Briya Family Literacy Programme, United States of America

  • Date published:
    8 August 2016
Briya Family Literacy Programme
© Briya Family Literacy Programme

Programme Overview

Programme Title Briya Family Literacy Programme
Implementing Organization Briya Public Charter School, Washington, D.C.
Language of Instruction English, Spanish
Funding Government and private foundation grants from the Association of American Medical Colleges, Compass, DC Public Charter School Board, Discovery Channel, Flamboyan Foundation, MetLife Foundation, National Center for Family Literacy, National Council of La Raza, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Sitar Center for the Arts, Toyota Continuing Partners, Catholic Volunteer Network, Marriott Foundation and Share Fund.
Date of Inception 1989
Programme cost USD 4,561,071
Annual cost per learner: USD 9,270

Country Context

Due to the United States’ dynamic economy and thriving business sector, Americans, in general, enjoy high levels of income and well-being. The country has been slowly recovering from the economic crisis, and its near-term prospects are favourable (OECD, 2014). The unemployment rate has fallen from 10 per cent in late 2009 to around 5 per cent in late 2015 (US Department of Labour, 2015). However, statistics show that the benefits of the country’s economic recovery have not been sufficiently broad-based. Among the OECD countries, the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality (OECD, 2014). Low-income families, 25.8 per cent of whom are immigrants, face particularly tough conditions when it comes to costly healthcare, education and access to employment (CIS, 2011).

Government spending on healthcare is comparatively high and inefficient, while coverage is low. In 2011, immigrants accounted for 26.1 per cent of all uninsured persons in the United States (CIS, 2011). The low rate of insurance coverage associated with immigrants is partly due to their much lower levels of education, as many of them hold jobs that do not offer health insurance while their low incomes prevents them from purchasing insurance for themselves. In addition, some immigrants do not have knowledge of what their rights are with regard to health services. Furthermore, according to the OECD, socio-economic background has a stronger impact on adult literacy skills in the United States than in other countries. Data show that 50 per cent of those with the lowest level of literacy (below Level 1) in the United States are Hispanic adults, who are also substantially over-represented among the adult population with low basic skills (OECD, 2013).

In a country with a growing immigrant population, it is crucial to combat the cycles of under-education and poverty that marginalized groups and immigrants often experience. Briya Public Charter School was set up in Washington D.C. in 1989 as an Even Start programme, funded by the US Department of Education, to address the most pressing needs of immigrants. Over the years, Briya has worked with a number of partners in order to meet the academic and non-academic needs of the families it serves and to help them access quality education and better healthcare and achieve economic stability.

Programme Overview


Briya is a public charter school that offers a two-generational model of family literacy learning. In 2005, the school obtained charter status, and, by 2014, its three branches had been established. Briya’s two-generation family literacy programme integrates adult education and early childhood education. The school provides quality education for preschool children and prepares parents to be fully involved in their children’s education, while increasing their own literacy levels and job skills. The four components of the Briya family literacy programme are: 1) English language and computer instruction for adults; 2) early childhood education (ECE); 3) parenting classes; and 4) parent and child together (PACT) time.

In addition, Briya offers its learners the possibility of obtaining their high school degree and a credential in one of two workforce programmes, a child development associate (CDA) programme and a medical assistant (MA) programme. The CDA programme prepares students to gain a nationally-recognised CDA credential with which they can pursue career options such as early childhood teacher, home visitor or operator of a licensed home daycare facility. The MA programme prepares students for a career as a registered medical assistant in medical offices, clinics and hospitals, teaching them to perform both administrative and clinical duties. Both programmes are offered in partnership with community health centre, Mary’s Center.

Briya is a unique example of how a public school, through strategic partnerships with other community organizations, can serve as the hub of a community, linking together a network of services that builds on the strengths of a community to meet the diverse needs of families. Through its partnership with Mary’s Center, Briya provides families with a social change model of education, which includes a comprehensive, integrated set of education, healthcare and social services. Offering a set of comprehensive services to both parents and children, Briya is able to create strong family-school partnerships, which sets the stage for current and future parental involvement.

Aims and Objectives

The main objective of Briya Public Charter School is to provide high-quality education for adults and children that empowers families through a culturally sensitive family literacy model. Other objectives are to:

  • Cultivate the skills and capacity of parents to provide nurturing home environments though positive social interactions, rich language exposure and early literacy experiences.
  • Equip parents with critical literacy and job skills necessary to obtain employment.
  • Prepare children to enter school.
  • Provide healthcare and social services through its partnership with Mary’s Center in order to meet learners’ academic and non-academic needs.
  • Teach the knowledge and skills that are essential for creating strong communities.
  • Combat cycles of under-education and poverty that marginalized groups and migrants often experience.

Programme Implementation


The Briya Public Charter School has three sites across Washington, D.C., two of which share a location with Mary’s Center, a community health centre. The third Briya school is co-located with Bancroft Elementary School, a traditional public school. Briya’s Family Literacy Programme serves children from birth to age five and their parents. Classes are offered throughout the day to meet learners’ needs and schedules.

All education and social services are provided free of charge, while healthcare is provided through a sliding-fee scale, which allows students to pay for their medical expenses based on their income and their ability to pay. In addition, Mary’s Center also accepts both private and public health insurance.

Recruitment and Training of Teachers

Teachers have, on average, 13 years of experience working the in the field of education. As Briya prioritizes hiring from within their student body, staff members include former adult students with expertise in the needs and goals of the student population. Eighty per cent of teachers of English as a second language (ESL) and family literacy have a master’s degree in education or a related field, while 56 per cent of pre-kindergarten teachers have a master’s degree. Furthermore, Briya places importance on providing all of their staff with in-service training in order to enhance their professional growth. Professional development includes:

  • Teachers and supervisors creating individual professional development plans each year.
  • Coaching from experts in the field.
  • Peer observations (teachers observe other teachers in the school as well as teachers in other schools).
  • Internal professional development on a monthly basis on topics chosen by supervisors, by needs-assessment surveys of teachers, and from student data.
  • Sending teachers to external training and conferences.
  • Encouraging staff to continue their education.
  • Linking them to post-secondary institutions.
  • Providing scholarships for staff to pursue a higher degree (if they have a bachelor’s degree, they can apply for a scholarship for a master’s degree).
  • Assisting them to find other external scholarships.

Enrolment of Learners

Many of the school’s students are referred through Mary’s Center, tp which they may have initially gone seeking healthcare or social services. Currently (January 2016), the school enrols approximately 150 children, from birth to age five, and around 400 adults, 330 of whomare family literacy students, while the remaining 70 attend one of the two workforce programmes. Briya serves a large number of immigrant families: 98 percent of early childhood education students are dual-language learners (DLLs), while 96 per cent of adult students are limited in their English proficiency. About 80 per cent are Spanish speakers, but many other languages are also represented, including Bengali, Vietnamese, Amharic, Arabic, Mandarin, French, Russian, Tagalog, Tigrinia, Oromo, Nepali, Burmese and Jola. Briya has registrations throughout the year for its family literacy programme. Adult students who wish to enrol in the programme must live in Washington, D.C. and have a child aged 12 or younger.

Attendance in classes is not compulsory, but parents are asked to commit to a full school year. They are expected to attend two and a half hours of classes every day. Parents sign an agreement that commits them to dedicating twelve hours each week to engagement activities including PACT time, story time, library visits, parent-teacher conferences, home visits, as well as parenting, computer and English language classes.


Programme Content

The four components of Briya’s family literacy programme are: English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and computer instruction for adults; early childhood education; parenting classes; and parent and child together (PACT) time. As noted above, in addition to family literacy classes, Briya offers a high school diploma programme and two workforce credential programmes.

There are three sessions per day for adult learners: morning, afternoon and evening. The family literacy programme meets in the morning and afternoon sessions, and infant/toddler sessions are held at the same time. The pre-kindergarten is a full day programme, from 9am to 3pm, offered while parents are in class for either the morning or afternoon sessions. Parents are often invited into the classroom to learn alongside their children and are continuously involved in setting their child’s goals and monitoring their progress.

The workforce classes meet in the evening session.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

In the adult education classes parents are organized into six different levels according to their level of English proficiency. Each level encompasses English language, literacy, life and job skills.

1. Basic English (two levels)

Entry-level English covers basic written and oral skills in everyday life. Class topics include how to:

  • tell time,
  • describe illnesses,
  • check out books from the library.

2. Intermediate English (two levels)

Mid-level English classes cover grammar and the use of English language in daily situations. Students learn how to:

  • research and choose an elementary school for their child,
  • find housing;
  • ask and answer questions at the doctor’s office,
  • read a map.

3. Advanced English (two levels)

High-level English classes are designed to improve understanding and writing. Classes include:

  • writing your family’s story,
  • grammar, including past, future and conditional tenses,
  • budgeting for learners’ family needs and goals.


Transition to the next level of English classes varies considerably by each individual student and is often influenced by how many years of formal education they have had in the past. Typically, those with better literacy skills and more school experience move more quickly through the programme.

Computer Instruction

In basic computer classes, adult students learn to work in Word, and Windows, and to use the internet. More advanced classes include Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and Outlook.

Early Childhood Education

Briya’s pre-kindergarten programme provides children with a comprehensive early childhood education that promotes their development and knowledge in multiple areas, including language, literacy, social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, mathematics, science, social studies and the arts. Nearly all Briya pre-kindergarten students are dual-language learners and the whole pre-kindergarten programme addresses the needs of these learners. Examples of topics covered in the pre-kindergarten classrooms include exercise, the human body, buildings, trees, wheels, boxes, blothes and insects.

Parenting Classes and Weekly PACT Time

Activities in parenting classes help parents learn how best to support their children’s educational development and provide nurturing home environments. Parenting/PACT themes are chosen based on student input and needs observed by teachers.

Parents learn practical skills such as how to:

  • complete health, school, and work forms,
  • read medicine labels,
  • ask questions at doctor appointments and parent-teacher conferences,
  • understand children’s report cards,
  • help their children with homework.

Additional topics covered include: child development, learning through play, school involvement, social emotional development, cognitive development, sharing your family’s culture, and so on. During the PACT activities, parents assume the role of primary teachers and become full partners in their children’s education. They implement and practice the skills addressed in parenting classes. Parents also complete reading journals throughout the year reflecting on their use of targeted reading strategies with their children.

Apart from school-based activities, extracurricular activities include family trips to educational and recreational sites, which is another opportunity for parents and children to learn together.

Additional parental involvement opportunities are provided through the student council and advocacy activities on behalf of their children. Through the student council, adult students learn to contribute to the school community, sharing leadership in decision-making and planning the school’s development.

Healthcare and Social Services


Aiming to address the broader social needs of families, Briya tries to connect its students to different service providers within Mary’s Center, as well as with other organizations in the community, such as the Sitar Center for the Arts, DC Public Libraries, Inner City, Inner Child and the University of the District of Columbia. Mary’s Center, as a community health centre, provides wraparound health and social services, including:

  • Health care and dental services for children and adults.
  • Mental health services.
  • Psycho-social support and home visits for parents of children up to three years old with disabilities or developmental delays.
  • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Programme for Women, Infants and Children.
  • Home visitation for families assessed as overburdened with the goal of preventing child abuse and neglect and strengthening families.
  • Translation and advocacy services to help families with limited English proficiency access public health insurance and financial support.

Teaching Material and Methods

Committed to strengthening families and communities, Briya employs a learner-centred approach to teaching. In developing its curriculum for adult education, the school implements the nationally utilized Equipped for the Future Framework (EFF), which defines the knowledge and skills necessary for adults to successfully carry out their roles as parents, citizens, community members and workers. Therefore, basic communication, consumer economics, community resources, health, employment, government and law, learning to learn and independent living are all included in the curriculum.

The pre-kindergarten classrooms usually involve more than two educators. One educator communicates with students in English, while the other communicates in Spanish. Each classroom also has a special education teacher, and, if needed, there is a therapist and teacher assistants for young students whose home language is not Spanish. The latter are paired with adult students who speak their home language so that they can develop it, as well. All teachers act as coordinators between young learners and parents, helping parents to become better and more active participants in their child’s education. Adult classes are primarily held in English, but adult education teachers speak other languages (e.g. French, Spanish) and can offer them support in learning English while also helping develop their home language.

Assessment of Learners

The early childhood education programme uses the Teaching Strategies GOLD™ assessment system, a tool used by teachers to track students’ progress in literacy, languages, mathematics and social-emotional learning. It uses national data sets to create benchmarks of what children should know at different ages and what they should be able to do across all domains of development. Students are assessed both when they enrol and when they complete the programme.

Adult learners’ progress is assessed through the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS), a competency-based assessment system, used nationally and validated by the Department of Education and the Department of Labour. Using the CASAS assessment system is a requirement of government funding.

CASAS measures the basic skills and the English language and literacy skills needed to function effectively at work and in life. In line with the rules of the test publisher, students are tested after every 70 hours of class time until goals are met, after which they are tested every 120 hours.

Furthermore, using the Family Reading Journal Rubric, developed in conjunction with the National Center for Families Learning, Briya measures parents’ use of key strategies for reading with their children. These include questions and activities for before, during and after reading with young children, such as making predictions, discussing print concepts or identifying key characters with the child. Just over 86 per cent of parents participating for six months or more achieved a score of five-plus on the rubric, exceeding the school goal of 70 per cent.


Monitoring and Evaluation

Each year, the Washington D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) evaluates the performance of every public charter school in the district. The PCSB has introduced the Adult Education Performance Management Framework to assess school-wide performance, ranking schools into tiers 1, 2 or 3, with 1 being the best. Briya is ranked at tier 1, as ‘high performing’, with the highest scores in the city for student progress measures and college and career readiness measures. The Early Childhood Performance Management Framework is not yet tiered, but Briya consistently meets or exceeds targets for each metric. Each year, Briya submits more than 100 compliance reports to the PCSB and the state education agency, as well as submitting annual reports on various elements of their programme, progress towards charter goals and student performance data to PCSB.

Every five years the PCSB conducts a comprehensive whole-programme review to determine whether it will allow Briya to continue as a charter school and every fifteen years it determines whether or not to renew Briya’s charter. The five-yearly monitoring and evaluation includes on-site evaluations of Briya’s classrooms, many written reports and document reviews, and legal and fiscal compliance reviews. In May 2015, PCSB conducted a qualitative site review over a two-week period, observing classes and collecting evidence regarding Briya’s stated missions and goals.

Impact and Challenges


The following are outcomes for the academic year 2014/15.

Adult Literacy/Early Childhood Development:

  • 70% of adult students of ESL or ESOL courses gained one or more educational proficiency levels on the CASAS post-test, exceeding the national average of 66%. Furthermore, 78% of parents achieved the target point gain on CASAS post-tests, exceeding the goal of 70%.
  • All preschool children met or exceeded expectations for growth in the literacy domain of the GOLD™ assessment system for those who participated a full academic year. In maths, 97% met or exceeded growth expectations and 97% did so in social emotional learning.

High School Degree

  • Each year, approximately ten adult students obtain their high school degree.

Workforce Development

  • 90.5% of CDA programme students passed the exam to earn their CDA credential.
  • 92.3% of MA programme students earned their registered medical assistant (RMA) credential.


Parenting and Community Involvement

  • 92% of parents participating for 60+ hours attended parent-teacher conferences.
  • 90% increased the number of reading materials in their homes, measured during follow-up visits.
  • 89% participated in neighbourhood, school, community or political organizations.
  • 86% of parents achieved a score of five-plus points on the Family Reading Journal Rubric.
  • 92% of parents reported reading with their child outside of school.


  • 78% of adult students who were seeking work obtained employment and 96% retained employment, according to PMF follow-up surveys.

Learners’ Testimonies

A. Cruz, adult student and mother of three, said:

The school has helped me with much more than getting a high school diploma. It has helped me learn how to be active in my children’s lives. I saw that after a short time at the school my first son, Dante, started to be more interested in books. My second child, Jared, started in the programme when he was six weeks old. I was encouraged to read to both of them. We made reading a habit, and this has really paid off. Now that my two sons are in elementary school, their teachers give me a lot of compliments on my children, telling me that they are good students.

B. Perez, who was a student in Briya for five years, said:

I came to this country in 1993 not knowing a word of English and with a very low level of education. Now I speak English, am able to communicate with my daughter’s teachers, am on top of her homework, and get involved in school activities. My daughter loves school and gets straight As, thanks to the great beginning we had together at Briya. I became the computer instructor for the school in 1998, and now I’m an IT Specialist.



Offering services to all potential students is very challenging, mostly due to the lack of space. Although Briya has secured an additional facility that will enable it to offer services to new families, it will still be impossible to serve all the families seeking its services.

Lessons Learned

  • Briya strongly believes that parents are their children’s first and most influential teachers. Relationships with warm and responsive caregivers, both at home and at school, are crucial for establishing positive learning experiences. This is an important reason why Briya focuses on the parenting skills of families and provides quality learning experiences at school.
  • Increasing parents’ literacy and educational levels has proven to lead to increases in their children’s academic success.
  • Providing a comprehensive set of education, healthcare and social services provides a solid base for families’ education, health and economic well-being, as well as for employment retention.
  • Offering classes to children and adults at the same time gives parents time to focus on their own education because they know that their children are well taken care of and are learning just down the hall from them.


Briya receives funding from multiple sources, including the Washington D.C. public school system. Other supporters of Briya are: the Association of American Medical Colleges, Compass, DC Public Charter School Board, Discovery Channel, Flamboyan Foundation, MetLife Foundation, the National Center for Family Literacy, the National Council of La Raza, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Sitar Center for the Arts, Toyota Continuing Partners, Catholic Volunteer Network, Marriott Foundation and Share Fund.
Furthermore, as Briya has managed to secure a new building to use from next year, the number of students is expected to grow substantially over the next five years.



Ms Aimee Kelley
Communications Administrator
Briya Public Charter School
2333 Ontario Road NW
Washington, DC 20009, U.S.A.

Last update 22 April 2016

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 20 July 2017. Briya Family Literacy Programme, United States of America. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 29 September 2023, 15:24 CEST)

PDF in Arabic

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