One New York City non-profit is reinventing summer school.
Practice Makes Perfect uses a ‘near-peer’ model to pair low-achieving students with high-achieving older students from their neighborhood to aid them with their academic studies.
These ‘near-peer’ mentors are about four years older than their scholars and they assist in the summer school lessons run by college interns, who are coached by certified teachers at five partner schools throughout the city, including Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx.
Practice Makes Perfect was founded five years ago by Long Island City native Karim Abouelnaga as a result of his experiences with the public school system.
Education wasn’t important to him as a child, he said, and in 7th grade he accumulated 60 absences because he wasn’t engaged in school.
But a series of non-profit programs and mentors intervened, and when he graduated from his public high school that had a 55 percent graduation rate, he did so with five Advanced Placement exams, SAT scores in the 70th percentile, and an acceptance letter from Baruch College.
When Abouelnaga applied for a transfer to Cornell University in his sophomore year, a scholarship opportunity offered $10,000 for proposed solutions to the achievement gap, and although he didn’t get the scholarship, his research led him to his passion for education reform, and he launched Practice Makes Perfect while still at Cornell.
The summer program seeks to combat the well documented effects of ‘summer slide,’ where low-income students without access to programming lose months of academic achievement over the summer break in comparison to their more well-off peers.
“The obvious answer is summer school,” said Abouelnaga.
But traditional summer school often has a stigma associated with it and attendance is notoriously low. Practice Makes Perfect is challenging that by making the academic experience fun for kids, said Abouelnaga.
Feedback from the students indicate that the ‘near-peer’ model and the relationships the students form with the older students is a big part of the program’s success.
“The number one reason kids show up is the mentors,” said Abouelnaga.
Students end up graduating the summer program with an average of 5 percent gains in math and 7 percent gains in reading instead of the traditional summer slide, according to pre and post-assessments.
Jaylex Calderon, 7th grader in the program at the YWLS, said she’s enjoyed the program, appreciates the support of her mentor, and is looking forward to being prepared for classes in the fall.
“When we go back to school we’re going to be ahead,” said Calderon.
But the students aren’t the only one benefiting from the program.
The mentors, who are paid or receive a stipend depending on their age and receive high school admission test prep or SAT prep as part of the program, also gain valuable leadership experience.
Deja Bruton, a 12th grade mentor who plans to study education in college and return to her Bronx neighborhood as a teacher, said the program was an incredibly positive experience for her, and that it allowed her to learn about the students’ different learning styles.
“Even though I’m teaching them, they’re also teaching me things,” said Bruton.
And the college interns, who receive 45 hours of training and further coaching from a certified teacher, receive important classroom experiences and get to learn by doing.
“We very much built a model where everyone wins,” said Abouelnaga.
He hopes that as the organization grows and develops, their model will become the framework for fixing summer school across the country. Abouelnaga feels his personal experiences in a struggling school give him the first hand perspective missing from a lot of education reform.
“My upbringing was a blessing in disguise,” he said.