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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Gainesville organization works to give educational boost to vulnerable children

Eric Ramos started the service in 2020 with a passion for helping children advance

Eric Ramos’ path to success was far from linear. He was given up for adoption at 3 months old after his mother returned to the Dominican Republic without him.

The 34 year old’s academic career before college was another obstacle; he barely managed to graduate high school with a 2.1 GPA.

Reflecting on that time in his life, he started RamosStrong Motivational Group Inc. in September 2020 to help students gain a strong education despite difficult circumstances in their lives. The organization offers tutoring to K-12 children in Alachua County. It also offers a $500 dollar giveaway for school supplies for children in Alachua County, as well as Polk County.

One of his goals is to try bridging the achievement gap for Black students, he said.

“We found out that there was a major deficit with Black students in the Alachua County area,” he said. “We have fourth graders who can barely read a chapter book. We can see the educational deficit that’s happening.” 

Carlonda McTier, a 35-year old science teacher and the vice president of RamosStrong, said it’s difficult for the company to engage with those it intends to serve. 

“We know there’s a need within the community, but there’s difficulty getting people to take advantage of the opportunity for the free tutoring,” McTier said. “It’s twofold. We have difficulty getting the kids in some weeks, and then other weeks, we have difficulty getting the tutors in.”  

The program allows 10 students to attend each week. Last year, about three to seven children would partake each week. 

McTier said she noticed students often struggle in reading and math, lagging well behind where they should be for their grade level. 

“We’re witnessing reading levels that are anywhere from two to five years below where they should be academically,” she said. “That is severe. We’re seeing the same things in math as well.” 

But some cases are worse than others. Often McTier has seen eighth graders who are on a first grade reading level or a fifth grade math level. 

Vulnerable students, such as those lower down the socioeconomic ladder, often face personal struggles that transcend their academic priorities, McTier said.

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“In our lower income areas, people are fighting needs that are above education,” she said. “If I don’t have anywhere [to] lay my head tonight, if I don’t have a meal tonight, if my parents are abusing me...if I’m unwell, school is just not my first priority.” 

She said the transition to online education last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated problems for struggling families.

Finding a convenient tutoring location for the families who need the service the most has been an obstacle for the organization, she said. Students living in the East Gainesville area often need the most help, but the organization has struggled to find a venue for its tutoring within the community. 

But there have also been great success stories. Ramos said middle school student Serene Maddon, 14, had been struggling with Algebra and was failing. With the help of RamosStrong Tutoring, she got her grade to a B.

UF organizations like Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma and Ladies Inc. have also stepped in to help out with RamosStrong tutoring.

Perizhana Wood, a 21-year-old UF health science senior and member of the Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority Inc., said she and other members of her sorority volunteered for tutoring with Ramos Strong last school year. She’s noticed the main problem areas are math subjects.

“I’ve noticed a lot of the kids have most trouble with really figuring out the concepts and knowing what to do. Their work has been a little more complicated than I remember since I was in school,” she said.

Tutoring sessions with RamosStrong Motivational Group Inc. are held every Wednesday at 6 p.m. The precise location of the tutoring is kept private for security reasons, so those interested in participating should contact the organization via social media.

Contact Omar at Follow him on Twitter @OAteyah.

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Omar Ateyah

Omar Ateyah is a third-year journalism student and the Alligator's Race and Equity reporter. He previously served as the Alligator's crime reporter and as a news assistant on the Metro Desk. He enjoys going on long, thoughtful walks. 

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