and believed I could do great things. Because I have so many people behind me, I know have a responsibility to do what they thought I could do.”

Alumni Spotlight: Asia Leath
She wrote a novel while still in high school and was valedictorian of the class of 2014, but Asia Leath stumbled a bit when she got to college. "It's been rough the whole way," Leath said. "My first semester I didn't do my best. It was a hard transition from high school to college, but I finally got it together and I've been working my way back."
Now, halfway through her junior year at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Leath has brought her GPA up to 3.84 and hopes to eventually graduate magna cum laude. Majoring in communication studies and minoring in business, Leath is determined to succeed despite her initial setbacks. "It was hard having to be responsible for myself, stay focused, handle my own finances, and discover what I wanted. But I like that I've developed more independence."
In addition to taking tough classes, Leath volunteered last semester at Greensboro Urban Ministry, helping in the food pantry, and worked as an intern last summer for Accenture in its federal services department. "That was a really good experience," she recalled. Her project involved working to help private sector companies answer President Obama's call to action to aid refugees. "I had to do a lot of research on private sector companies and nongovernmental organizations to see how they could work together." Leath found that she enjoyed the challenging, unpredictable nature of the work. "There were a lot of challenges and work I didn't think I could do, but I did it. It was never boring, always interesting." She recently received an offer to return to Accenture this summer for another internship, which could possibly lead to a full-time job offer after graduation.
"Coming from at one point not wanting to go to college to having career goals," Leath reflected, "I like how I've grown since high school. People at IDEA always told me I could do it. They were always behind me and pushed me to do better. Having all those people to support you emotionally keeps you in a good place. That's how I handled all those challenges when I started college."
Between now and graduation, Leath aspires to remain on the Chancellor's List, join the communications honor society, and get her first book published. She's writing the sequel now. She said she hasn't planned out the whole book yet, but just writes as she's inspired. As her characters' stories unfold, so does Asia Leath's. 
Class of 2015 Alum Jabari Young Earns Dean's List Honors
Shout out to IDEA class of 2015 alum Jabari Young, who made the Dean's List at Shenandoah both semesters of 2016, earning a 3.65 GPA. Jabari is one of only 27 students in The Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School Of Business at Shenandoah University to receive this honor and one of only three Black students to make the Dean's list. Jabari is a true definition of a student-athlete.
Alumni Spotlight: Tyrone Crossland, class of 2012

October 1, 2013 -- Only a year after graduating from IDEA PCS, Tyrone Crossland has proven his ability to pursue a practical career and his passion for fashion by becoming an apprentice electrician and launching his own line of clothing—Royale Lifestyle. Crossland has also been accepted at Clark Atlanta University for admission in Fall 2014.

Both of Crossland’s career paths were born during his four years at IDEA.

As a sophomore, Crossland took electrical housewiring as an elective. Through that course, he was connected with Truland Systems, where he interned each summer. Truland was so impressed with Crossland’s ability and dedication that the company offered him a job immediately upon graduation. He has joined the electrical union as an apprentice, which means he works on job sites with experienced electricians and spends one day a week in the classroom learning advanced electrical skills. He is currently in his first year of the five-year apprenticeship, but has already earned certifications and licenses that allow him to work 40 hours per week. Truland pays for Crossland’s tools, books, and professional classes.

“This is a great field for anyone who’s hands-on,” Crossland said. He enjoys visualizing where wires and cables will go, as well as the challenge of using math skills he learned in high school, including algebra and geometry, to make calculations. “Everything you do here includes math,” he said. “I wasn’t the best at it in high school but I had to become proficient to do this job well.” Crossland had to pass reading and math tests in order to become an apprentice. He appreciates the growth opportunities in the electrical union, where the next step after apprentice is journeyman, which pays $40 per hour. The master electrician level earns even more.

As a freshman, Crossland studied graphic design, which sparked his interest in designing his own clothes. “I love shoes,” he explained. “Any Nike or Jordan shoes. I couldn’t find a shirt I wanted to go with them. So I started buying blank shirts and putting my own designs on them to go with the shoes. My friends starting asking where to buy them, so I decided to start selling them.” Crossland has taught himself how to be an entrepreneur, working with manufacturers, learning about copyright, and becoming social media savvy to market his shirts. His designs have appeared in magazines and have been worn by musicians and singers during their shows.

IDEA is proud of alumnus Tyrone Crossland and his ambitious endeavors.
IDEA Alum Quincy French Commissioned into USMC
Summer 2016--The IDEA family, including JROTC instructors Major Lewis and Sergeant Bee, celebrated the commissioning of class of 2012 graduate Quincy French into the United States Marine Corps. Second Lieutenant French is now in training at Marine Corps Base Quantico. Congratulations to Second Lieutenant French!

Class of 2007 Valedictorian Charles Flowers Certifies Sgt. Bee for Duty

IDEA JROTC instructor Sgt. Bee recently traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky Cadet Command School for recertification. He was assigned a soldier from US Army Military Intelligence to conduct his background investigation for clearance. It was the soldier’s first day on the job at Fort Knox after reporting for duty from Hawaii. Sgt. Bee quickly realized that the soldier was Specialist Charles Flowers, valedictorian of the IDEA class of 2007 and former executive officer of IDEA’s JROTC unit. Spec. Flowers was nominated for the Cadet Command Hall of Fame, earned his degree in engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and plans to attend Officer Candidate School. “Flowers is a wonderful example of how to be prepared for post-secondary opportunities and becoming a productive citizen who contributes to his community,” said IDEA JROTC instructor Maj. Terrence Lewis.

Class of 2015 Cadets Assisted with National Guard Awards Ceremony
December 2016--At a recent National Guard Awards Ceremony, Maj. Lewis and Sgt. Bee encountered IDEA alumni and former JROTC cadets Gradella Brown and Alexis Williams, both working with the National Guard. Williams will begin training as a dental assistant in May.
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