Zhanay General was having trouble with her reading last spring. But after her parents enrolled her in Fort Meade’s Saturday Scholars program, the 8-year-old is now able to read books out loud.
“It really helped her,” said Atiya General, Zhanay’s mother and a personnel security specialist at the Food and Drug Administration. “The program helped her to get back on track.”
Zhanay, a third-grader at Seven Oaks Elementary School, was one of 28 children to graduate from the 2016-2017 session of Saturday Scholars.
The hourlong graduation was held Saturday afternoon at the School Age Services building at 1900 Reece Road.
Saturday Scholars is a 12-year-partnership between Fort Meade’s Child and Youth Services and the Naval Information Operations Command Maryland.
Volunteers from NIOC and Fort Meade’s five service branches, DoD civilians and CYS provide tutoring and mentorship to Fort Meade children in second to fifth grade.
For a period of six weeks in the fall, or continuing for another six weeks into the spring, tutors help prepare students for the Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ standardized tests in reading and math.
In addition to serving as tutors, the adults also become mentors and set an example for the benefits of lifelong learning.
Antionette Parker, Fort Meade’s school liaison officer, said Saturday Scholars is a way for the Fort Meade community to give children “a hand-up so they can make it on the road to educational success.”
Children are selected for the program by guidance counselors and administrators at Fort Meade schools, or they are enrolled by their parents through CYS. Volunteers from the program must undergo background checks through CYS to ensure they are cleared to work with children.
The tutoring sessions are free and take place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at SAS.
At the graduation ceremony, Parker said the mission of Saturday Scholars is “empowering youths to develop strong mentoring relationships that focus on education readiness and personal motivation.”
Student success will always and forever more be the mission of Saturday Scholars.”
The graduation ceremony began with the posting of the colors and a rendition of the national anthem by members of Meade High School’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Navy Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 1st Class Nicholas Ticali, NIOC’s military liaison to the program, welcomed and thanked the parents and tutors for their dedication. He also congratulated the students.
A slide presentation of tutors and students working in the program was shown as well.
Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard and Commander Robert Cadena, executive officer for NIOC, then presented each student and tutor with a certificate of completion for the 12-week program.
“Thank you to the mentors and parents for helping children move forward in their education,” Rickard said after the ceremony.
Rickard also spoke to the graduates. “Thank you for giving a little extra effort to go farther in life,” he said. “The only way you can go farther in life is through education. I’m extremely proud of you and so are your parents and all the adults in this room.”
DeAnna Knoxx, the program operations specialist for CYS, commended the students for their hard work and dedication and praised the tutors for their commitment.
“This couldn’t have happened without you,” Knoxx said. “Thank you for making Saturday Scholars a success.”
At the count of three, the students — who were then seated in the audience — threw their graduation caps into the air as parents took photographs on their cellphones.
Eleven-year-old Samuel Christy said he liked participating in Saturday Scholars because his tutor made learning fun.
“He made me want to keep on learning,” said Samuel, a fifth-grader at Pershing Hill Elementary School.
The youngster’s mother was grateful as well. “His grades have improved and we’re really proud of him,” Ashley Christy said. “We’re grateful his tutor took the time to help him learn the skills that maybe we weren’t able to help him with as parents.”
Samuel’s father, Sgt. 1st Class Shaun Christy of the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade, was also pleased.
“I’m proud of all his hard work, and he really put in the time to see results. It’s a wonderful program.”
David Powell, Samuel’s tutor, said the key to student success is simple.
“It’s most important to learn to love learning and become a lifelong learner,” Powell said. “Once you do that, you can really go far in life.”