Gathered around small tables, groups of second- and third-graders have stayed after school for extra help to catch up with their peers in reading and writing.
What’s unusual is that the tutors are only about six to eight years older – high school students who themselves have been struggling academically or socially. And it seems to be working like a charm.
In one corner of the room, the task for third-graders Anthony and Dionté on this day late in the school year is to assemble short books, with stories and pictures of their own making. Anthony’s book is called “Andrew the Dragon Slayer.” Dionté’s is about a boy who wants to be a basketball player but has trouble being disciplined enough to make it to the practices.
Watching over them is Jaleel, a 10th-grader who provides a gentle nudge when needed. “What’s your picture going to be?” he asks as he points to a blank space on Anthony’s page.
The younger kids are learning to put one word after another. Jaleel says he’s learning about leadership, including “getting out of the shell of being quiet.” He patiently watches the boys, stepping up with guidance when needed but not doing any of the work for them.
The man who founded this program, Mark Hecker, says the idea is that by being paired together both the tutors and the students can discover potential they didn’t know they had – not just in literacy but in life.
Mr. Hecker says he knows full well that the growth won’t always happen quickly or smoothly – not when the participants are often confronting difficult circumstances in their lives that can include poverty, domestic violence, or drug abuse in their families. So the program, called Reach Incorporated, is rooted in a philosophy of unconditional love and support.