Aspire to Excel; 11 years of success

Staff Writer

Rev. Robert Shamblin-Traylor of Pilgrim Grove M.B. Church saw a need within Clay County for an after-school program to help children understand the educational basics within a low student to instructor ratio. What began as an enrichment program that offered art, dance, music, drama and academics, was streamlined into an academic program.

"Students grades 1 - 6 take part in our program," Ernestine Young, director of Aspire to Excel, said. "We average 22 students. We have a waiting list every year. But unless a student has an illness or moves away, there are almost no spots open during the school year."

Traylor said for the program to still be in demand after 11 years, Aspire to Excel must be doing something right. He is extremely proud of the program and the students who work hard to reach their educational goals.

"We are here to help the kids with their educational foundation," Traylor said. "We reinforce the basics, reading, language and math. Now that children have to pass a reading test to be advanced from the third grade to the fourth, we focus on getting them on grade level in reading and comprehension. When they are successful in the classroom, it shows them they can be successful in life."

Traylor said the program has four certified instructors, who are retired educators. They have recently added Dr. Israel Lee to the team of Louise Moore, Gladys Harris and Lois Gibson. He said another member of the team is Wanda Stevenson who not only drives the bus to pick up the students from school, she helps with art projects. Traylor said she is a vital part of the Aspire to Excel program.

"It is important for boys to have positive make influences," Traylor said. "That's one reason we are glad to have Dr. Israel Lee join us. We have more than 100 years of educational experience within our teachers."
The parental involvement is what makes the program work, Traylor said. That and a professional staff. Traylor said students are expected to follow the rules.

"We believe discipline is important," Traylor said. "We have rules for a reason. The classrooms are usually at capacity with five or sometimes six students. That way everyone can have individual attention. Our goal is for 100 percent of our students to be on the honor roll. Last year we had 14 out of 22 make honor roll. I want to do better this year."

Traylor said they work on behavior modification. Students in the Aspire to Excel program have to behave in order to be able to learn.
West Point High School students who were in the Aspire to Excel program when they were in elementary school, often return to help with the program to earn community service hours toward graduation.

"We love to see the kids come back when they are in high school and doing well," Young said. "They are a huge help and they always tell the kids how much the program meant to them when they were in elementary school."

Young said there have been approximately 280 students to come through the program in its 11 years of offering tutoring.

"We need to talk to West Point High School and see what the graduation rate is for students participating in our program," Young said. "We'd love to know how many of our students make it all the way through high school. That would be our true number of successes."