After-School Literacy Program Enriches Students, Tutors and Parents

By Dominique CurtisHoward University News Service

Students in the Heads Up after school program reach reading proficiency at twice the rate of other students in the same public schools in Washington, D.C. At the beginning of the school year, only 15% of Heads Up students scored at grade level on a key indicator of reading proficiency. By the end of the school year, 77% had achieved grade level. Heads Up, a literacy-based tutoring program, is marking 10 years of improving literacy among children in Washington. The program began with 30 students. This year about 1,300 students are engaged with Heads Up.

The program was founded at a time when there were very few options in Washington for families who wanted affordable care during non-school hours and extra academic support for their children. According to Derin McKeever, a Heads Up co-founder, it is now the largest non-profit provider of after-school and summer programs for public school students in the city.

Stride Rite Public Service provided the first $15,000 that was used to launch. In 1997, Heads Up received a grant from AmeriCorps that was large enough to finally hire a full- time staff.

Vin Pan and McKeever started Heads Up at Birney Elementary School in Southeast Washington. Heads Up reaches in the city. Ninety percent of students surveyed this year said Heads Up helped them see how doing well in school can help them later, and 92% said that, because of Heads Up, they want to go as far as possible in school.

At 3:30 p.m. one day recently Heads Up students met with their tutors in the auditorium at Birney Elementary School. They told the tutors about how their day had gone and about the assignments they planned to do in class. For a while, the students worked alone and then they participated in literature circle. As part of literature circle the class reads a book and completes supplementary comprehension exercises. After literature circle, students go to the cafeteria for snacks. Snacks are provided for every child by Heads Up.

On Fridays, the students close out the week when they attend clubs. During clubs they have the opportunity to learn a different language, art form, or even engineering skills, such as how to construct a model.

Heads Up relies on 300 tutors from universities around Washington and deploys them and parents and faculty members to teach children and help them develop.

“Heads Up has helped me better understand the school system. Although my major is not concentrated in education, I now have more of a sense of responsibility to my community and a deeper passion to make sure youth receive a quality education,” said Shana Colk, a Heads Up tutor and AmeriCorps member.

Parents are partners in Heads Up. Pam Veazley is one of the many parents who work daily with tutors and staff members. “All of my daughters have been in the Heads Up program over the years and it has made them feel really good,” Veazley said, “It has given them a sense of pride and made their self esteem really high. If the program did not exist then where would the children go? So I hope and pray that a program like Heads Up will always be around.”

McKeever and the leaders of Heads Up are planning for the next 10 years.

“We are considering a range of opportunities for Heads Up to continue to fulfill its mission of providing children with extra learning opportunities and college students with service experiences that shape their career paths and perspectives,” McKeever said.