Jayla Elmore gripped a teal-colored pencil and crossed the “t” at the end of her sentence: I have a dog. I love you cat.
As Jayla, 6, wrote simple sentences and drew pictures in a notebook, Alyssa Przybyl monitored her progress during a one-on-one tutoring session at Horton’s Kids. Each week, Przybyl works with Jayla on reading and math skills.
“You get to draw anything, or you can read a book,” Jayla said. “I drew like we do at school. Like the date and a sentence.”
Przybyl, 26, works at the Department of Veteran Affairs and is one of 436 volunteer tutors at Horton’s Kids, a nonprofit group that provides tutoring and other direct educational support to schoolchildren of all ages from the District’s Ward 8.
Founded by a former Capitol Hill staffer in 1989, Horton’s Kids recently received a $30,000 grant from The Washington Post Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund dedicated to increasing the educational opportunities available for disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington region.
Przybyl began her weekly volunteer work waiting for Jayla in a long, twisting line outside the Rayburn House Office Building late one recent afternoon while two yellow school buses unloaded a stream of energetic kids from Ward 8.
“They know when they get off the bus they’re going to see their tutor,” said Ben Berson, 29, who works at the Jones Walker law firm in the District and tutors at night.
Each volunteer is paired with one of the 120 children enrolled with Horton’s Kids for the school year. The tutoring sessions are focused on literacy and math skills that are reinforced with games, books and drawing.
Sveta Wilkson, development and communications manager for Horton’s Kids, said The Washington Post Charities grant will be used to purchase tutoring supplies, operate buses and pay salaries to the charity’s 16 full-time and four part-time staff members.
The tutors receive no compensation but say the rewards they get during the after-school tutoring are their own form of compensation. “It just feels good at the end of the day,” Przybyl said.
Horton’s Kids offers one-on-one tutoring for students such as Jayla from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, a transitional program in seventh grade and group focus sections for students in eighth through 12th grade, Wilkson said. The charity serves more than 500 students through tutoring or enrichment programs each year.
Several students have been in the tutoring programs for several years, including Devin Prempeh, 8, who has been studying with a tutor for four years. Recently, Devin and his tutor, Robin Berkley, have been tackling multiplication. He has already memorized the 0, 4, 6 and 9 times tables.
During the recent session, Prempeh and Berkley were working on 8s.
“It helps me get smarter,” Devin said.
Students are tutored in House office spaces, which are donated to Horton’s Kids for use on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons by the chairmen of the Judiciary, Appropriations, and Education and the Workforce committees. The children and their tutors spread out across the benches practicing addition and subtraction.
Victoria Rue, 9, one of the students, said she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. She enthusiastically endorsed the weekly tutoring sessions. “I learn more,” she said, “and stuff I need help with I just tell my tutor and she can help me.”
Molly Newell, 23, who works for an Indiana congressman and tutors Victoria, said she initially volunteered with Horton’s Kids because she wanted to find a community in the District like the close-knit one she left in Indiana.
“You go into volunteering thinking you are giving back, but then the kids give back more than you can imagine,” Newell said.
Each tutor receives 21 / 2 hours of training before they are paired with a child. They are given a lesson plan with a list of materials before each session. Berson, the tutor from Jones Walker, said teaching some concepts can be challenging for those like him who lack an education background.
“I was a little nervous at first,” Newell said, explaining that while every adult knows how to do addition, not all of them know how they know — or how to teach it to someone else.
Newell said she channels her nervousness into exploring her fourth-grade brain. “We are learning together,” she said.