Zarria Woodward works on her math problems.
Zarria Woodward works on her math problems.
Tyger Greer used to struggle with his multiplication tables before the tutoring program at Westside Community Center helped him to excel. Now he is giving back in hopes of helping others.

After spending two years as a student in the summer program, Greer, a member of the Neshoba Youth Coalition, was one of several tutors this year who helped over 100 students in reading and math.

"It's good for kids to learn instead of sitting at home," he said.

About 150 students, the maximum number the program could handle, participated in this year's summer tutoring program at Westside which ran from July 7 to July 31.

This was the fourth year for the program dedicated to sparking improvements in math, reading, reading comprehension and vocabulary for students in kindergarten to sixth grade.

"It's fun," said third grader Nayla Arnold. "We get to learn how to pronounce words and learn math, reading and spelling."

Arnold has participated in the program for the past three years with noted improvements.

"It's helped me get better," she said.

Arnold's tale is not an uncommon one as most students were happy to talk about how much they had improved.

Janiya Gentry, also a third grader, has been attending the program since the summer before her first grade year.

She shyly admitted that each year she gets to meet new friends.

The program began in 2011 as a summer volunteer mentoring program for members of the Neshoba Youth Coalition and has seen an increase in student participants each year.

The Coalition was started in October 2010.

Executive Director Leroy Clemons said the group of 150 students for this year's program was their biggest yet, filling Westside Community Center to its maximum capacity.

Originally in 2011, the program was only expected to attract 60 students but instead 90 showed up.

Then for the next two years, only 90 students were expected and over 120 participated.

LaJoya Griffin was one of the first members of the Youth Coalition to participate in the program as an 11th grader.

She has continued to contribute as much as she can to the program as she is now a junior at Mississippi State University.

"I try to come every year, but I can't always make it because of my schedule," she said.

The schedule for the students starts on the first day with an assessment to see where they stand academically.

After three weeks, the students are assessed again to see how they have improved.

"Our goal is to make the students better each time they are tested," Griffin said. "We want to inspire them to learn."

Griffin added that because of her role in tutoring to the youth she has switched her major in college to education.

"It's a calling," she said.

Sabyius Boggan is another tutor who has returned for the past three summers.

Boggan, a senior at Philadelphia High School, spent his first day going over the multiplication tables with sixth graders.

"I like coming to it," he said. "It feels right giving back."

Boggan said there wasn't a similar program when he was a youngster.

Both Griffin and Boggan said the students in the program remembered them from the previous year.

"It helps me be a better person," Griffin said.

The students are divided by grades with the second through sixth graders taught in the Westside auditorium while the kindergarten and first graders are kept separate from everyone else to prevent them from getting distracted.

The younger students are taught in separate makeshift classrooms in the community center.

The program consisted of 35 mentors and four certified teachers this past summer.

Certified teacher Jessica Griffin praised not only the program for helping students but for helping the mentors as well.

"It's a great experience not only for the students but for the mentors and it gives them a jumpstart into school mode," she said.

Another certified teacher, Nakecia Gentry, praised the program.

Besides being there as a teacher for the kindergarten and first graders, she also brought her daughter Janiya.

"As a parent it's beneficial to prepare them for the next grade," she said. "The kids are doing great and seem eager to work."

She added that her daughter Janiya became a better reader and learned how to work with other students since attending the annual summer program.

"She's much better academically and not struggling as much," she said. "Janiya was OK before as a student but now she's better."

Summer tutoring is credited with the Philadelphia schools improving from a "D" to a "C" last year under the state Department of Education's accountability model.