Nine years ago, three Darke County residents agreed that too many students were falling behind academically, this despite the best efforts of their respective school districts. We were all involved in education – one teacher and two substitute teachers – so we decided to try to do something about it.
We offered free summer small group tutoring at the Greenville Public Library. Enrollment quickly filled, but attendance was inconsistent, making planned group approaches difficult. By summer’s end, we were working with most of the students individually or in pairs. We were encouraged with the growth we saw in the seven or eight students who consistently attended.
The following summer, we offered free individual tutoring. We had no-shows, but generally better attendance. A dozen students showed significant growth.
After repeated requests from parents, I agreed to continue working with a limited number of students in the library after school that fall and spring. I focused on old-fashioned rote-learning… sight words, flash cards, reading “fun” books. I also checked math and spelling, and ended up working in those areas as well. Attendance was excellent… the growth I saw was my reward.
It’s not rocket science. Districts have intervention support, but it is limited. If they had the resources to provide individual help to every child who needed it, all students would have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
In a perfect world.
Unfortunately, the world is not perfect. There are simply not enough resources available for that to happen. I have spent time on most of the seven campuses in our county. I believe our school districts, teachers and staff are excellent. They are dedicated to our kids, and do the best they can under evolving requirements. Reading, writing and math are still learned by the majority of students… but not all. It’s that small group of academically at-risk students that need that extra boost to succeed.
In the summer of 2015, I worked with a second grader who was struggling with reading. He worked hard and did well starting third grade. His sister entered first grade that year and came home crying shortly after school began… “School is so hard,” she told her Mom. “I wish I was smart like my brother!” I agreed to work with her. Over time, I followed both in school. Five years later, they remain consistent “A” and “B” students.
The mother of those two students insisted that other children should get the help that her children received. We formed Empowering Darke County Youth in March 2016, established a board that included educators, business people and concerned citizens and parents, and applied for and received our 501c3 non-profit status. Our first summer tutoring session was a 6-week, 4-day a week group setting for kindergarten through fourth grade in a classroom provided by Edison State Community College. I was teaching Fundamentals of Communication for the college that summer and gave my students an opportunity to volunteer in the program. We also continued to provide limited individual tutoring at the library. The vast majority of students attended often enough to achieve significant growth.
We helped 44 students from three local school districts that summer.
A member of our board, a school principal, expressed a need… can we establish a program that would help struggling children after school? It happened that fall, grades K-4. A Middle School principal noted her students were still struggling, could we help… it took another year, but it happened.
We were in uncharted territory. I did online searches for approaches – what works, what doesn’t – could find nothing comparable to what we were doing. I contacted our state representatives and senators. Nothing. Since then, different models have popped up around the country, most of them due to the pandemic. But in 2016, we were on our own.
Ours was a ground-breaking program.
Each year had its challenges. We were viewed with suspicion by some educators… could we follow required learning objectives, were we “helping” students or simply doing their homework? We had to prove ourselves. We did. Requests for help grew; we began getting referrals from staff and teachers. Staff members joined us. We continue to use Edison State volunteers, but since all services are free, we reached a point where significant resources, time and effort were required in order to meet the demand. We began using part-time “employees.” Fundraising has become a priority.
Today, we conduct four After School Tutoring Programs on three campuses, provide individual summer tutoring at the library, and year-around Distance tutoring. Small group summer tutoring on the Edison campus was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. We hope to bring it back when circumstances allow.
Our programs today look nothing like they did six years ago. They are better. Significantly. We receive growth testing data, grades, or both from the districts where we conduct our programs. Each semester, our students receive help in school, then again after school. And it works! A consistent 80 percent or more of those who actively participate show significant growth in one or more core subjects.
Through our summer, virtual and after school programs we have helped students from all seven Darke County districts. From spring 2016 through fall 2021, we have provided more than 22,000 hours of academic support to 1,154 Darke County students.
And we have just started.
Bob Robinson, Executive Director
Empowering Darke County Youth
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