School can be a struggle for many students. Finding yourself or your child unable to engage in the classroom can lead to issues later in their academic career – such as graduating from high school. As the CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, Karim Abouelnaga, has made it his goal to make sure students achieve success at all stages of their early academic pursuits. We sat down with Karim to learn more about Practice Makes Perfect, his background, and advice on mentors.
What is your background and what led you to this point?
I had 60 absences in 7th grade alone because I wasn't engaged in school. By virtue of growing up in a low-income neighborhood you wind up going through some of New York City’s most struggling public schools. My high school had a 55% graduation rate at the time I was there. During my junior year of high school, I became involved with a nonprofit called Rewarding Achievement (REACH), which paid students for excelling on Advanced Placement (AP) exams. My sophomore year of high school I took my first AP class and despite averaging an A in the class all year, I scored a 1 out of 5 on the exam (AP scores are out of 5 and a 1 is the lowest possible score and 3 and above is proficient or passing). I quickly ruled any additional AP classes out of my future until I heard about REACH. They offered to pay students up to $1,000 for passing AP exams. I quickly reconsidered not taking any AP courses and passed five AP exams by the time I was graduating. In the process of participating in REACH, I met other ambitious students and found role models who looked like me. Their stories and experiences led me to believe that I could use education as a way to alleviate my family from poverty. REACH’s motto was pay it forward. In 2011, I started Practice Makes Perfect (PMP) to do just that. My goal was to increase engagement and build academic skills for the younger students while providing college prep and leadership support for high achieving students.
Practice Makes Perfect celebrated four years in business this December. The organization has changed the lives of 550 children in New York City and Washington, D.C. thus far.
What does National Mentoring Month mean for you?
January is an opportunity for me to recognize the handful of mentors I have had since high school. They were individuals that took an interest in my development for one of two reasons: they had mentors themselves and know how invaluable the guidance was they received, or they didn’t have mentors and want to make the path for the people coming behind them a little bit easier. National Mentoring Month is a reminder of the responsibility we are all capable of assuming of making the road we traveled just a little bit easier for the people coming behind us. Not only is it an opportunity for me to recognize and appreciate my mentors, but I can also continue to provide support and guidance to my mentees.
How is your business revolutionizing summer education?
The traditional summer education model is broken. We take the kids who are struggling most throughout the year or the ones who fall furthest behind from a handful of classes in a school and then stick them in one class. We pay a teacher who volunteers time and half to get her to commit to working an additional two months and focus strictly on test prep. There are several problems going on there. First, teaching is hard and teachers are tired after 10 months of work with an average class – imagine an entire class of struggling learners. Secondly, the students didn’t enjoy or struggled to learn with the teaching structure throughout the school year, what makes you think that doing the same thing in the summer is going to drive results?
Practice Makes Perfect re imagines the entire classroom. We focus on kids who are academically struggling, but are open to all low-income youth who are susceptible to the summer slide during the vacation months. We pair our students with high achieving mentors who live in their same inner-city neighborhoods because they can empathize to the adversity that they facing. We then put them under the supervision of college students who are aspiring teachers, and expert teachers who act as coaches. There are 20 students in a class, 5 mentors, 1 college student and 1 teacher that splits their time between two classes. The mentors are only 4 years older than the students, so they can relate to them better. The college students act as role models and friends to the mentors and the teachers avoid burning out and instead improve their craft by acting as coaches for future teachers.
How important is mentoring for entrepreneurs and business owners?
Why reinvent the wheel? Every time I meet a business owner or an entrepreneur who does not have a mentor I ask them that very question. Yes, some businesses are very different in what they do and provide. However, there is a lot of overlap. Hiring, firing, evaluating, marketing, creating budgets, managing people – those are all areas where a mentor can be super helpful without having full context or experience doing exactly what you do. Having a mentor means not seeing and doing many of those critical things by yourself for the first time. The difference between having and not having a mentor in many cases can be the difference between success and failure.
What is the Practice Makes Perfect program?
The Practice Makes Perfect program is a summer program that helps students build confidence and enjoy learning. We teach kids to trust adults when it comes to learning. This summer one of our mentors had her mentee come to school crying. The mentee felt comfortable enough to share the problems she was having at home, allowing her to be heard and then refocus her attention on her academics.
Practice Makes Perfect is a comprehensive summer education program with a proven “near-peer” model to support students from kindergarten through college matriculation. Our programs pair skills development for younger students with leadership development, career training and college prep for older students. Through a unique multi-relational approach, Practice Makes Perfect strategically matches academically struggling elementary and middle school students with older, higher achieving mentor peers from the same inner-city neighborhoods. Trained college interns and certiﬁed teachers supervise the “near-peer” relationship for a ﬁve-week, full-day academic experience.
What advice would you give for choosing a mentor?
When you are ready to choose a mentor, remember that finding someone who has the time and capacity to mentor is just as important, if not more important, than finding a mentor that was successful in running their business. As you search, look for someone who you think would make a great teacher and not just someone you would aspire to be like. In business they say that not all good sales people will make great sales managers, the same is true of entrepreneurs. Not all entrepreneurs will make great mentors/teachers. Find the ones that you think will be better teachers and then filter them for experience and success.