Four years ago Rozell Webb's grade point average, based on a four-point grading scale in the D.C. public school system, was precariously perched between zero and one. He studied "five minutes" a night and even flunked gym.
Now a 17-year-old 10th grader at Cardozo High School in Northwest, Webb's most recent year-end averages have been "C" or slightly better, a vastly improved situation his mother attributes to the help he has received for four years from a volunteer tutor at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in the District.
"I love it. I think what that church does is the best thing that could have happened to the children," said Rozell's mother, Helen. "She the tutor helps him with all his work. They have been together for hours sometimes. He loves it. Now, he is determined to go to college."
D.C. churches have offered free tutorial services for public school students for several years, but more programs started recently when the school system's competency based curriculum and student progress plan demonstrated that children needed extra help to meet the higher classroom standards.
School officials are unsure about the total number of churches offering some form of tutorial help, mainly because some have started their programs without school system help, but some others they know of are the Shiloh Baptist Church, the Second New St. Paul Church and the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church.
"The tutorial work that the churches do is very helpful to the schools, particularly because the churches can play a role in an area that the schools are not well equipped to handle, and that is character development," said D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, citing programs that have been held at the New St. Paul Baptist Church, Shiloh Baptist Church and New York Presbyterian.
Some churches have adopted schools and work hand in hand with school administrators to offer tutorial help to students with poor grades, like the two-year-old relationship between the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church and Sousa Junior High in Southeast.
"In the last few years, there has definitely been an upsurge," said C. Vanessa Spinner, coordinator of volunteer services for the D.C. schools.
In the metropolitan area, the District has the closest relationship between schools and church-based tutorial services, according to school system spokesmen from Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Arlington's Mt. Zion Baptist Church offers two-hours of math tutoring to public school children every Saturday morning from November to mid-May, but Daniel L. Brown, the school system's director of school community relations, calls that situation rare. "We have been attempting to stress this kind of activity, but that has not caught on," said Brown.
"It could be out there, but I have not heard of it," said Kathy Snyder, information specialist for the Prince George's County schools, who added that P.G. parents frequently get tutorial help for their children through the county's teacher's union.
Every Thursday night, about 60 tutors gather at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Northwest with a roughly equal number of students for an hour of homework help. But some of the church's tutors, like Mary Nagelhout, who tutors Webb, go beyond that and help out during the week.
"Rozell keeps coming back every year and that's the reason I keep coming back," said Nagelhout, a church member and a 21-year-old urban affairs major at George Washington University. "Everyone's here because they want to be here."
Virginia Cochran, a former teacher at Deal Junior High in Northwest, started New York Avenue Presbyterian Church's tutoring program in 1962. The church has developed its own 31-page handbook for tutors, says Susan Ousley, one of the coordinators.
Other churches meet with students several times a week after school, during summers, or on Saturday mornings. Most depend on donated textbooks from local bookstores or schools, but others have bought their own reading and math lesson programs. At the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Southeast, seven tutors work with as many as four students each from Sousa Junior High two or three times a week after school, said Ralph Neal, Sousa's principal.
"The program is very helpful to the students and the church wanted to get a program to help students in the Pennsylvania Avenue area," said Neal.
The People's Congregational Church in Northwest had conducted tutorial programs in the past, but reimplemented them last year and adopted 17 students from West Elementary School who meet every Monday from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
"It's a commitment. The need is there," said People's Congregational member Janet Moore, who also teaches English, reading and study skills at Howard University. "These are things people could not afford otherwise. If students were paying for this it would probably cost $30 to $40 an hour."
The one concern that school system officials have is that the tutoring is done in a meaningful, productive way and they encourage volunteers to seek training from the school system.
"It can be very easy to confuse a child if they are using different methods," said Margaret W. Jones, coordinator of the school system's after-school tutorial assistance program, "but we are beginning to close that gap."
During the past two summers, the Asbury Methodist Church in Northwest offered instructional help in math, science and English as well as standardized achievement test preparation, according to church member Lucius Earls. "We had an average of 30 kids. I think it is a desireable thing. We would like to expand the program," said Earls, who taught at the Phelps Vocational school for 24 years.
Some students involved in the various church programs said they hope the programs continue.
Roderick Scott, a 13-year-old Rabaut Junior High School student, sat recently with Jon Parce, a Hendersonville, N.C., native who just started tutoring at New York Presbyterian. Both were studying a map of Ohio, plotting the quickest route between Toledo and Marblehead for a social studies assignment. "It helps me get along with my school work," said Scott. "I like it because it helps me improve."