Children from lower income families often have to endure two to three months without learning in the summer and lag behind when school reopens — the “summer slide” that many educators blame for a significant portion of the achievement gap between upper and lower income students. Growing up poor in a rough neighborhood in New York was the experience of Karim Abouelnaga, the son of Egyptian immigrants. Abouelnaga was able to overcome his background to graduate from high school and Cornell University, then going on to become the co-founder of Practice Makes Perfect, a New York-based organization that provides turnkey summer school programs aimed at increasing attendance rates and addressing the insidious summer slide.
According to Anne Field writing in Forbes, Abouelnaga’s childhood was difficult. At age 13 his father passed away and his mother had to struggle to provide for the small family. In a show of responsibility, he and his brother sold candy to help pay the rent.
Abouelnaga attended a high school that was part of a program which paid high school students who took Advanced Placement courses and scored at least a 3 out of 5 on the AP exam. He passed 5 tests by the time he graduated from high school.
Abouelnaga learned about the summer slide and looked for a solution, coming up with the idea of pairing kids with high-achieving students older — but not too much older — who could serve as mentors. He thought he could address the summer slide if he could create a program that was cheaper than what it cost schools to run summer classes.
To make that happen, along with some friends, he came up with Practice Makes Perfect. The six-week program which focused on schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Harlem included several key components. Pairing kids with role models in grades 5 to 12, with 24 kids to a class, it would serve students in grades one through eight. Aside from SAT prep, student mentors would receive a small stipend. Supervised by a certified teacher, college students would teach the classes. 15 minutes of instruction would be included in each hour; the rest of the time would be spent working with mentors or in small groups.
In the end, seeing the program expand outside New York is Abouelnaga’s dream. However, currently the aim is to get as many schools as possible in or near his old stomping grounds to participate.
“I’m trying to make an impact on the New York City public school system I went through,” he says.