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If you are reading this right now, you are more fortunate than one-fifth of the U.S. population.
In a country that generally prides itself on offering the opportunity for everyone to succeed, one in four children grow up without learning to read. And one in five, or 23 percent of the adult American population, is functionally illiterate or lacks basic skills past a fourth-grade reading level.
For some, this bleak reality is also a call to action.
Pamela Clark began New Heights Educational Group in 2006, as part of a lifelong commitment to education. Born to a dysfunctional family, Pamela was raised by her grandmother, who taught her that "no time spent on a child is ever wasted."
Growing up, Pamela witnessed the havoc that a lack of education can wreak on a family, with a father and two brothers who never graduated high school, and a mother who struggled with alcoholism. Pamela, inspired by her grandmother, saw an obligation to fight against these problems through education.
Pamela began by homeschooling her own children, and then transitioning into a leadership role in the charter schools of northern Ohio. It was there that she discovered her passion for teaching others: "When I was working with kids with autism or ADHD, something happened within me where I identified with their experiences. … I knew their pain so intimately because I had experienced it in my own youth or as a mother. It just clicked to me that I knew I could make this better."
New Heights Educational Group is designed to be one-stop shop for all education needs. Pamela believes strongly that "all kids deserve a fair and equal education," and that means no one should be excluded based on age, race, religion, or any other difference.
As Pamela describes: "It's about having a place where a person can come from anywhere, they could be off the street even, and say: my child needs this. What do you have that can help? And having an answer that is easy to understand, that isn't complicated."
In this spirit, New Heights provides everything from tutoring services to curriculums, a library with more than 3,000 books, field trips, and online classes.
New Heights, by promoting literacy through a wide range of programs, has produced radical results. Pamela says that for everyone who stays with the program, New Heights sees a turnaround within nine months:
"They usually jump two grade levels. … This one young man was in a charter school and before that a traditional public school, and neither of them could get him to read at all. He worked with us, I don't even think it was nine months, and he jumped two grade levels in the charter school. And we've seen this over and over again."
Pamela also describes another young man who had not graduated high school, and could not read to his baby. Within nine months, he became the first member of his family in three generations to be able to read at a high school level.
Pamela says, "He was scored mentally retarded, and we got him to jump two grade levels in nine months! … So I truly believe that no one is unreachable, and that's huge! Look at all the stereotypes that are out there saying why even try? Well, that's why. Because everyone is reachable."
Not every student can be reached in person. For New Heights to realize its dream of fair and equal education, it must use remote work tools to connect with students directly in their homes. New Heights has used Citrix GoToMeeting to connect teachers and tutors with students.
Thanks to GoToMeeting's recording features, these online sessions can also be reviewed and played back later, allowing New Heights to offer suggestions for both teacher and student improvement.
New Heights also uses Citrix GoToMeeting for a variety of other services, such as online board meetings and trainings for volunteers. The organization also uses GoToMeeting for collaboration with people from across the country, who use this tool to work together on education issues in their own communities, spreading the New Heights education method beyond the Ohio area.
Because of its user-friendly layout, recording features, document uploading, and screen-sharing functionality, to New Heights this tool is essential: "There is no comparison … we were using alternative versions and it's just not the same. … Without GoToMeeting, there would have been no way to teach the kids. … There is no way we could have reached the people online in the last three years that we did without GoToMeeting, and there is no way we could have afforded to pay for it outright."
With help from TechSoup and Citrix, New Heights is closing the education gap in America, and giving families the resources they need to provide a brighter future for their children.
New Heights is also currently working on a book that describes its journey as a nonprofit.
New Heights Educational Group was the second-place winner in TechSoup's January 2015 Remote Work Success Stories contest.
This post was written by Wesley White, New Sector Alliance RISE Fellow at TechSoup.
Images: New Heights Educational Group