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WAVE Program Makes a Ripple in Education

Rosemary Mudry 06 tutors a student from Eastwood Elementary School through WAVE, a summer program founded in the 1970s by Oberlin Professor Booker Peek.

“Can we do it without you showing us?” asks Cyra Roberts, proving her newfound mastery over the spelling of Mississippi. A first-grader at Eastwood Elementary School, Roberts is being tutored by College junior Rosemary Mudry, a student worker in WAVE, a summer program designed to give Oberlin school children a head start on the coming year.

African American Studies Professor Booker Peek founded WAVE (Words Are Very Empowering) 35 years ago because he saw a need for supplemental K through 12 instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics. Morning sessions in the King Building are geared to young children, who meet in small groups to practice simple sentences and math problems. Afternoons serve as drop-in tutoring sessions for high school students.

“Obviously these kids would rather be outside playing, but Booker has a way with them. He makes sure they learn,” says Wendell Logan, chair of the Department of Jazz Studies and professor of African American music. His granddaughter, Kawren, a fourth-grader at Prospect Elementary School, has been a WAVE participant for five years.

Oberlin Professor Booker Peek,
founder of WAVE.

I was troubled by the fact that a disproportionate number of black students did not excel in school, even though I had every reason to believe that a lot of them were capable,” says Peek. “I saw firsthand that it was black students who had the farthest distance to cover, though some were performing quite splendidly. I surely knew that all healthy children, including black children, had the inherent ability at birth to do ‘A’ work in school. Some students just need a lot more structure and intervention.”

Upon his arrival in Oberlin in 1970, Peek formed what would become the predecessor to WAVE—the Good Academic Program, or GAP, which allowed Oberlin’s at-risk high school students to study at the College. Today, WAVE provides academic help to 100 children each summer. The program receives $4,000 from the College’s Center for Service and Learning, which also provides slots for tutors through the community work-study program. WAVE has use of the College’s classrooms, and it benefits from additional financial contributions from faculty members and friends.

“Our goal is to get the students learning all the time,” says two-year tutor Reggie Patterson ’05. “I find it really rewarding. Every time I leave the program and walk around town, I see all these kids who say, ‘Hi, Mr. Reggie!’ They see that they have the opportunity to come to Oberlin—or to attend any college.”

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