Growing up in New York City, Karim Abouelnaga didn’t live on easy street. The son of Egyptian immigrants, he was just 13 when his father died, leaving the family in dire straits.
“I sold candy on school-nights and weekends alongside my brothers to keep my family off the streets.”
Fortunately, Karim was helped by non-profit organizations which believed in his potential and put him on the path to an Ivy League education.
“There were plenty of smart kids in my neighborhood who just didn’t have access to the right teaching, the right resources, didn’t have the right models and the right guidance to move forward in school,” he says.
That was a lesson Karim never forgot.
In 2011, he and five other students at Cornell University started Practice Makes Perfect, a K-8 summer enrichment program based on the premise that all children, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, have what it takes to compete intellectually in society.
At the core of the program is a model of students teaching other students. For example, a tenth grader would teach a fifth grader, with the hope that younger student would be more receptive to learning from someone from the same socioeconomic background and closer in age.
"After all,” Karim says, “who better to tell you how to do better in elementary school than someone who has just finished it?”
Research shows that students from low-income areas are particularly susceptible to the “summer slide,” losing between 2.5 to 3.5 months of academic learning during July and August, while their affluent peers are making academic gains. But Karim says the reality is even worse when September comes.
“Teachers spend another 1.5 months teaching
old material and reviewing content at the beginning of every year. Thus, the aggregate losses are closer to 5 months, or half a school year.”
PMP helps keep students on top of their game and even ahead of the game by a five-day-a-week tutoring program, aimed at boosting their performance in reading and math.
The program also benefits the mentors, low-income high school students who earn stipends and also receive help to get into the college of their choice.
Now In its fourth year, the program serves more than 500 students in New York City. Looking ahead, Karim is optimistic and focused on spreading the message of education and progress.
“My goal is to have PMP become a national summer school replacement model.”
But, above all, he says he wants to inspire.
“Pick your own path,” he says. “Don’t be afraid if you don’t know the right answer — in my whole life, I never knew the right answer.”
But it seems Karim may have the right answer now…with Practice Makes Perfect.