Aya Academy of Excellence

Tutoring for Children Who HATE Tutoring

Tutoring for Children Who HATE Tutoring

Aya Academy of Excellence’s Saturday Academy is a year-round programming for students who need to CATCH UP, KEEP UP and GET AHEAD. What makes Saturday Academy different? Unlike traditional skill and drill tutoring programs, Saturday Academy invests in having learners fall in love with learning. Skill development is achieved through the engagement of hands-on, highly interactive experiences. Saturday Academy deftly weaves together the use of science investigations, literature and digital explorations to foster each student’s academic development.

Are you ready for your kids to fall in love with reading, science and math? If so, join in a future session at Aya Academy of Excellence’s Saturday Academy small group tutoring program.


Send Me Back Saturday: Launching Community Programming


Redefine Start. These sage words were spoken to me a few years ago in response to how I was approaching serving youth and families. To me, I could not, prior to that conversation, see how to provide academic services without a brick and mortar location. Thereafter, my thinking changed and Aya began to takeoff because we began offering workshops in partnership with local libraries and afterschool programs.

The image above was taken two years ago during our first community-based literacy workshop series. Here are a few insights regarding working with and behalf of communities.

1. Focus. Have a clear and cogent objective. Initially, our organization took a Pinky and the Brain approach – we wanted to take over the world…in a good way. But it is impossible to serve every need. Therefore, go deep and not wide in regard to what you would like to focus on with your services.

2. Teamwork. Get a great team. Create a matrix which defines your strengths and identifies your gaps. Band together with others who can provide support in areas where you have gaps. I’ve been blessed with great collaborators who provide our organization with assets I have yet to develop. There is no shame in not excelling in everything. Just take note of what Tom Collins’ Good to Great proffers: Get the Right People on the Bus.

3. Midgetize. Start small. Work out the kinks. Expand. Last year, we launched our first camp….it was nearly 3 years in the planning…and it was worth the wait. This year we are expanding to serve three times the number of learners. By starting small, we had less constraints, including budget and recruitment of learners and personnel. This provided opportunities to reflect on instructional practices and operational strategies.

4. Dream. Feel free to delve into your creativity. Mentally walk through best case scenarios. When working with marginalized communities it is easy to listen to the apathy and entertain others’ frustrations. Let the ‘its never been done before’ roll off your back and open up to possibilities. This aids in becoming a problem solver and a change agent.

5. Serve. Help others. I sometimes volunteer more during the week then I do ‘work.’ That’s always been my heart. The universe does give back what you put in. Those I’ve assisted have looked out for our organization by including us in their other activities. Through a willingness to serve, others will provide support in unexpected wonderful ways. This process aids in building relationships which assists in the forward movement of your community initiatives.

Tools of the Trade: Story Chips


A few years ago, I stumbled across a lovely resource to spark discussion during literacy workshops.Story Chips and Discussion chips are an affordable teaching tool to encourage learners to share their thoughts in small and large group settings. Since learners can select their questions, they feel a degree of ownership during the discussion process.

The chips, which retail for less than $5 at teacher resource stores, can be made at home. The questions are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and therefore, they have several levels of thinking ranging from recall to analytical inquiry. In class, I would allow learners a chance to swap questions out from the chips bucket to ensure they selected questions they were comfortable responding to in front of a group. While reading Julia Alvarez’ Before We Were Free, each student was paired with a partner and answered the questions together. The partners were allowed to first discuss with their buddy their individual responses to create a consensus before sharing out to the larger group. As always, getting to the ‘right’ answer took a back seat to developing students’ ability to think critically and dialogue with peers.

To make your own, create questions in Microsoft word to fit into a text box the size of a 20 ounce bottle cap (Vitamin Water). Glue the questions onto the bottle cap and Voila, you’ve saved $5!

What I love most is that these chips can be used with any age learner and within any setting. Families can have these on hand
at their bedside table to use during bedtime reading.

Falling in Love with Paris: An Exodus Story


When I was a pre-teen, I had aspirations of attending college in Canada because I figured it would be a stepping stone to living in Paris. My eldest is taking French now and it feels like déjà by.  Although she’s pretty studious, she has a deep longing for attending school abroad. – either in Japan or in France, and thus devoted countless hours studying second languages.  While preparing our curriculum I saw the emergence of numerous patterns, one of which was the seeking of refuge abroard so that the artist, aviator or doctor would have an opportunity to learn their craft and live their purpose in a less racially charged society.  This was true for Dr. James McCune Smith who traveled to Glasglow, Scotland to attain his medical degree, as well as, Bessie Coleman and Josepbine Baker who both traveled to France to get closer to their dreams.

Josephine Baker’s escapades are vibrantly captured in Jonah Winter’s Jazz Age Josephine by illustrator Marjorie Priceman.  The sing-song passages evoke a musical tone as the story is read aloud, especially during the portionso devoted to tackling the racial discrimination which spurred Ms. Baker’s exodus from the United States. 


This is title is part of our Reading List for the 20/20 curriculum for the lesson on the Celebrity, which illuminates how some African American stars have utilized their fame and influence to further philanthropic endeavors.

And Now We Are Cooking With Fiyah!

And Now We Are Cooking With Fiyah!

It just hit me that I use food as a learning too. While teaching a unit on Germany, I had a group of German students, arranged by the local consulate, visit our class and while there we had a taste-testing of some German fare.

Although I cannot profess to being a great cook, I realize that my creative juices are inspired to look at every opportunity to connect content. Case-in-point, the Tex Taco Chicken Tortillas the girls and I had for lunch while preparing our cowboy lesson related to the book Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen.

Here’s the recipe:

2 packages o chicken cutlets
2 cans of diced tomatoes (Rotela is spicy and the best)
1 package of Taco Seasoning
1 bag of tortilla chips
Combine first 3 ingredients and cook for 4 hours on low in a slow cooker. Spoon cooked chicken onto tortilla chips.

Extras for Topping: Cheese, sour cream, olives and jalapeno slices.

I think that I am inspired to create Mommie-And-Me Cookbook based on some of our favorite stories. Wouldn’t that e a hoot?

Teaching with Picture Books: Part 1

When I began teaching in the 1990’s I had the great fortune of experiencing baptism by fire. Although my alma mater, the illustrious Hoftsra University boasts one of the most laudable teaching preparation programs in the nation, very little can prepare you for becoming a middle school teacher in a community grappling with severe issues of poverty, drug use and crime. Every issue a community faces is reflected in the lives of its children and as a classroom teacher, these issues become ones that must be recognized and faced.

Understandably, while students are juggling immense socio-economic family and community issues, academic advancement becomes challenged. Author Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, discusses how parental academic achievement, and specifically the areas of vocabulary acquisition and executive function, impact the learning of students. In a nutshell, parents are the springboard to their children’s learning. What parents know and the academic norms they possess, can affect how well a child will learn.

So in 1996, when three eleven year old boys ‘would not’ pay attention or participate in our guided reading activities, I had to learn through experience that their inability was attributed to the text being inaccessible. Although they were in the sixth grade, they were each reading several grade levels behind. One student could not sound out the word ‘great’ in a social studies passage on Alexander the Great. At that moment, I realized that the text was a hindrance and headed to the local library where I scoured the shelves for picture books on the ancient civilizations we were studying. By using fiction and non-fiction picture books, the content was accessible and my students were able to cull historical information about ancient Egypt, China, Greece and Rome.

Picture books, as mentor texts, are bridges parents at home and teachers at school, can use to provide context for science or history content. When I home-schooled my daughters, we read a few picture books each week on historic figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Mandela and Wilma Rudolph. The vivid imagery helped build engagement and the shorter passages meant that we could dive into another person’s life at least every other day.

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum Reading Selection for The Trailblazers' Lesson Plan

20/20 Tapestry Curriculum Reading Selection for The Trailblazers’ Lesson Plan

For our 20/20 Tapestry Curriculum, we have a list of picture books suited for the study of African American history. Our curriculum is divided into twenty lessons, each uncovering a specific archetype – moguls, inventors, champions, etc. During our journey of discovery of The Trailblazer, we investigate the American cowboy through the adventures of Bass Reeves, Stage Coach Mary Fields and Nate Love. Check out our video to learn how Jerdine Nolen’s Thunder Rose can be used to teach language development and history, all while engaging young listeners through an interactive approach.

Lies Teachers Tell Us: Why Kids Can’t Read

My daughter is a voracious reader. Each morning, before she packs her snack, she is grabbing a book to read.  I scoop my daughters up to visit Barnes and Nobles every month to stock up on new reading material and every other week they head to their school’s media center to check out books. A few months ago, I picked up a purple plastic book light for my daughter from the dollar store.  Her faced gleamed.  To her, this was better than a slice of chocolate cake.  She reads in the car on the way to school, she reads before bed every night and she reads when she wakes up awaiting her turn in the bathroom.  What’s the issue?  My third grader is a bookworm who cannot read. 

According to the ITBS, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, my child who gobbles up books like Godzilla devours Japanese skyscrapers, is a poor reader.  She has low comprehension and vocabulary.  As a parent, I was mortified.  Hadn’t I done all the right things?  No TV during the week?  Reading every night?  Model the love of reading by sticking my own head in a book each day? As a teacher, I got scared for my students and the legions of teachers who have uttered the following lie to parents across the nation, “As long as your child reads 20 minutes each day, it doesn’t matter what she reads.  She will be fine.” Poppycock. 

As a teacher I know that I was not empowered to pinpoint students’ reading deficiencies and develop a plan of action to improve them.  I figured it was because I was a content area teacher.  Someone has been trained to teach kids how to read, right? Maybe the language arts teachers knew this stuff.  I was wrong.  It appears that teachers are not knowledgable on measuring students’ reading capabilities and developing strategies for their students.  After meeting with my daughter’s teacher, she never raised any specific activties to improve her reading.  She was at a loss.

Here is what parents – and teachers – need to know to strengthen  their child’s reading.

1. Determine how well your child reads using tests already administered in school.  Ask for your child’s Lexile score.  A Lexile score is a measurement to determine reading comprehension.  At her school, in 3rd grade, my daughter is expected to be in the 500-800 range.* Lexile scores can be determined from national norm tests, school purchased reading assessments such as SRI from Scholastic or end of the year state exams.  Be mindful that assessment scores will vary.  My daughter’s scores on the state exam were 200 points higher than the school administered reading exam because the latter did not include text support.  In other words, assessments with pictures, graphs and other visual aids will help your child comprehend the reading better and may sqew the results.  *This range is NOT in line with what MetaMetrics the developer of Lexile ‘recommends.  See below.

2. Have your child read material, books, magazines and online articles, that is 100 points below to 50 points above their level.  If material is too easy, your child will not be challenged. If it is too difficult, it will be too frustrating.  Any material out of their range will not lead to growth in their reading.   Your child’s book choices should appeal to their interests to keep them engaged.  Lexile scores are available online on Barnes and Nobles website as well as www.lexile.com.

3. Ask your child questions throughout their reading of the book.  Would you want to be a friend of  (main character) ?  Would (event from story) have happened if (previous event) wouldn’t have happened? Have your child sort out story developments to sequence information and explain out events led to latter events to show causal relationships.

4. Create a vocabulary book.  As your child comes across an unfamilar word, have them jot it down in a notebook to make their own personal dictionary.

5. Link your child’s reading experiences to family field trip experiences.  If your child is reading about dinosaurs, take them to the local natural history museum.  Make reading a whole family activity by incoporating it into family movie nights.  Select films that relate to the theme of the book – Jurassic Park, for example.  Have sketch parties at home by drawing scenes from the book. When children make connections between what they are reading and their real life experiences it makes reading a more engaging activity.

6. Ask your child’s teacher how often they plan on testing your child’s reading development.  It is recommended that students are assessed four times per year to guage growth.

As a  parent, I am greatful that my child already has a love of reading.  By taking these steps, I aiming to ensure that this passion isn’t extinguished. I am grateful that I became aware of the issue early to intervene and I am thankful that I have platform to share this information in the hope that it can shed some light and assist another parent and teacher.

Typical Reader Measures, by Grade

Grade Reader Measures, Mid-Year
25th percentile to 75th percentile (IQR)
1 Up to 300L
2 140L to 500L
3 330L to 700L
4 445L to 810L
5 565L to 910L
6 665L to 1000L
7 735L to 1065L
8 805L to 1100L
9 855L to 1165L
10 905L to 1195L
11 and 12 940L to 1210L

The chart above is from www.lexile.com.

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