Eleven-year-old Malcom Johnson responded quickly when asked about his future.
"I'd like to be a lawyer," the fourth-grader said. Omar Carthern, 9, was equally confident.
"I want to be a basketball player," the third-grader said. But after some prodding, Omar said he would consider a coaching career, based on the slim odds of becoming a professional athlete.
Malcom and Omar are Lamar Elementary School pupils being tutored by a sorority called Top Ladies of Distinction Inc. Most of the group's members are retired Richmond County educators, and they are on a mission to pass on their academic expertise to a new generation.
"It's our way of giving back," said Millicent Mazyck, a 33-year music instructor who retired 10 years ago from Butler High School.
Her national sorority hopes to help pupils with academic challenges.
During the second half of the 2004-05 school year, members of Mrs. Mazyck's organization tutored pupils such as Omar and Malcom in a program dubbed Assault on Illiteracy, she said.
"They have needs, but these are not special-education students," Mrs. Mazyck said.
Assault on Illiteracy has been one of the Top Ladies' ongoing projects for the past six years, she said.
"We're doing as much as we can to help. We can't do it at all the schools, but we go to the schools that readily accept our assistance," Mrs. Mazyck said.
Georgette Magwood, Lamar's principal, said she appreciates the leadership help provided by the group.
"We try to do it all, but we can't," she said.
The women also pitch in when pupils lack uniforms for graduation, socks and even underwear.
"We see where the needs are and try to help," she said.
At Lamar, 14 pupils participate in the Top Ladies' program. Each woman tutors at least two pupils, and classroom teachers provide a list of assignments they want covered during homework-tutoring sessions.
Yvonne Shaw is an educator who enjoys pushing Malcom's academic capabilities.
"When they get one-on-one tutoring, this is more than just tutoring. It's also mentoring sessions," Dr. Shaw said. "I try to pick the children who experience problems at home and need a little extra encouragement, something to boost their self-esteem."
Since retiring as principal of Jamestown Elementary, she said, she has worked as a military/educational consultant in Bosnia and Hungary.
She believes many problems experienced by today's pupils are rooted in socioeconomic issues.
"Children in lower income brackets often don't get the head start. No books in the home; a lack of educated parents. Many of these kids have never been out of Augusta. Many of the parents want to help, they just don't know how to," she said.
"That's where we come in. And we'll even help the parents if we need to," she said.
Omar's mother, Charlene Nelson, 42, agrees partly with Dr. Shaw's assessment.
"Lack of education can be a factor," she said. "In my case, I work all day, and I'm tired when I get home. Many times other people can teach your children better than you can. They won't listen to you, and their attention span is not there."
"Omar's attitude has really improved," she said. "The one-on-one connection has made a difference."
Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Total Ladies of Distinction and Assault on Illiteracy, call 860-4650.
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