By ASHLEY ANDERSON
Moshe Ohayon was raised to place a high value on education. After moving to the U.S. from Israel when he was 8, he committed himself to his schoolwork. Eventually, he earned admission to the Ivy League college Columbia University, which left him feeling he’d made it in the academic world. But Ohayon soon discovered he suffered from foundational gaps in his learning – the same gaps he later witnessed in students he tutored at a community center in downtown Louisville.
After opening the Louisville Tutoring Agency in 2005, Ohayon became all too aware of the educational disparity existing between privileged and poor children, many whom he worked with at the community center. “Everybody knows that there’s educational inequity in this country,” Ohayon said. “They’re aware of it. But you don’t really know (until) it’s thrust in your face, you realize the extent of the problem. And for me I was living it every week.
“It bothered me enough that I just decided, okay, well, I could do something about it. I didn’t want to start a nonprofit initially, I just wanted to do a small project. And so I called the project Educational Justice.”
Beginning in 2010 with an initiative called EJ Scholars, Educational Justice sought out high-achieving, low-income high school students who received good grades but lacked some basic learning skills. “We call these students mis-matches,” Ohayon said. “They’ll have a 3.7 GPA, (or) a 3.9, a really great GPA, but then when they take the ACT, they have a very low score, and so something there is missing.”
Ohayon invited these students to the Louisville Tutoring Agency, immersing them with kids from more privileged families and offering, at no cost, the same high-quality professional tutoring, standardized test preparation and college advising. “We really choose students who are very motivated, they just wish they had the resources,” he explained.
Now in its third year, EJ Scholars has produced several promising young adults who’ve gone on to excel at highly-competitive colleges. One student in particular experienced a 10-point jump in her ACT score through EJ Scholars. She’s now top of her class in AP Calculus, after completing precalculus over the summer with Ohayon.
Following EJ Scholars’ success, Ohayon saw impressive growth in his “small project.” He began reaching out to younger students, fostering a boost in math scores at Noe Middle School and conducting a test prep program at the West End School. “After all of these programs, we obviously grew much more than we expected,” Ohayon said. “What was originally supposed to be just a small project, like a little side project, became a small nonprofit. We became a 501 (c)(3) and we have a volunteer staff of five or six that meet here regularly.”
In 2011, alone, Educational Justice provided more than 4,000 hours of free services to students in Jefferson County. The incredible growth wasn’t without difficulty, however, as Educational Justice found itself spread too thin. But, Ohayon came across a potential solution while working with students at the Louisville Tutoring Agency on college application essays. “Many of those students could not only be great tutors, they’re younger, which means that younger students below them would actually connect better,” Ohayon realized. Thus, EJ Mentors was born. Much like an Honors Society, EJ Mentors is an invitation-only after-school program for upperclassmen that requires a minimum GPA, placement in at least one advanced or AP course and a record of outstanding citizenship, among other attributes. Mentors are assigned to an area middle school to assist on a weekly basis children who’ve demonstrated financial need.
“We hope that this new program, this EJ Mentors, helps to really enlarge our efforts,” said Ohayon. “They really end up making us 100 times larger.” The pilot program launched in 2013 at Central, Seneca, Manual and Brown high schools and Myers, Brown and Noe middle schools, as well as Urban League.
While expanding its number of tutors, Educational Justice also faced a need to grow financially. To help raise money for the non-profit, one week before the April 13 ACT test, the Louisville Tutoring Agency will hold its premier ACT Crash Course series taught by Ohayon. The series will include four separate lectures, each offering a novel approach for tackling the ACT, along with highly effective strategies and tips for boosting your ACT score. Ohayon published several of his test-taking techniques recently in the book “The ACT for Bad Test Takers,” available on Amazon.com.
The ACT crash course will be held April 8 through 11 at Metro United Way, 334 E. Broadway, and is free to anyone who makes a tax-deductible donation of $50 to Educational Justice. The $50 donation will grant a seat at one of the four classes; $150 affords admission to all four lectures. Students on scholarship at Educational Justice will also be allowed to attend.
In addition to the ACT fundraiser, Educational Justice won a micro-grant at the Louisville charity event Possoupbility in January. “It was really great for us because we’re so small, it’s called a micro-grant, but it was $1,350,” Ohayon said with pride. “If you think about large non-profits it’s nothing, but for us it was huge. It really felt like winning the Powerball.”
While Ohayon and his staff continue to volunteer their time outside of their full-time occupations, they see no reason to slow down the progress Educational Justice has made thus far. In fact, with EJ Mentors in place, Ohayon sees room for even more development and a chance to teach the rest of the world the importance of education, just like Ohayon’s parents taught him as a young kid. “As far as long-term goals, we would love to see EJ mentors, this new program, I think that it should be something that’s implemented state-wide, if not regionally,” Ohayon said. “I really feel like it’s something that once we get it to work and people actually see how it works, it becomes cookie-cutter and it can be implemented in schools everywhere.”
For more information on Educational Justice, visit www.Educationaljustice.org. To learn more about the ACT test prep, visit www.educationaljustice.org/educational_justice/About_Us_2.html.
Contact writer Ashley Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 502.498.2051.