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MAKING THE GRADE

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.
Tuesday, while most New York City kids enjoyed their winter recess from school, a group...
MAKING THE GRADE

Tuesday, while most New York City kids enjoyed their winter recess from school, a group of students in Harlem continued their learning process at the North Harlem Kumon Learning Center, where the learning never stops.

For many of our uptown kids, getting the educational edge is always a challenge and it bears out in the statistics. Last week, for example, the AmNews reported the release by the city of a report that shows a crisis in the number of Black and Latino students attending specialized high schools in New York City. Despite the fact that Black and Latino students make up more than 70 percent of the students in New York City schools, only 4 percent of the students admitted to specialized schools were Black and 6 percent were Hispanic, while 35 percent were Asian and 30 percent were White.

This week we take a peek inside a decades-old learning center first begun in Japan that has relatively recently set up shop in Harlem and other communities of color, and we wonder if their method holds the key to broad educational achievement for Black and Latino children.

This AmNews reporter took a trip to the Kumon Learning Center located on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard between 129th and 130th streets to speak with the center's director and parents and see how successful the Kumon center is in Harlem.

Upon arriving, one finds an environment of children quietly studying and working, surrounded by pennants from elite colleges and universities on blue, orange and yellow walls. The center's director, Elizabeth M. Ebbits, discussed her vision of the company and the method that has made it such a successful learning experience for millions of children around the world.

"We're a supplemental program, so we're meant to complement what the students are doing in the classroom," said Ebbits. "We're an independent-based program. We basically start our students at what is called a comfortable starting point, and that is a point that is below grade level. We do this to fill any gaps in learning they might have; we do this to build up their confidence and their self-esteem to build up momentum.

"And from that low starting point we progress them through the program at their own pace, but each child starts at their own placing point and progresses from that placing point going forward," continued Ebbits. "Regardless of where they place, they all have to go through the levels. Every child has their own placing point."

Established in 1958 in Japan by Toru Kumon, a high school math teacher, the Kumon method is designed to teach to ability while leading the child to academic excellence. The goal is to master a subject before moving on to the next step. Since these programs are after school, there is no stopping point, and children can sail way past their peers who are done with school at 3 p.m. The program covers pre-school through high school and is has centers in 46 countries with 4.2 million students worldwide. 211,957 students in America make the trip to Kumon after their school day.