Reginald Williams was smiling broadly and had a hop to his walk when he was called to the podium at Fletcher Johnson School to receive his award for being one of the top mathematics students in the recently completed EARP program.
Before the morning was over, Anita Nance, director of EARP (Eastern Athletic Reinforcement Program), and her instructors would call Williams and several of his Eastern High School football teammates to the podium several times to be recognized for their accomplishments in the recently completed six-week summer program.
"This program was perfect preparation for the school year," said Williams, a junior defensive tackle. "The teachers really broke it (classwork) down and the one-on-one instruction was ideal. I enjoy math and I think the program will help me improve in class and in taking tests."
Involved in the program were Nance, D.C. School Board member Barbara Lett Simmons, Eastern principal Ralph Neal, six instructors, a handful of college aides and 65 students from Eastern, Spingarn, Ballou and McKinley high schools. They all agreed the four-year-old program is an excellent way for athletes to improve their reading and math skills over the summer.
In addition, the program, funded by ARE (Associate for Renewal in Education) of the District of Columbia, offered the students beginning courses in computer science and test-taking skills.
"Our kids need this type of reinforcement so much and, each year, we've gradually grown both in the number of students and in subject matter," said Nance, who has taught biology at Eastern for 20 years and is affectionately known as Ma Nance. "I'd like to see this type of program begun in every school in the District. The kids enjoy it and the test scores indicate they do improve in the short period of time."
The students, all athletes, are paid the minimum wage to attend EARP from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. All are pretested in math and English composition and grammar to determine their weaknesses. For six weeks, the instructors and students work diligently on improving on those skills.
"The kids are actually being paid to learn and, occasionally, you may have to threaten them with job termination if a problem arises," said Carolyn Brown, who teaches reading at Jefferson Junior High. "But they work hard and you can definitely see an improvement in their work skills. Everything here is very organized and they must work. Grades are given only for incentive."
Isias Tekle, a math instructor at Eastern, said the students who are in the program have to want to work.
"They work every day and they know we're going to evaluate their progress," Tekle said. "All of them want to show some improvement."
Despite rigid scheduling, the businesslike manner of the teachers and the school atmosphere, the athletes seemed to enjoy the program.
"My coach (James Fields) suggested I come here and I'm glad he did," said Donald Wicks, a senior defensive back at Eastern. "I needed to work on my English composition and vocabulary and, with these small classes, I get extra attention. It really eases the frustration when you can get help right away, not like during the regular year when you have those big classes."
"The work is simplified and the teachers really go out of their way to help you learn one skill," said James DeWilly, a senior defensive back at Eastern.
One of the more popular classes is test-taking skills. Emily Washington, an English teacher at Ballou, believes the program could have a tremendous impact on students if it was continuous.
"You could see marked improvement immediately if the students got this type of instruction maybe twice a week during the year," Washington said. "A lot of students don't take tests very well for a variety of reasons. You can learn how to take tests."
All of the athletes agreed they would more than likely have attended the program even if they weren't being paid. "I probably would come, anyway, because I can see the value in coming," said Dirk Logan, a senior quarterback at Spingarn. "You learn good study habits and it gives you a jump on the other students."