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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Students work on their reading skills at Euell A. Wilson Center.

Thursday, June 22, 2017 1:00 am

Students strive to academic excellence

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Quick profile

Academic Excellence Program

At Euell A. Wilson Center

• Educational programs focused on reading and math, many computer based, helps kids meet the academic standards of their grade level.

• About 40 kids participate in program started 15 years ago at the nonprofit center.

• For information, go to; call 260-456-2917; or email

Even if it's summertime, 11-year-old Cherish Griggs can just as easily be seen setting up pencils, paper and snacks for the younger students as studying herself at the Euell A. Wilson Center.

Cherish's story is like many others in the center's Academic Excellence program. She had been struggling with reading in kindergarten and her mother sent her to 1512 Oxford St., where she initially was nervous because she didn't know the other kids. She has grown to love the nonprofit center and wants to help as much as she can.

“I was in the reading program,” the Wayne Middle School student said. “We read for 20 minutes. We practiced our comprehension. We retold the story and answered some questions. After all that, we played some educational games. … It was fun.”

Now, Cherish is an honor roll student and a testament to the success of the program, which helps K-12 students achieve academic goals, particularly in reading and math.

“The idea of the program is to help children who are performing at or below grade level and to get them to their level,” said Annette Dufor, the center's executive director. “The unique thing about the program is that it's based on individualized lesson plans. So when they come into the program, they take a pre-test and that determines what their grade level is. For instance, if you're a fifth-grader and performing at a third-grade level, it's going to demonstrate that. It will start you at that (third-grade) level and then build your skills from that grade on. It fills in the gap from where you are currently at to where your school-grade level is at.”

There are several components to the free program, including computer-based teaching and homework assistance. Reading and math are the building blocks and instruction helps kids on standardized tests like ISTEP+.

“The goal here is to make sure the kids are successful,” Dufor said. “We know math and reading is the foundation for them to be successful in school. Within that, they do read finance articles, history articles and even do some geometry and biology, but it's included in the reading part of it to have better comprehension.”

Tawana Isabel, the educational director, said the program typically has 40 youth, and they get excited about potential rewards for meeting goals. Summertime participation can be particularly effective. Isabel also lauded a reading initiative for grades 1-3 and said tutoring from Bishop Dwenger students has been valuable.

The center was founded in 1993 by Shirley Woods after her son Euell A. Wilson, a star Dwenger football player, died at 19.

“Volunteers are a vital part of our program,” Dufor said. “Any time we get someone with the skill sets that make them able to come in and assist us with the educational parts of our programs, we're so happy about it. … And we definitely need volunteers to assist us with fundraising. It can be any manner. If they just want to give a donation or if they want to come help assist us in fundraising, we appreciate that.”

While Academic Excellence focuses on getting youth from various school districts to meet state standards, the center has other programs, such as performing arts, leadership and ministry programs and workshops for mothers, something Woods is particularly passionate about.

“There are financial classes and budgeting, making sure they (know how) to open a checking account and things like that,” Woods said. “The mothers have been doing a healthy food class and trying to learn how to prepare healthy meals, quick healthy meals, for themselves and their kids and that has gone over really, really well.”

But the youth are the lifeblood of the center and many are reaping the rewards of the Academic Excellence program, including 11-year-old William Kelso, an Irwin Elementary student.

“I like how they've helped me on my homework,” he said. “Last year, I was doing bad on my grades. I wasn't doing well on my reading. Bishop Dwenger (students) came and helped me a lot, and Ms. Tawana has helped me a lot.”

Cherish has made new friends and the honor roll.

“I'm going to keep going,” she said.