March 7, 2000
Shaw Junior High School
What’s the least common denominator of 7 and 2, said John Igrec, a GW senior majoring in math, to Damani Brown, a ninth grader at Shaw Junior High School in Northwest Washington.
After a brief hesitation Brown replied, correctly, 14. Igrec, pleased, continues working with Brown on mathematical fractions.
Such is the norm at the school’s after-school tutorial program, run as a partnership between GW’s Neighbors Project and For Love of Children, a non-profit agency located in the predominantly African-American Shaw neighborhood. Since Sept. 23 volunteer tutors – all but one were GW students – have worked with 25 Shaw students in math and reading every Tuesday and Thursday.
I’m the site coordinator, which means I handle the management end of the program – recruiting tutors, calling parents, making sure things run smoothly.
Today the students work on math. Around the room can be heard a steady din of mathematical terms – numerator, denominator, divisor. Occasionally a student will jump up, exclaiming, I got it! to which an equally excited tutor says, Good job.
Lazaro’s amazing, said GW freshman Dana Karetny, about her student, Lazaro Solorzano. He’s like a little man.
An uncommonly mature young man, Solorzano has near-perfect attendance and looks to graduate both the reading and math programs. Both curricula are gradient-based – students must achieve 100-percent mastery of each step before moving on to the next step. Thus, students like Lazaro gain real confidence in their skills. In fact, our standardized tests showed that the average improvement of a student exceeded an entire grade level in math and reading in just one semester.
Making my rounds, I check on a new pair. GW junior Taige Caldwell is working with Chris Lamar, a seventh grader with a big smile and a quick wit. Good relationships are the key to a productive atmosphere, and it looks like Caldwell and Lamar hit it off.
Yo, Taige tight, Lamar said, a way of saying he likes his new tutor.
Chris is a smart kid, he just has to do his work, and he’ll be fine, said Caldwell, with a sentimental grin, warmed by the display of affection from his student.
The last 10 minutes is game time. All the tutors and students form groups, playing the ever-popular Boggle word game or a math version of Old Maid. But as the clock strikes a quarter until five the tutors and students slowly file out of the room, and affectionate good-byes are extended, I can’t help but feel a rush of emotions.
Where’s my candy? said James Anderson, hands outstretched, catching me off guard.
Sorry James, Thursday, I promise, I said, patting the disappointed seventh grader on the shoulder.
5:15 Another day gone by
Walking home I can’t help reflecting on the Shaw community’s rich history. At one time Shaw was considered the Harlem of Washington – Duke Ellington played at the Lincoln Theatre, Noble Prize winning political scientist Ralphe Bunche taught at Howard University and the greatest Negro league baseball players competed at old Griffith Stadium.
By many accounts, desegregation and the riots ended all that. People in Shaw had too much hope, too soon. The political gains of the 1960s gave blacks a feeling of optimism that maybe America could be the meritocracy that Thomas Jefferson envisioned. But King’s assassination brought reality crashing down on Shaw as rioting in the hot summer of 1968 consumed the neighborhood’s once thriving commercial center. The 1970s and 1980s were tough decades for the Shaw community as middle class blacks fled to the suburbs, and the crack cocaine epidemic swept the District, reaching the highest levels of power.
But with the construction of two state-of-the-art facilities, Shaw Junior High School in the mid-1970s and the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Building in 1986, began the renewal of the neighborhood. Things are on the upswing in Shaw.
And, in the after-school tutorial program at Shaw Junior High School, GW students are making sure of it, one young adult at a time.