Thursday, December 26, 2013

Do you believe the Prince George's County School Chief did this?

by Toni A. Smith

Before leaders can truly take their organizations where they envision, they have got to have the right talent. That's what I know.

After I read the December 23, Washington Post article about the recent talent changes the  Prince George's County Public School's (PGCPS) chief, Dr. Kevin Maxwell, have made, I wondered if some of the people who commented have ever tried to contact anyone working in the PGCPS system's administrative offices, ever. If so, they would completely understand why Dr. Maxwell, CEO of five months, is hiring additional staff. Some call it "top heavy" moving in the direction of the former leader. I disagree. With the right "top" staff and plan, I believe that the PGCPS system could be and do so much more.

We absolutely need more executive level talent, those with experience and a positive work ethic. Management and certainly frontline staff, need to be engaged in their work and inspired and reminded how important they are to making the whole entity work and, usually, executive "top" staff  sets this tone. And we absolutely need a diversity officer, because we have lots of diversity issues that need to be understood and addressed.I am sure there are a few positions that could be eliminated but, honestly, from my experiences dealing with the school system, it has suffered from a shortage of "top" staff, albeit the right staff, to get the job done on all levels. Now, perhaps, with these new positions, real progress can be made.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

75 percent of college students with possible mental health issues do not seek help!

Per the Mental Health Resource Guide, with the pressures facing most people today, it is essential to take your mental health seriously. This is especially true for college students and young people, whose lack of experience in the real world could lead to major mental health issues resulting from stress, overwork, fatigue, or even the onset of a more serious mental illness. Click to learn more in the Mental Health Resources Guide and how you can help reverse this trend.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Making of Prime Real Estate

In Reach is a small shop and as such, from time to time, the executive director has the distinct pleasure of expressing her creative self. Such is the case when she had the opportunity to promote In Reach's Quantum Project at its partner school, Charles Carroll Middle. Watch the making of prime real estate.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reflections of High School Youth Ambassador - The Fears & Excitement of Graduating High School

Finishing high school and getting ready for college is definitely one of the most exciting parts about the transition from teenager to adult, but it's also one of the most nerve-wracking. It's scary to think that all of those years of grade school will eventually trickle down into just a few moments of opening college application results and walking across a stage in a cap and gown.

There are various inevitable fears and excitements that come along with graduating high school. We students understand that once the school year ends, our lives will never be the same. Naturally, it may sometimes be hard for parents or mentors to understand what's going through our heads as we prepare to say goodbye to the comfort of high school. With this in mind, I conducted a survey amongst my peers, asking them what their fears and excitements about graduating high school and moving on to college are.

Although no two of my peers had the exact same response, our fears and excitements seem to generally be the same. As much as we are excited to experience new things – make new friends, visit new places, and be grown up and independent – we are also scared to leave the comfort and familiarity of home and the everyday rituals of attending high school. We are afraid that all of our hard work will not be enough to get us into our dream schools, or that we might not like it when we get there.

In about a year or so, I will be the first in my immediate family to attend college. At first, although I was thrilled to be on the path to achieving something that no one in my family has achieved before, I felt alone in the whole ordeal, and was intimidated by the high school to college transitional process that awaits me. Thankfully, the Youth Ambassadors Program, which understands this situation very well and is aware that there are many students out there who are in that same situation, has been here to provide me with the guidance that I need to walk down a path that is unfamiliar to both my family and me.

Through my experience as a Youth Ambassador, I have come to believe that some of the best ways to make the transition from high school to college less frightening and more exciting for students is for parents, teachers, counselors, and/or mentors to work together to offer advice to students about graduation and college. Hearing about the experiences of others can be comforting. Answer any questions that students may have, since learning about something and being more familiar with it can help make it seem less intimidating, and provide college tours for students to various campuses so they can decide what they like and don't like, thus preventing the fear of uncertainty. And, if you are a parent that has not attended college, remember that senioritis (the bug that causes high school seniors to lose interest in high school) will definitely be in the air and your son or daughter is counting on you to prevent them from giving up or losing sight of their goals.

All in all, it is important to remember that although it can be stressful, graduating high school is a very exciting journey, and a perfect memory-making time for both students and their loved ones.
Djellza Ramadani 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - It's Okay to be Undecided

We were halfway through a college tour when the tour guide asked one of my best friends, "So what do you plan on majoring in?" When my friend admitted, as I have heard her do many times before, that she is in fact undecided, I held my breath for the tour guide's response. It was a breath of fresh air when he responded with, "That's okay; that's our most popular major!" To me and many of my peers, selecting a college major means choosing, at such a young age, exactly what we want to do with the rest of our lives. That can be quite intimidating; especially since, when you're a teenager, just selecting which movie to watch at the movie theater or choosing an outfit for the day can be a great struggle with indecisiveness. I am so used to hearing teachers, parents, and even guidance counselors emphasizing the importance of selecting a college major ASAP, that it's a relief to hear someone say that it is actually okay to be undecided.

In high school, students are still growing and figuring out who they are, what they like, and what they're good at; these things take time. When I was really young, I thought that I wanted to grow up and be a teacher. Now, my ambitions for the future are something completely different from that, and I wouldn't be surprised if I change my mind, yet again, before I begin college. Thankfully, many universities understand that and do not require students to select a major until their junior year. If colleges are so understanding, then why can't our teachers, parents, and guidance counselors be, as well?

I very strongly believe that high school students should be told that it's okay to be undecided on a major, rather than pressured into choosing one. I think that instead of expecting teens to know exactly what they want to do in the future, adults should encourage them to use their time in high school as a learning experience in itself and not just a time to plan out the future. For example, things like internships should increase in popularity amongst high school students, and should perhaps be encouraged more by guidance counselors, teachers, and parents. After all, it's hard for anyone to know how they really feel about something until they try it. Many students who enter college with a major already in mind often end up graduating with a completely different one, anyway. In college, where students have to pay for classes, this can be quite expensive. This makes high school an excellent time for students to be undecided, and therefore open-minded.

Djellza Ramadani

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - What could be better than providing community service?

When students realize that impressive academics is only one characteristic of a well rounded and successful student, they begin to value learning experiences outside of the classroom, such as community service, much more. Community service is one thing that, as a High School Youth Ambassador, I have devoted much of my free time to.
I believe that the act of serving the community gives students like me a learning experience that is just as valuable, if not more, than a classroom learning experience. During the course of my high school years, I have participated in countless community service projects and have held positions of leadership on the advisory board of the Newseum (news history museum) in Washington, D.C. and the Youth Ambassadors UNICEF Club. I value community service greatly and can honestly say that the community service projects I have participated in have helped shape who I am today. I believe in the quote by Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see in the world," and have personally witnessed that with the right plan, a lot of hard work, and big hearts, even a few high school students can get together and make great things happen.

Some of my most cherished high school memories are actually those from community service events that my friends and I have participated in. Whether we were making ConKerr Cancer pillowcases to deliver to young cancer patients in local hospitals, fundraising to help alleviate the troubles of water shortages in less economically developed nations, or advocating against teen dating violence within our own community, we were always excited to participate, anxious to learn, and pleased to be making a difference.

Knowing that something I do, no matter how small it is, can benefit the life of someone else is what keeps me willing to continue participating in community service projects, yet, when volunteering, I not only get the satisfaction of helping others, but I am also able to learn more about myself (my skills and interests) and the world around me. One instance where community service has helped me become a more informed citizen is when the Youth Ambassadors UNICEF Club was advocating the importance of water and the affects of water scarcity in less economically developed nations.  In order to successfully advocate this, it was necessary for me to learn all about it; learning about how hard a basic necessity like water is to obtain for some people inspired me to conserve more water and stop taking it for granted. I have enjoyed participating in community service projects so much that I have even based my career plans for the future on it and am planning to continue to serve the community for as long as I can. Mother Theresa once said, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."

I am proud of all of the community service that I have done as a High School Youth Ambassador and am also proud to be a role model for younger students, such as my two little brothers. I am glad that they can learn, from me, the value and importance of community service, not only for the community, but for their personal enrichment as well.  I owe a lot to the school faculty and sponsors who were willing to devote their rare free time to guiding me and my peers through community service projects. None of it could be possible without them. Consequently, I believe that community service should be strongly encouraged in all schools, and am thankful for the community service opportunities that were given to me as a High School Youth Ambassador.    

Djellza Ramadani


Monday, July 15, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - Pressure from Parents to Pursue a Certain Career Path, Not Good

Many students are very fortunate to have their parents involved in their academics. However, for some of them, this is both a blessing and a curse. I understand that parents want the best life possible for their children, but unfortunately, many of them, without even realizing it, mandate a career path for their child that the child may not have any interest in whatsoever. They do this rather than guiding the child to discover their own interests and select their own career path.

This is especially the case amongst many immigrant families where parents immigrated for the sole purpose of providing a better education, and hence a better life, for their children. This was the case for me. Growing up, I was pressured by my parents to excel in academics, which, I must admit, did result in me earning better grades. However, I always felt that there was something wrong with me because I liked reading and writing instead of math and science, which is what my parents wanted me to like. They pushed me to win science fairs and master my times table, which I was neither good at nor fond of. Before I was even ten years old, my parents had instilled in me that in order for me to be successful in life, I would have to grow up and become a doctor. They didn't care what kind of doctor, they didn't care how many years of school it would take, and most shockingly, they didn't care if that was what I wanted or not. It wasn't what I wanted.

During this time, I felt so trapped in school, and trapped within my own life. I pretended to be interested in things that I wasn't interested in, just to make my parents happy. I never shared with them the beautiful poems that I scribbled in my notebook on boring rainy days or the fairy-tales I wrote that my little brothers seemed to enjoy so much, for the fear that they would laugh in my face and tell me that I was wasting my time. My parents finally realized that I was not wasting my time when my grandmother called from Europe one day. She was in tears because of a poem that I had finally gathered enough bravery to write on a Mother's Day card for her. It was then that my parents saw just how much joy words on paper could bring to someone. From that day forward, I was never again ridiculed for preferring to read fairy-tales instead of my science book. I shared every story and every poem that I wrote with my parents, and I didn't have to pretend any longer. I was able to enjoy school more; I was no longer trapped. I greatly valued my parents guidance, but I think I valued their trust in my intuition even more.

I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I were to pursue the career path that my parents want me to. I would have missed so many life changing opportunities such as enrolling into the International Baccalaureate Program, which is one of the best decisions I've ever made, or even joining Lyrical Storm, a poetry performing group. I honestly don't think I would be as happy or as confident in what I want to do in the future as I am today. Because of this, I find it particularly disturbing when I ask one of my peers what they want to be in the future, and they respond with "a doctor" or "a lawyer," and then when I ask them what makes them want to take that career path, they admit that it's because of their parents. There is an incredible amount of pressure on them to meet their parents irrational expectations, and I sympathize with them because I was once in that same situation. I find this so unfortunate because I feel that life is so short that everyone should live it doing a career that they enjoy. I believe that people should put more worth on their happiness than on their salary. The next Picasso may be somewhere getting ridiculed for pursuing his interest in art. The next Beethoven is probably being told that he is wasting his time on the piano. I strongly encourage parents in to guide their children to pursue a career that makes them happy and not just one that will pay well.

Djellza Ramadani

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reflections of a High School Youth Ambassador - Introductory Post

In Reach is so pleased to present the first of many posts capturing the thoughts of one of our most beloved students and summer intern, Djellza Ramadani (affectionately known as DJ), whom we have watched grow into a wonderful young lady since seventh grade. It is our hope that, if you work with students, you will continue to be inspired by her posts and, if you don't, that you will be encouraged to become a mentor, collaborate with a local program to participate as a speaker, for example, or make a financial contribution to one of the many committed community-based organizations like In Reach that work with students every day to prepare them for college, work and life. Enjoy!
Excited that it's almost over yet sad to see it ending. This is the emotional roller-coaster that many high school seniors will go through as their high school experience comes to an end. I am Djellza Ramadani: a proud Youth Ambassador and, you guessed it, a newly promoted senior in high school. I remember first claiming and rooting for my graduating class, "the class of 2014," back during my freshman year. At the time, my graduating year was no more than a number to me, and, like many of my classmates, I did not expect time to ever pass by as quickly as it has. Now, I realize that the year 2014 is right around the corner, and I've got to be ready for it.

Thankfully, my experience as a High School Youth Ambassador has provided me with a college-ready mindset. I can honestly say that I am emotionally prepared to conquer my final year of high school and also successfully plan out a path toward achieving a secondary education. To get the most out of my high school classes, as well as to challenge myself, I enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Program at my school (Parkdale High). The incredible abundance of assignments and pressure to excel in them encouraged me to make my schoolwork my ultimate priority, which is fortunate since colleges take academics into great consideration when admitting students. However, this was not enough for me; I wanted to do more and experience more. Although my commitment to my academics made it difficult for me to participate in many extra curricular activities, I knew that the Youth Ambassadors program would be worth it, since it would enable me to broaden my horizons, learn things I can not learn in my school textbooks, and ultimately become a more well-rounded person.

Participating in the Youth Ambassadors program also gave me a sense of self-satisfaction since, as a Youth Ambassador, I was given the opportunity to not only help others through community service, which was very important to me, but also to get to know myself better. I was able to realize where my strengths lie as well as develop new skills in areas that interest me. Because of everything that I have accomplished as a Youth Ambassador, I can confidently claim that I want to pursue a career in public relations/journalism in the future. I would like to be the voice of one of the non-profit organizations that I was introduced to in the program, such as UNICEF, for example. I realize that the future is truly in the hands of my peers and me, and we've got to make it as great as we can.

I know that I have a long way to go before I can have my dream career. However, I can now better understand the steps I have to take to get there. Coming to this understanding was a journey of its own, and my next journey will be taking my final steps as a high school student. It would be my pleasure to share this experience with you. The world around us continues to change, but one thing remains the same: everything must be done one step at a time.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Celebrating Amazing Prince George's County Parents 2013

Making Parents a Priority in Prince George’s County Maryland

Hyattsville, MD | On June 14, 2013, In Reach, Inc., held its Second Annual Celebrating Amazing Prince George’s County Parents Awards Program, an event honoring outstanding parents with children currently enrolled in a Prince George’s County Public School.

 “I am absolutely elated to hold the Celebrating Amazing Parents Awards for a second year and look forward to growing it annually. Parents are an important component of In Reach,” said Executive Director, Ms. Toni Smith.

Congratulations again to our three 2013 Amazing Parent Award recipients:

Mr. LaRone Clark, recipient of the Ingrid M. Turner Amazing Parent Award for demonstrating a strong sense of community as a volunteer, coach and mentor. 

Ms. Lisa Ojeda-Brown, recipient of the Parks and Recreation Amazing Parent Award for being an awesome and dedicated bridge builder in the lives of children.

Ms. Karen Parker, recipient of the In Reach, Inc. Amazing Parent Award for being an all around selfless individual, active in the school and community, and an incredible parent who best demonstrates a well-rounded presence.

In Reach would also like to thank all nineteen of the 2013 nominees: Dr. Lubrina Bryant, Mr. LaRone Clark, Ms. Venus Ferdinand, Mr. Halomon Green, Ms. Kristan Hayes, Ms. Nikki Kelly, Mrs. Sharndell Branch King, Mr. Jermaine McFadden, Mrs. Cynthia Marolen, Ms. Bukola Molokwu, Mrs. Lisa Ojeda-Brown, Mrs. Sherri Lenell Paige-Robertson, Ms. Karen Parker, Ms. Cynthia Proctor, Mrs. Kimberly Robinson, Ms. Taunya Denise Said, Mrs. Jennifer Schumacher, Ms. Tonya R. Scott, and Ms. Elaine White.

"It was an honor and distinct pleasure to join Toni Smith, Executive Director for In Reach, Inc., at her 2nd Annual Celebrating Parents event. Toni Smith has proven herself a strong advocate for parents and children in Prince George's County and this event celebrated the remarkable parents who are making a difference in the lives of their children and in their community," said Council Member Ingrid M. Turner, Esq., (District 4), about the event.  

In Reach thanks all of the individuals and sponsors who helped make the Second Annual Celebrating Amazing Prince George’s County Parents Awards Program a success with a special thank you to Council Member Ingrid M. Turner; Shawna Fachet of the Prince George’s Department of Parks and Recreation; Ms. Amber Waller, Prince George’s County Board of Education, District 3; and our guest speaker, Mr. Keith Singletary, Sr., Owner of Chick-fil-A at Largo and Steeplechase.
To view the photo album from the event, download the Press Release, and learn more about our work, visit Remember to sign up for our newsletter.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

True Love, True Reality Reception

In Reach Raises Awareness about Teen Dating Violence

Hyattsville, MD |  On February 15, 2013, In Reach’s Youth Ambassadors held True Love, True Reality, a Teen Dating Violence Awareness Reception and Program to recognize National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month which included awarding the winners of their first county-wide poetry competition.

Statistics show that nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience abuse from a dating partner in a single year, or roughly 1 in 3 teens.  “The Youth Ambassadors are amazing and have worked really hard to raise awareness about such an important issue. The poetry contest and the reception have allowed us to reach communities throughout Prince George’s County.” said executive director Ms. Toni Smith.

Congratulations again to our True Love, True Reality Poetry Contest winners and Honorable Mentions:

First Place - Justina Molokwu, senior, Parkdale High School, for Broken Cycle of Tears
Second Place - Marie Iyomahan, sophomore, DuVal High School, for Dashuri (Albania for Love)
Third Place - Bethel Babayemi, freshman, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, for The Many Faces of Love

Honorable Mentions - Amber Patton and Maria Lorditch of Bowie High School and Damilola Adeyemi of Largo High School

In addition to the winners, congratulations and thank you to the Parkdale artists who provided the beautiful artwork for the awards: José Lima Rosas, Joshua Newman and Jamilet Cordan.

A special thank you Dr. Judy Dubose, Director of the Prince George’s County Department of Family Services - Children, Youth & Families Division for bringing greetings and Ms. Dannielle Glaros, Chief of Staff, Prince George’s County Council Member Eric Olson’s (D-3) office for presenting the Youth Ambassadors with a Proclamation and making our program a successful and memorable event. We could not have done this without your support. 

In Reach would like to thank all 23 of the Poetry Contestants:

Bowie High School - Maria Lorditch, Amber Patton, Coco N. Terry
Frederick Douglass High School - Noelia Cruz
DuVal High School - Marie Iyomahan
Fairmont Heights High School: Karim Kambo          
High Point High School - Karina Escobar
Largo High School - Damilola Adeyemi, Nnedi Agubokwu
Laurel High School - Cierra Major
Parkdale High School - Christian Bautista, Elvin Cruz, Elmer Hernandez, Deon Magnus, Justina Molokwu, Jissella Urquilla
Potomac High School - Ja’Kwan Craddock
Eleanor Roosevelt High School - Bethel Babayemi
Suitland High School - Gabrielle Durant
Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr., High School - Gilberto Hernandez, Maryam Siddique, Patrice Sykes, Diamond Ward

Read more about the True Love, True Reality Project, view event videos and pictures, download the poetry souvenir book, and sign up for the mailing list on our informative teen dating website,

The Youth Ambassadors, based at Parkdale High School, offers students a variety of opportunities to become college and career ready, build financial literacy life skills, and engage in meaningful service learning projects, like this one, to address the issues that directly impact them.

Based in Cheverly, MD, In Reach, Inc., is a tax exempt 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization designed to prepare students for college, work and life. Founded in 1999, In Reach envisions healthy, productive and prepared young adults in every family.