SOUTH-CENTRAL : Youths' Skills SOAR in Tutorial Program

With the ease of a video game veteran, Thurman Williams' eyes dart back and forth between the screen and hand controls, as he struggles to beat the clock.

Like most teen-agers, Thurman's attention has been captured by video games. But rather than spending hours at an arcade, he is one of about 65 students receiving help with math, science and business skills in the SOAR Youth Empowerment program, which uses computer games to help kids learn.

"It's fun and you can do any kind of math problem you want from addition to multiplication to anything," said Thurman, 14, an eighth-grader at an Inglewood private school who was working on his math skills at the small tutoring and counseling center at 1328 W. Manchester Ave. "Besides, if I went to get help at school I'd have to pay for it. Here it's free."

Sitting at one of four computers, Thurman is concentrating on "Moon Flight," a math tutoring program that challenges students to solve addition and subtraction problems in seconds. Each correct answer helps boost a video rocket into space. Students must master the problems and launch the rocket before they can advance to the next game.

Established last fall with a $43,000 grant from the United Way, the program focuses on providing free one-on-one tutoring and mentoring to students ages 11 to 14 who face academic problems. Staffed by four paid coordinators and a corps of about 20 volunteers, students meet three times weekly with tutors, who monitor each youth's academic performance.

Students rotate through the center, moving from computers to one-on-one reading labs to small groups where quotes from historical figures such as Frederick Douglass are discussed.

"Sometimes it's hard to come here and work when I see people playing basketball outside," said Cal Von Roberson, 11. "But I stay because I've realized that if I keep going this way, I can grow up to be something successful."

The program has recently expanded to include a small entrepreneurial program that is aimed at helping students apply math and language skills to everyday life. Earlier this year, students designed T-shirts depicting problems of homelessness and crime in the area and urging residents to "heal our neighborhood." They developed marketing strategies for the venture, including targeting local businesses and parents as potential clients, and sales have topped $2,300.

Information: (213) 778-9593.

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