Five years ago, Marcus was struggling in second grade, academically and socially. He got mostly D’s and F’s on his report card.
A slight speech impediment made him shy and withdrawn; his classmates picked on him. When he took the Ohio achievement test in third grade, he scored 25 points below the state standard.
In fourth grade, though, his grades improved to mostly A’s and B’s. He scored 26 points above standard on the state test. Last summer, he took an entrance examination to enter a new school — and scored at the 94th percentile.
What caused this new direction? Part of it was Marcus’ participation in Kids Unlimited, a Toledo-area after-school program. Our regular staff worked with Marcus, along with a volunteer tutor. His success proved once again that with constant guidance and commitment, children who might otherwise be thought of as destined for failure can find their capabilities.
Kids Unlimited is in the schools that children in the program attend. We focus on academics, character development, and self-discipline. Daily program attendance is mandatory, during the school year and in the summer.
We take our children on field trips to museums and other educational venues. We expose them to role models as guest speakers. Parents’ engagement is essential.
Our goal is to support classroom teachers in our partner schools. We share information to identify how we can best help each child.
Our access to computer labs and homework assignments furthers our ability to integrate what children learn. Our daily interaction with each child provides a window of opportunity to affect his or her life for the better.
We measure our children’s academic success consistently and objectively, so we can deliver measurable outcomes. We analyze report cards and test scores to identify progress as well as needs.
Our children’s scores show improvement every year. We are proud to be associated with schools that have moved from ratings of “academic emergency” to “continuous improvement” on state report cards. One of our partner schools achieved the highest ranking of “excellent,” just two years after it was in academic emergency.
Kids Unlimited also is concerned with our children’s social and behavioral well-being. We devote much of our daily curriculum to teaching and modeling positive behavior, and to helping children learn etiquette and social skills — shaking hands firmly, making eye contact. Habits are often hard to change, but constant attention to details pays off.
Our community must demand results that will help our children realize their potential and avoid the pitfalls of gangs, drugs, and crime. Organizations that work with children must be held to a high standard of accountability. Everyone will benefit, and the inner city will get a new look.
Over the past few generations, children have become the most vulnerable members of our society. We read of children, in our community and across the country, who are homeless, are besieged by drugs and gangs, and frequently drop out of school before they graduate.
Children have virtually no social voice; their lives are subject to the adults with whom they live. If they are fortunate, they get good guidance in a nurturing atmosphere, and their basic needs are covered.
Other children, however, are not raised in a manner that will develop their talents so they will become contributing members of the community as adults. Social scientists talk about lost generations; we must make sure that future generations have a better outcome.
Children are products of their environment. When we see a large percentage of them lagging in school, making bad decisions, and getting into trouble, we have a responsibility as a community to intervene.
Kids Unlimited has accepted the challenge of being a positive force in children’s lives. Our mission is to help inner-city children develop their academic and social talents, so that they will become contributing adults. The commitment of hundreds of volunteers, donors, and staff shows that change for the better can happen.
We welcome your support and involvement. There are opportunities to tutor and mentor children, and to help them financially.
Our progress causes us to have high expectations for children who are growing up in inner-city poverty. Together, we can turn these expectations into reality.
Chris Amato is founder and president of Kids Unlimited. More information is available at: kidsunlimitedtoledo.org.