- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
When the dismissal bell chimes in the hallways of county schools, it’s far from the end of the day for many students, including those enrolled in programs through Future Next.
Two evenings a week, Mattawoman Middle School leaves the lights on for Future Next, a nonprofit group that works with students from elementary to high school on academic goals during afterschool programs.
Volunteers a ratio of one per five students hit the books to tackle math, reading, writing, history and science lessons with kids signed up by parents who see their children struggling with certain subjects.
Carolyn Lewis of Hughesville saw that her daughter, Leondra, 12, had a report card of A’s and B’s but in math a C glared back at her.
Lewis signed up Leondra for the math program to enhance the prealgebra she was learning in school.
“I wanted her to stay focused, stay connected,” Lewis said.
She’s seen an improvement and she’s not the only one.
“I’ve been told by her teachers that she’s doing better,” Lewis said.
Future Next started in the living room of Nicole Thomas’ Waldorf home almost two years ago. While her daughter, Reecola, now 14, is an organized self-starter, Thomas’s son, Rico, now 13, was less focused and needed more one-on-one support. Thomas started a small reading program at her home with Rico, some of his friends and neighbors.
Thomas and Future Next co-founder Xiomara “Liz” Zuniga, were both raised in afterschool programs, Thomas said, and knew that such programs pushed them to seek higher education and set goals for themselves.
They wanted to do the same for kids in Charles County, kids who just needed an extra boost, a different way of looking at fractions or more support when it came to opening a book and getting lost in a story.
“We didn’t find any afterschool programs … everything costs,” Thomas said. “This was something that was needed.”
In the beginning, the program was free and the focus was on preparing students to apply for college. But when organizers saw a lack of reading and math skills in some of the kids, they shifted the focus to building up the basics, laying the foundation for better and eager learners.
“What can we do?” Thomas remembers thinking. “We were not going off our own mothering instincts; we gave surveys [to parents].”
The surveys revealed what parents were looking for in affordable afterschool programs and Future Next started tailoring to the needs of the community.
Run by volunteers including high school students, parents and professionals with an interest in helping children the programs, which cost from about $15 to $20 for the average six-week run, not only test academic prowess but are character building, Thomas said.
At the conclusion of each program, an awards ceremony is held to honor the hard work the students have put in.
“You put in the hard work, you get an award for it,” Thomas said.
It seems to work. Many students and parents are asking when the next session starts. The programs extend through the summer when the lazy days can cause students’ skills to slip. A five-week African-American history program is on deck, along with reading and homework help, which start up again in January.
The students and parents aren’t the only ones who get something out of it. Volunteers do, too.
Muneeb Hameed, 17, first heard about Future Next during a volunteer fair at North Point High School where he is a senior.
His kid sister, Mehar Malik, always tells him that he has a way of explaining math to her that is easier to understand. So he signed up.
“It’s nice to help kids,” he said.
Seeing the “light bulb moment” when a student finally “gets it” is one of the most rewarding aspects of volunteering, Muneeb said.
“That’s the best part,” he said. “You know that you’ve helped.”
Muneeb is impressed at the commitment some of the kids have to the afterschool study sessions.
“They go to school all day and are learning all day and they enjoy coming here and learning more,” he said.
Friends Taniyah Holloman and Tyonna Harrison, both 11 and students at Theodore G. Davis Middle School, are in the math program, bolstering their skills before diving into prealgebra. They’ll need it since both have aspirations to become nurses.
“It keeps you learning,” Taniyah said of the additional tutoring.
“It’s like a refresher,” Tyonna added.
Because it is volunteer-based, those who make Future Next what it is are rarely in the same room.
There are teleconferences and emails, but on Saturday a gala will be held to celebrate the group’s successes and maybe recruit more volunteers for upcoming programs, Thomas said.
“I think it’s a great organization,” Muneeb said of Future Next. “And I think it’s only going to get better.”