When Omar failed the first grade and saw his friends move on, it became important to not only teach him the necessary information he needed to pass but to also not let him feel defeated.
“My biggest thing was to build confidence,” Phillips Murrah Associate Attorney Dominic Williams said. “I wanted him to feel good. I wanted him to feel like, ‘It doesn’t matter that I failed—I’m failing forward. I’m going to do something better because of this.’ ”
Dominic has been working with Omar through CityCare’s Whiz Kids program every Thursday for the past two school years.
“I know that passing the bar is not the sum of my own knowledge but rather people helping me along the way, so I need to give back. If I become a lawyer or if I become professional, that is not the end of the story. I cannot be focused on me.” – Dominic Williams
Whiz Kids is a one-on-one volunteer tutoring and mentoring program for elementary school students, targeting inner-city schools and students who are reading below grade level.
“I wanted to give my time and really give back because a lot of people didn’t have the same opportunities that I might have had,” Dominic said. “I want to present them with a different world.”
Tutors work in pairs to pick up their Whiz Kids from their homes and drive to a designated church to work with them on their problem areas. Whiz Kids is a faith-based program where kids are given lunch and bible study before working with their tutors for about an hour and a half.
“They bring their homework, their spelling words and their vocabulary words for the week,” he said. “We also work with them on reading. Usually, reading is their toughest, especially for Omar who comes from a Spanish-speaking household. We really work on trying to get him on track with English words and application of English translation.”
The one-on-one interaction Whiz Kids have with their mentors has a double benefit, allowing them to focus on the areas they need to improve while building a trusting relationship.
“It’s great to have someone to talk to the kids, because all they really want is attention,” Dominic said. “I talk to him about everything. He told me he was struggling with bullying. I gave him some advice and had an opportunity to meet the other kid with the teacher present and told him the importance of taking care of everyone and making sure you’re not singling out anyone because that wouldn’t feel good for you. And, as simple as that is, it actually helped out and they are best friends now.”
Thanks to the strides he has made, Omar will move on to the third grade in the coming school year.
“He has made significant changes in his reading, math and speech fluency testing scores,” Dominic said. “He is no longer considered to be academically at-risk.”
Those interested in volunteering or learning more about the Whiz Kids program can visit whizkidsok.org.
“The important to remember is that kids often need your help, they just don’t say it,” Dominic said. “Being focused on others is probably the most important thing anyone can be charged with.”