Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Teenage tutors inspire young pupils, learn life skills in DPS program

There is nothing better than seeing tutoring programs that help children reach their potential. Combine this with quality high school students who serve as quality role models and everyone wins. That is the case at Clark Prepartory Academy in Detroit. Students are making academic progress as part of a company investing in the students at the academy in a variety of ways.

Teenage tutors inspire young pupils, learn life skills in DPS program

January 13, 2013  |  
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Husani Webb, 16, a junior at East English Village Prep Academy, left, tutors Louis McMillan, 12, a seventh-grader at Clark Elementary School in Detroit. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press file photo
Anna Hubert, 17, a senior at East English Village Prep Academy punches in for her job as a tutor at Clark Elementary School, a program sponsored by Lear. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press file photo
Anna Hubert, 17, a senior at East English Village Prep Academy, left, tutors Nico Nettles, 14, an eighth-grader at Clark Elementary School. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press file photo

     Keon Thompson couldn't take his eyes off the sheet of paper that had his latest math test results. Beaming with a cherubic smile, he showed the assistant principal his test.
And the computer lab teacher.

And the girl sitting next to him.
Keon, who had a C- in math last year, had received a 100% on his test last week. The seventh-grader at Clark Preparatory Academy on Detroit's east side said he thinks he's one step closer to his goal of becoming a builder or mechanic due, in part, to the high school tutors who help him twice a week as part of a $1.5-million, three-year investment by Southfield-based Lear, a leading global automotive supplier.
"I'm always building stuff," Keon said, grinning widely. "Requires a lot of math."
Matt Simoncini, the CEO of Lear, attended Clark as a child and wanted to help DPS. He said his 14-year-old daughter listens to and looks up to honor-roll high school students who tutor her. So this summer, he pitched the idea to DPS emergency financial manager Roy Roberts, suggesting a program that would pay high schoolers to tutor Clark's middle schoolers.
Since then, 125 students from nearby East English Village Preparatory Academy have been trained. They take a school bus to Clark over the course of four days per week to tutor middle school students such as Keon for $8 per hour. Simoncini said it benefits students on both sides of the relationship.
"The high school kids effectively have what is a part-time job and motivation to be a good student because they have to maintain good grades and attendance," he said. "Grade school kids get role models and one-on-one help."
And the goal is to get other companies and schools involved.
"We hope we can prove that this works and use the program as an example for other organizations to take on in other parts of the city," Simoncini said.
During a recent tutoring session, assistant principal Murleen Coakley walked around the computer lab as tutoring groups reviewed lessons online. The tutoring already has made a difference, she said.
She points to a boy who has "found his spark" in math after getting one-on-one tutoring. Keon's 100% score on a weekly assessment also is proof the program making a difference.
"We're able to see if there's actual growth," she said.
The tutoring program aims to raise student achievement and support successful transitions to high school for Clark students who have low math scores. In 2011, 3% of Clark's sixth-graders scored proficient in math on the statewide MEAP test, 4% of seventh-graders scored proficient and no eighth-graders scored proficient.
As the tutoring program grows, other subjects will be added.
Lear has become the kind of business partner that every school dreams of. Besides bankrolling the tutoring program, Lear has provided extra unforeseen perks: more than 30 computers for the tutoring computer lab and the school-wide computer lab, electrical and networking upgrades and a tractor-trailer load of office furniture, said Steve Wasko, a spokesman for DPS. The company also paid for air-conditioning in the tutoring computer lab.
"When you get in a school and start to see the needs, you get engaged and feel compelled to address them," Simoncini said.
For the high school students, the program provides leadership skills and the chance to be a positive influence.
During a recent session, Mia Pugh , 17, a senior, took her hand and placed it over the hand of a special education student to help him write the correct answer to a problem.
And Husani Webb, 16, a junior, congratulated the students he tutors for correctly working out a problem that involved subtracting negative numbers.
"You did pretty good today, Louis," he said, to 12-year-old Louis McMillan, a seventh-grader. "I'm proud of you."
The high school students participate in the program as part of a new elective at their school -- leadership development. Four days a week, five hours per day, groups of high school students who have passed a math assessment and taken training participate in the tutoring. Each student spends two hours a week -- over two days -- at Clark and the other days they are with their class assessing and planning tutoring sessions.
The students "punch in" for each session by pressing their fingerprint to a high-tech time clock that Lear bought.
Marie Woodson, a retired Clark teacher Lear hired to monitor the tutoring sessions, said the high schoolers also get essay-writing practice because they write journal entries about each session. And they learn work ethics.
"They have to be on time for work," she said. "The bus is not going to wait for them."
Brandy Robertson, 18, a senior, takes probability and statistics class at East English Village High, and at Clark she tutors a student who is two grade-levels behind in math.
She said she gets satisfaction from helping and mentoring her student.
Asked what the middle school kids get out of the tutoring, she smiled and said, "Me!"
"When I was in middle school, I would've liked for somebody older from another school to have helped me," she said.
Contact Chastity Pratt Dawsey: 313-223-4537 or cpratt@freepress.com