Maryland Public Television (MPT) is proud to share the stories of American Graduate Champions from Maryland that are going the extra mile to help children and youth succeed in and out of school. Champions are dedicated individuals from Maryland committed to making a positive difference in their communities and beyond. Each Champion has been recognized by MPT for their contributions, dedication, passion and drive. Join us in celebration as we pay homage to these very special Champions.

    Sarah Hemminger

    SarahHemminger.PNG Sarah Hemminger co-founded Thread to support Baltimore’s most at-risk high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom. Her unique model (that has gained national attention) provides each student with a family of highly committed mentors and volunteers and increased access to community resources, fostering students’ academic advancement and personal growth. With a high rate of success, 91% of the students who have been with Thread for 5 years have graduated from high school.

    Travis Street

    TravisStreet.PNG Travis Street grew up in the largest public housing community in Baltimore, in which he now serves. As the Program Manager of the UA House at Living Classrooms Foundation, he is devoted to helping children and youth succeed through academic enrichment, health, sports and physical fitness education, and career development. Travis also serves as a trusted and respected role model for students and staff alike, empowering each to thrive in all aspects of life. 

    Yvonne Terry

    Yvonne Terry.PNG Yvonne Terry is at the helm of an academic enrichment program designed to support at-risk children and youth, and help prevent the “summer slide.” Salisbury Horizons is a transformational, community-centered summer education program working to close the achievement gap for low-income children, kindergarten through 12th grade, attending Wicomico County Public Schools. Horizons provides classes in reading, writing, math and science, swimming lessons, and recreational and cultural enrichment opportunities. Seeing her students achieve something that they didn’t think they could, brings Yvonne immense joy and fulfillment.

    Jamyla Krempel


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    Jamyla is the director of programming at The Intersection, a nonprofit organization that helps high school students in Baltimore find solutions to issues affecting their communities. They also help students get to and through college and prepare for careers. Jamyla helps empower and educate her students by strengthening their knowledge on social justice issues, public policy and legislation. Her priority is to help them become as informed as possible so that they can share their opinions and perspectives with people in positions of power with the intent of calling for solutions to the issues they observe day in and day out.

      Icon Get to Know Jamyla (337.0 KB)

    Debita Basu

    Image Debita Basu Debita Basu is a caring and motivated Champion, and a passionate education leader in Maryland! A staff member in Maryland Public Television’s Education Division met Debita “by accident” at an event. They chatted about education, and the rest, as they say, is history! Learn more about this amazing administrator in her American Graduate Champion feature story!   

    Icon Get to Know Debita (341.3 KB)

    Kelly Ronson 

    Image Kelly Ronson Kelly is a compassionate, passionate and devoted 5th grade teacher for the Baltimore County Public Schools System. She looks at learning in a unique way, giving each child the opportunity to choose what works best for them in the classroom. MPT reached out to Kelly to capture some of the magic and motivation behind her teaching. Learn more about this remarkable educator in her special Champion story.

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    MOST Network

    Ellie Mitchell_November 2015.jpg Ellie Mitchell, Executive Director of the Maryland Out of School Time Network is passionate about enhancing the lives of youth and families in Maryland. She advocates for "more and better" learning opportunities with a goal of better educational outcomes as children progress through school. Learn more about Ellie and the great work being done at MOST Network. Learn more about Ellie and MOST Network in a special Champion story!

    Icon Ellie Mitchell Champion Story (338.4 KB)




    Fitzgerald Walker

    Fitzgerald Walker image Fitzgerald Walker has overcome many obstacles to turn his life around, and he continually uses that drive and motivation to help guide others.  MPT proudly shares his open and compelling Champion story.  He currently serves as Academic Advisor and Manager of Outreach & Recruitment in Undergraduate Academic Studies in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Maryland.

      Icon Get to Know Fitzgerald! (251.0 KB)

    Melissa Hilliard

    Melissa Hilliard image Melissa is a special education teacher at the elementary level, working for Carroll County Public Schools. She also spends time working with special young adults as part of the Capernaum Ministry. She empowers and reaches students and ministry members by teaching them that each person is unique, beautiful and special in their own way. Everyone has special talents and gifts to offer others, and she encourages them to always try and never give up!

    Sharon Harper

    Sharon Harper, Owner, Barber Lounge for Men Sharon Harper, Owner of The Barber Lounge for Men, is deeply committed to her community. She uses her business as a gathering place for children and families, and holds on-site functions to bring people together for the greater good. When children come in for haircuts, they feel safe and supported in a positive environment where they develop relationships with the staff that oftentimes serve as mentors.  

    See Sharon in action, doing what she does best, giving back to the community!  Access video!

             Icon Get to Know Sharon Harper (386.5 KB)

    Michele Chay Presley

    Michele Presley.jpg Michele has had a long and rewarding career in early education, using her experience and positive energy to engage and educate our young.  Michele currently works for Youth Services at the Baltimore County Public Library, where she conducts early childhood and parent education programs. Previously, she worked for the Port Discovery Children’s Museum running the art, theater and inclusion programs, and taught early childhood special education for Baltimore County Public Schools while also conducting home visits for infants and toddlers.

    Working directly with families of young children in the community and the library is the ideal environment for Michele. Her enjoyment comes from watching the kids go from barely sitting and babbling, to zipping about and carrying on real conversations.  In addition, being witness to parents gaining a real support system, makes her current job the best she has ever had.

    300 Men March

    300 Men March, Baltimore violence prevention Baltimore-based organization 300 Men March focuses on decreasing community violence through active engagement, training, reinforcement and sustainability. Their presence, power and passion for enhancing our communities has led to positive change by working collaboratively to discover solutions to challenging problems. Maryland Public Television asked Public and Media Relations Coordinator, Sean Anthony-Stinnett, to share more about the organization’s approach to violence prevention.

    “The 300 Men March is not a one-all solution to ending community violence. We are only playing a small part in an ongoing battle. You have the power to organize and mobilize residents as well. Regardless of the organizational model, in order for community violence to decline there needs to be a mobilized infrastructure in place to carry out your unique mission. Mobilize your neighborhood, train volunteers and establish violence prevention and intervention activities right in your own community.”

    MPT is proud to welcome 300 Men March as a Champion organization under the American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen initiative.


    Robert Murphy

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    Robert previously served as the Dropout Prevention Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education. Committed to enhancing educational outcomes and opportunities for youth in Maryland, Robert led the development of a statewide student code of discipline and the implementation of Maryland's school discipline regulations. He also created the comprehensive and invaluable Dropout Resource Guide which highlights all Maryland local school system programs and services for preventing students from dropping out. Through teaching, love, and positive reinforcement, Robert encourages and empowers students to succeed and work through obstacles. Robert’s contributions to local education extend beyond the schools, including serving as a mentor to young fathers.

    Moira Fratantuono

    Moira F Wide Angle.jpg Moira is a Baltimore-based community artist with over nine years of experience in youth development. Moira moved to Maryland to pursue her Masters in Community Arts at Maryland Institute College of Art in 2008 and spent five years working with BCCC’s Refugee Youth Project to support the social and emotional integration of refugees. In Fall 2013, she joined Wide Angle Youth Media as the Youth Photography Traveling Exhibition Coordinator, and began teaching video in the Baltimore Speaks Out! In 2015, Moira took on the Program Manager role, where she draws upon her experiences in the classroom to support Wide Angle’s mission to provide high-quality, meaningful media instruction to youth in Baltimore.

    "Wide Angle's students are able to address a wide variety of issues relevant to their personal experiences.  Students create videos on such diverse topics as youth homelessness, living with Asperger's, relocating to the USA as a refugee, youth job program advocacy, and violence prevention. Several of these stories have received state and national attention, and have been promoted through conferences and film festivals. It is truly inspiring to see the growth and ownership that our students take over their projects, as they are recognized as having an important voice to be heard" said Moira.

    Wide Angle serves as a key project partner for MPT’s American Graduate initiative, bringing authentic and personal youth voices and stories to communities and families in Maryland.

    Errol Smith

    Errol Smith.PNG Errol Smith is passionate about his career and extremely committed to enhancing the lives of at-risk youth at Loving Arms, Inc. while serving as the Lead Youth Advocate Case Worker. Loving Arms, Inc. provides short term, safe and nurturing shelter and services to youth who are runaway, homeless, unstably housed and/or at risk of becoming homeless, and their families.

    Errol came to Loving Arms as a Youth Advocate case worker and advanced to the role of Lead Advocate through his dedication, positive attitude and caring heart. He routinely goes the extra mile to impact the lives of youth, conducts street outreach and is part of Loving Arms fundraising efforts. 

    Tammy Field

    AG Champion Logo Combo_Blue.jpg Tammy is the first person in her immediate family to graduate college. Her Dad, who didn't graduate from high school and owned a small family business would say to her, "Tammy why do you want another degree, you already have one?" Tammy knew she was on a mission to succeed in science. It's her passion.  “That's why beyond all challenges, I earned my PhD in research science!” said Tammy.  All her life, Tammy has been involved in education either as a student, teacher, and/or government employee.  She has dedicated her life to helping people understand how science affects us both as individuals and as communities at large.

    “Every day I go into work I look for students that may need help navigating the system of college” revealed Tammy. Whether discussing areas they are learning in math and science or just questions about how to do something on the internet, she is there for her students. Throughout the year she advises and assists students on their "next steps" by writing letters of recommendation to program entrances, teaching students how to study more effectively, and how to manage their time. Tammy nicely sums up how she feels about teaching. “It's just wondrous to know I am able to touch so many lives in a positive way. To help others is to also help thyself.”

    Eric Manko

    Eric Manko.jpg Eric is an eight-year Army veteran and currently serves as the Library Media Specialist and Technology Liaison for Loch Raven High School in Baltimore, Maryland.  Dedicated to making a difference in the lives of students, he serves as the Class of 2015 advisor, works with the Credit Recovery Program helping under-credited students graduate on time, and is the sponsor for the Board Game and Anime clubs.

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    Joquetta Johnson

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    Joquetta Johnson is a passion-driven high school library media specialist at Randallstown High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, a Google Certified Teacher, and a highly sought-after national presenter.  In 2014, she received the prestigious PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator award. 

    She engages her students by connecting their lives to the learning. Grounded with this knowledge, she leverages technology, cultural relevant pedagogy, and Hip Hop Culture to excite, engage, empower, and enable ALL students to have fun while achieving academic success and pursuing personal interests.

    Learn more about Joquetta and see how she empowers youth!

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    Tema Encarnacion

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    Tema is a passion-driven ESOL teacher at Glen Burnie High School in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Tema strives to ensure that her students have the skills and knowledge necessary to graduate from high school and pursue their post-secondary goals. Her students thrive in the hands-on, project-based environment that Tema creates in her classroom and she encourages her students to become advocates for themselves and their environment. Congratulations Tema! Tema received the pretigious honor of 2015 Local PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator.

    Icon Get to Know Tema! (447.6 KB)

    Gwyneth Jones

    Gwyneth Jones.PNG Gwyneth is the passionate library media guru at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Maryland and loves the opportunity to connect real world engagement with creativity and content creation. Gwyneth is a Google Certified Teacher and the author of the award winning blog The Daring Librarian.  She is well known and regarded by her students for bringing out their talents, skills and imagination through the innovative use of multimedia. Learn more about our inspiring American Graduate Champion below!

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    Nora Thompson

    Nora Thompson.jpeg Meet Nora Thompson, an American Graduate Champion! Nora has been promoting educational community outreach programs for children in Maryland since 1998 in her role as Director of Education and Community Enrichment at the Port Discovery Children’s Museum. 

    We asked Nora to share some of her experiences enhancing the lives of children and families in Baltimore and beyond. Learn more and get inspired by her achievements, passion and commitment to educating our youth. 

      Icon Get to Know Nora! (551.0 KB)

    Tanya Barnett

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    Ms. Barnett is the Founder of Forever Free Books, a mobile literacy nonprofit that gives away FREE  books to all children, especially children from low income families. Tanya empowers children through her nonprofit by providing them with books for ownership and to build their home libraries.

    Tanya also works in an elementary school library and she makes sure kids have meaningful discussions where students are allowed to formulate their own opinions without judgment. Tanya is accountable for two disadvantaged children in her school who have behavior issues in the classroom. One of her students has gone from getting in trouble every day to not getting into trouble at all. Tanya says he now offers to help the younger students in school and he cleans up the library every day.

    Tanya Barnett is a maninstay at community and back-to-school events, sharing free books, hope and resources to help families and children in need.    Access video!

    Martha Maratta

    Ms. Maratta is a Completion Adviser at the  College of Southern Maryland, Prince Frederick Campus. She is focused on supporting students in their efforts to attain graduation by helping them build realistic and focused graduation plans and goals.  Martha communicates with these stude MarthaMaratta7173.jpg nts to continue to support and adjust these plans during their time on campus.  She is always willing to go the extra distance to help students achieve academic success.

    Martha has always advocated for youth in both her private and professional life. She was an active volunteer with the Parent, Teacher, Student Association (PTSA) from 2004-2012 where she held numerous positions including President, Vice-President, Secretary, Council Representative, and Membership Chair. She was also an active volunteer with the Solomons Steelers sports league for several years. Professionally, Martha has worked as a substitute teacher for grades Pre-K through 8th, as a Kindergarten Instructional Assistant for Calvert County Public Schools, and as a Degree Completion Specialist for the College of Southern Maryland.

    Maxine Blackman

    Ms. Blackman teaches a “You Want to Go to College” class at Northwest High School in Baltimore, to a group of freshmen. They discuss and explore topics ranging from the kinds of courses one needs to take, to financing a college education, and the reason students should aim to complete education beyond high school. This is part of the outreach from the Pimlico Road Youth Program in Lower Park Heights, where she is proudly serving as Head Tutor. Maxine works with young adults and adults whose education has been interrupted. Their goal is to increase literacy levels, including financial literacy.

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    Maxine is also a retired elementary school educator. Maxine was the first of eight children growing up in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950s and 60s, and she learned from her parents that getting a good education made a big difference in ones quality of life. As a first generation college graduate, she inspired her siblings to view education as the gateway to their best lives. Maxine chose a rigorous college for women in the Northeast and her siblings chose from the full range of institutions of higher learning, in different parts of the country. All eight of them attended college at some point and half earned graduate degrees. Said Maxine, “truly, my siblings and I represent The American Graduate.”

    Loving Arms, Inc.

    Loving Arms, Inc. is a 501 (c) (3), grass roots, community based organization located in Baltimore City, Maryland that provides short term, safe and nurturing shelter and supportive services to youth who are runaway, homeless, unstably housed and/or at risk of becoming homeless, and their families. Loving Arms provides up to 21 days of shelter for up to 8 youth at a time, between the ages of 12 and 21.  

    The organization recently purchased two additional houses that will allow them to serve additional youth and young adults up to age 24. Loving Arms CEO, Cindy Williams appeared on Maryland Public Television’s “State Circle” public affairs program in 2015 as part of the American Graduate initiative. MPT is pleased to shine the light on Loving Arms and applaud the magnificent work they are doing to enhance the lives of teens and young adults in Maryland. Learn more about the great work they are doing in a segment featured on MPT:  View Video

    (video features other organizations)

    Hope Forward

    Logo Hope ForwardHope Forward, a non-profit organization in Maryland, connects transitioning foster youth (ages 17-25) with life skills resources and long-term solutions, and empowers youth to create systems change through leadership and advocacy. Shalita O’Neale, Founder and CEO of Hope Forward, experienced the foster care system personally, and created the organization to help youth make a successful transition from foster care to independence. In 2015, Ms. O’Neale appeared as a special guest on Maryland Public Television’s public affairs program, State Circle, in a segment about youth homelessness and foster care in Maryland. Get inspired by her passion to make a difference in the lived of youth and adults in Maryland! (Ms. O'Neale's segment airs about halfway through the video)

    Video Segment: Homelessness and Foster Care

    In 2011, Ms. O’Neale was honored as one of The Daily Record’s 20 In Their Twenties and the BFree Daily’s 2nd Annual 10 People to Watch Under 30. MPT is delighted to welcome Hope Forward and Ms. O’Neale to our American Graduate Champions Circle.

    Child First Authority

    Child First's mission is to develop youth by strengthening and reforming schools. The organization is committed to closing the opportunity gap for children in Baltimore City by providing high quality after school and in-school programs. With its focus on school-based community organizing and enriching learning opportunities, Child First supports positive outcomes for over 1500 young Baltimoreans. Maryland Public Television has worked with Child First in several capacities over the years, most recently through a Ready to Learn PBS KIDS transmedia project in seven Baltimore City schools.

    In 2015, Executive Director Carol Reckling appeared on Maryland Public Television’s public affairs program State Circle to discuss the importance of early learning, attendance, and parent engagement. Hear how she approaches these important topics in a video segment from MPT: Afterschool and In-School Programs

    Carol and Child First are making a remarkable difference in early education in Maryland and we are proud to honor them as Champions!

    Yo! Baltimore

    Kerry Owings, Manager YO! Baltimore For more than a decade (Youth Opportunity) Yo! Baltimore has successfully helped young people, previously disconnected from traditional learning environments, to increase their wage earnings and education credentials. YO! Baltimore provides a supportive environment at two locations, staffed by caring adults who offer education and career skills training opportunities for Baltimore’s youth, 16 to 24 years of age. Kerry Owings, manager of YO! Westside Community Center in Baltimore City, served as a guest on MPT's public affairs program State Circle to discuss how teens and young adults can turn their lives around through the help of local  programs and partners. 

    See how Mr. Owings is making a difference in Maryland in this inspiring video!

    Refugee Youth Project

    The Refugee Youth Project makes a profound impact on the lives of youth and families in the Baltimore metropolitan area and statewide. Through the Baltimore City Community College, they provide English language training to meet the needs of more than 5,000 refugees who have settled in Maryland. The program provides trainings, citizenship preparation and job skills training to help local youth make the transition to a new life.  The organization collaborated with MPT’s American Graduate project partner Wide Angle Youth Media to help us tell and share the personal video stories of local youth overcoming odds to succeed in school and life.

    The Intersection

    The Intersection transforms high school students from underserved areas into leaders with the skills to go to and through college, to engage in civic action, and to articulate and solve challenges facing themselves and their communities. Through the program, students receive one-on-one academic support and college readiness counseling. An individualized college and career plan is created, and staff matches students with wrap-around services, if needed. The organization collaborated with MPT’s American Graduate project partner Wide Angle Youth Media to help us tell and share the personal video stories of local youth overcoming odds to succeed in school and life. 

    Big Brothers Big Sisters

    Big Brothers Big Sisters targets the children who need us most, including those living in single parent homes, growing up in poverty and coping with parental incarceration. The organization works to find a great match between a Big and a Little. They offer a wide variety of programs that pair children, ages 6 through 18, with role models in one-to-one relationships. The organization collaborated with MPT’s American Graduate project partner Wide Angle Youth Media to help us tell and share the personal video stories of local youth overcoming odds to succeed in school and life. 

    The Career Academy

    The Career Academy provides educational and occupational learning options to Baltimore City Youth ages 16-21. Career Academy is a partnership of the Baltimore City Public School, Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, Woodstock Job Corps Center, and Baltimore City Community College.  The organization collaborated with MPT’s American Graduate project partner Wide Angle Youth Media to help us tell and share the personal video stories of local youth overcoming odds to succeed in school and life. 

    Youth Empowerment Society

    YES Drop-In Center is Baltimore City’s first and only drop-in center for homeless youth. YES Drop-In Center is a safe space for homeless youth (ages of 14-25) to get basic needs met and establish supportive relationships with peer staff and make and sustain connections to long-term resources and opportunities. The organization collaborated with MPT’s American Graduate project partner Wide Angle Youth Media to help us tell and share the video stories of local youth overcoming odds to succeed in school and life. 

    Sponsored By:

    Maryland Public Television Corporation for Public Broadcasting Annie E. Casey Foundation Wide Angle Youth Media