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Business Rose from Founders' Experiences

Ohanian Comment: The newspaper subtitle says "2 area men on a mission to aid education run a tutoring service using No Child Left Behind. Well, I certainly wouldn't cast aspersions on their motives. But their methods are shoddy.

You can go to the FastForward website and get a look at the wrongheaded notion of reading. Here's one assertion:

Competence Precedes Confidence! Students first learn 100% of the phonemic and phonic skills, as well as the sight words they need to experience success every day.


If that doesn't turn your stomach, what would it take?

Mr. Fields is a man on the move:


Jason Green, 26, and Matthew Mugo Fields, 27 - former fraternity brothers at Morehouse College in Atlanta - may be running one of the largest after-school tutoring programs in the country under federal No Child Left Behind funding.

It's the culmination of long-held dreams.

Fields attended the Abington School District, where he said he was one of very few African Americans on the honors track. Many of his friends either dropped out or graduated without skills, he said.

Green, from Yeadon, attended Friends' Central, a private school in Wynnewood.

Both have friends who wound up unemployed or in jail.

"We've been obsessed by what separated us [from our peers], and we want to change the institution so that [success] doesn't happen randomly," Fields said. "We want to build into the institution the things that helped us."

After graduating from Morehouse, they founded a business that worked after school with middle and high school students on motivation and study skills. Then both pursued graduate degrees that combined a master's in business administration with a master's in educational leadership. Fields went to Harvard, Green to Penn.

"In graduate school we structured our studies around high-performing, high-poverty schools. We learned there were pockets of schools . . . where poor minority youth were learning at high levels. We decided, let's find out what's going on, and we found out that they all centered on adults having high expectations," Green said.

They set out to run charter schools - and won a "social entrepreneurship" award from Harvard Business School for their proposal. They launched Best (Building Excellent Schools Together) in April 2002. But, seeing the opportunity in No Child Left Behind, they switched business plans to focus on tutoring.

Earnest, impassioned and ambitious, Fields and Green tirelessly drummed up business last winter, going to Home and School meetings, visiting community groups, setting up tables at supermarkets, even attending SEPTA fare hearings.

"We went anywhere we were likely to encounter parents," Green said. "We told them that they could now have a greater say in how their child receives an education. We marketed it as a civil-rights campaign."

They chose a curriculum called Fast Forward from Metropolitan Teaching & Learning, a large African American publisher of educational materials.

The program combines a heavy emphasis on skills and phonics with material that Green described as "culturally appropriate" for urban children. The stories feature characters who are mostly black and Hispanic and themes such as the Underground Railroad.

They hired 180 teachers to tutor 900 students, working out of 10 schools around the city. Armita Sims, a former principal and central office administrator, helped them find teachers.

Tutoring was for three hours, three days a week between May 13 and June 17. Now on the approved list in New Jersey, they expect to be busier next year.

One June afternoon at Waring Elementary School in Philadelphia's Spring Garden section, five second and third graders sounded out the "wh" sound while identifying objects that start with those letters. A few classrooms away, fourth and fifth graders discussed Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott.

Green and Fields are up front about the good fortune presented by No Child Left Behind.

"We organized a whole company around this market, and it's not by accident," Fields said. "We come from these neighborhoods and want to give back - and it's also a compelling business opportunity."

Contact staff writer Dale Mezzacappa at 215-854-5112 or dmezzacappa@phillynews.com.

— Dale Mezzacappa
Philadelphia Inquirer


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