Saturday, July 16, 2011

"I Was Going to Use My Pay Check for Eye Glasses"

As I write this, RICH is in the middle of its first serious summer program, at the Oxford Manor community space in Anacostia.  Oxford Manor is one of the wonderfully refurbished apartment complexes built and managed by the Community Preservation and Development Corporation.  One aspect of the program is the MATHletes, elite students, mostly from Anacostia High School, who help tutor the younger residents at Oxford Manor for two hours and then sit for two hours of enrichment learning on topics they should get in school but probably won't:  matrices, probability, linear programming, and financial literacy.

Where I live in Ward 3, most kids can either afford camp, swim clubs, or private school lessons.  In Ward 8, the swimming pool at Fort Stanton is closed.  The DC government has cut back on both summer jobs for kids and summer school classes.  I'm glad RICH can provide just a little bit for some of these children.

RICH is paying the MATHletes as well as the Word Stars, profiled in my previous blog post.  The MATHletes work 20 hours/week in addition to the homework they do for their enrichment class.  At $8/hr, that comes to $160/week, a small price to keep these diamonds in the rough doing something constructive this summer.  The best result of the program is that all 8 MATHletes are convinced they have bright futures, with college scholarships on the way as long as they keep working.

These are students who are broke, either with no cell phone of their own (rare these days for an adolescent) or home internet access.  Only one of them, E, lives with both biological parents.  It was he who had told me he was going to spend his first paycheck on glasses.  He was giddy when I told him and two others that I had found an eye clinic at the Lens Crafters in Pentagon City which provides free eye exams and glasses, courtesy of One Sight.  But it was really W who needed glasses the most.  W is 15 and last had glasses four years ago.  After one day teaching W, I realized he could not see the white board 10 feet away, even while squinting. 

The good folks at the eye clinic were shocked to see how neglected W's eyesight had been.  W lives in a dingy, dirty apartment building in Anacostia.  I know because I had to drop by when he did not show up to our orientation meeting.  (He had gotten lost.)  Four gentlemen were in the front hall of W's building smoking dope, loudly and profanely talking, in the middle of the day.  Trash was strewn everywhere inside and outside the building.  This is where a straight-A student lives, a boy who, I found out, would go up to the board to read what he had missed after class was over, who never complained about his eyesight but now, with his glasses, will be able to recognize me as I walk toward him on Martin Luther King Avenue, as he wasn't able to do back on July 4.

W is of slight build but has a voice like Denzel's in "Training Day."  Now that he can see, I am curious how strong his voice gets.  Will he rise to even greater heights as a student?  I can't wait.

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