Briya Public Charter School

Combining CTE and comprehensive supports to serve adult students and their children.


Washington, D.C.





Preschool and adult education


Health Care, Early Childhood Education


Charter school


1989 (formerly a U.S. Department of Education demonstration project)


For many recent immigrants who live in Washington, D.C., the barriers to education and employment can be formidable. Since its founding in 1989, Briya Public Charter School has sought to ease this transition by coupling job training in high-demand sectors with a wide range of other services for first-generation adult students and their families. The charter school fulfills a need in D.C. for high-quality adult learning that prepares first-generation residents for transition to the U.S. workforce, and pushes the boundaries of what we think of as publicly funded education by offering preschool and adult education, but no K–12 credits.

Briya evolved from a U.S. Department of Education demonstration program, Even Start, into a D.C. public charter school in 2006. It has developed a unique, two-generation program that provides job training to adults along with instruction in English as a second language, digital literacy, and child development, as well as early childhood education to the students’ children. Briya students may choose to pursue professional training as either medical assistants or child development associates. Both programs are hands-on, require hundreds of hours of training, and culminate in an industry-recognized certification.

In the medical assistant track, students learn to draw blood, give injections, and complete a 160-hour externship program at a local hospital or clinic. When students graduate and pass the nationally recognized medical assistant exam, they are certified as registered medical assistants and are prepared to enter a competitive workforce. D.C. has the second-highest average salary in the country—$40,570—for medical assistants. The city also has higher than average salaries for preschool teachers—averaging $42,060—and childcare workers.

Briya’s infant, toddler, and Pre–K education programs are authorized under the same charter as the adult education program. Briya’s two-generation model allows adult students and their children to learn side-by-side, eliminating what adult education director Elizabeth Bowman describes as “one of the biggest barriers to adult education.” The adult education program also includes opportunities for students to take English classes and earn a high school diploma through the National External Diploma Program, which offers credit for work, life experience, and demonstration of core academic competencies. These are open to all students with children, regardless of whether or not they take CTE courses.

At the core of Briya’s approach to career and early childhood education is a deep partnership with Mary’s Center, a community health center that has served D.C., since 1988 with a range of social services, from counseling and dental health to legal services for immigrants. Briya serves as Mary’s Center’s education wing: all Briya staff members are also Mary’s Center employees. The two organizations share space, and staff meets weekly to coordinate the delivery of services.

This coordination is essential to supporting student success. A student with a counseling appointment at Mary’s Center can easily step out of their Briya class to attend. The nurses at Mary’s Center teach Briya’s medical assistant courses, which gives students the added benefit of learning from practitioners.


Washington, D.C., is home to citywide universal preschool, which has been in place since 2009 and has garnered attention for its positive impact on the maternal workforce. While early childhood education is a low-wage—albeit in-demand—career in many cities, the wages for these careers in D.C. are among the highest in the country.

Briya operates all its programs under a single charter, which Bowman describes as “an incredible asset,” helping the school to provide a consistent set of services to students and their families. The certainty of funding that comes with being a school, as opposed to a nonprofit job training center, allows Briya to think strategically and plan for the future.

In D.C., both the preschool and adult education programs are part of the same common application system that hosts public K–12 schools, making Briya a seamless part of the city’s portfolio of schools. Briya has partnerships with the district-run school Bancroft Elementary and Bridges Public Charter School. Many children who attend Briya as infants and toddlers transition into one of these two schools for their elementary education.

Briya’s model offers lessons for other schools pursuing CTE programs, particularly those that serve nontraditional students and immigrant populations. By forming deep and robust partnerships, schools can provide streamlined wraparound services, expanding their capacity to not only teach job skills but to equip students with everything they need to achieve prosperity for themselves and their families.


The city’s sole charter school authorizer, the D.C. Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB), sets a high bar for opening a school and maintaining its charter. Since 2015, DCPCSB has awarded Briya Tier 1, the highest ranking in the three-tier system. After graduating from Briya, 76 percent of students found jobs, entered post-secondary education, or continued with career training, beating the 40 percent target set by its board. Briya also exceeded its performance targets for students at four of the five English language learner levels. The early childhood program has demonstrated equally impressive results, earning a Tier 1 designation over the last two years—since DCPCSB began tier ranking for Pre–K programs— and scoring 77 out of a possible 100 points.