By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
When it comes to community outreach, GPS Educational Services means it, literally.
The group has been known to knock on doors to speak with parents who have children in the Birmingham School System and talk with community organizers and neighborhood presidents.
“Our message is simple: we want to get the best out of your child, and we want your help,” said Carnelle Howell, director of community partnerships for GPS Educational Services. “The school can’t do it alone, the parents can’t do it alone, so GPS is what bridges the gap between the two.”
GPS Educational Services is a full-service education services provider with offerings in After-School Reading and Math Tutoring, Parental Involvement and Professional Development Programs.
“We build relationships inside the schools with the administration, with the kids, with the parents, and in the community,” Howell said.
The company began in Birmingham in 2011 and is currently in Norwood Elementary, Green Acres Middle School, Arrington Middle School, Glen Iris Middle School, Hudson K-8 and Oxmoor Valley Elementary School. They also have offices in Washington D.C.
Going into the neighborhoods is important for another reason, said Keith Dooley, director of marketing for GPS, and one of the co-founders.
“Teachers can’t go into the neighborhoods,” said Dooley. “They’re [in schools] from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and they have their own lives. But when schools contract us, that takes some of the burden off the school.”
Working with parents and getting them involved is key, said Dooley, a graduate of Wenonah High School.
“Most of the time, parents only come to the schools [when children] have behavioral problems . . . it’s never a good, conducive relationship. That’s where we come in” by encouraging parental participation which is at an all-time low not just in Birmingham but nationwide, he said.
“We spent a month on data about parent participation,” Howell said. “We looked at data from the best and worst schools in America. What we found, overwhelmingly, is that when parents are consistently involved in their child’s education, the child is 77 percent more likely to be successful.”
Parents have a number of reasons why they aren’t involved and some are simple: they don’t have clothes to go. “If clothes are what holds a parent back from supporting their child, we’re going to fix it,” Dooley said.
Other reasons are more complicated: some have lost hope.
“The parent has given up, ‘no one believes in us,’ ‘we don’t have resources,’” Howell said. “A lot of them don’t have the education themselves. If you’ve never gone through the process, how can you support the process?”
During the school year, GPS offers after-school programs in math and reading.
“It caters to the need of every child,” Howell said. “Every child learns at their own pace; it’s not one-size-fits-all.”
There are also character development and mentoring programs.
“We get really personal with the kids. We find out what’s going on at home, what’s affecting them . . . why they’re not coming to school, why they’re skipping class,” he said. “We find out in these conversations with the kids that there are some underlying issues that are not being dealt with.”
This summer GPS wrapped up their Math and Literacy Enrichment Camp, where students got the opportunity to visit the Birmingham Zoo, baseball games, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and City Hall.
“I was told there were only two ways I could get out: dead or in jail,” said Howell, who is from Linden, said. “We have to break that stigma because we did it.”
“We want to give them a look, a presence of what success looks like,” Dooley said. “You’d be surprised at how many men they’ve never seen in a suit unless it’s to go to a court. Just the stigma of a suit was something we changed from a negative to a positive. That’s just one thing we have to overcome.”
College tours are also part of the program, he said.
“We have partnerships with all the colleges in Alabama and Tennessee, so we may occasionally take a student to a college tour,” Dooley said. “We don’t just keep it at Historically Black Colleges and Universities; we want them to know they can go wherever they want to go.”