By Elizabeth Spagnoletti
Abreona Curtis needed a job. Despite having younger siblings, she felt no calling to work with elementary school students. She had no passion to become a published author. She was not actively searching for a community. Abreona just wanted to earn some money.
At Reach Incorporated, Abreona found the job, which means she spends her afterschool hours tutoring 2nd and 3rd graders at Payne Elementary. At Reach Incorporated, she authored a children’s book called Spanky the Pup. And, without meaning to, at Reach Incorporated, Abreona found a community of her peers and caring adults.
The Eastern Senior High School student is in her second year with the program. As a reading tutor, staff members at Reach describe Abreona’s style as “straightforward” and “not typical,” which actually enhances Abreona’s impact as a role model for younger students. Abreona acknowledges her struggles with tutoring certain students in the past and credits Reach staff with supporting her. “They taught me how to hold my temper when [a student] wasn’t listening,” she says, then notes, “I have a student this year who’s a much better listener.”
Inside and outside the classroom, Abreona is known to Reach staff as being mature, self-aware, and thoughtful. In turn, Abreona describes the staff as “calm” and “chill,” observing that their own tempers never flare in front of students. In fact, one of Abreona’s favorite memories at Reach was from a training session. When a staff member caught Abreona and a group of her peers paying too much attention to their phones, he placed them carefully in the center of the table with the volume turned up so they could hear every missed text message and notification.
Abreona trusts and genuinely likes the staff at Reach, so even this disciplinary measure she remembers fondly. It made her laugh, and it got the point across. The importance of the relationships and trust between Abreona and the staff is obvious. Abreona does not reach out to staff when she is in need; they always reach out to her first. For this, she is very grateful. “They’re always there,” Abreona says.
Before joining Reach, college was not one of Abreona’s goals. “High school is so much work,” she says, “and I knew college was just going to be even harder.” As a result of Reach’s Summer Leadership Academy, Abreona’s goal now is to attend a college like Morgan State University, which they visited in 2016. After college, Abreona hopes to open her own dance studio. She thinks college is the best path to pursuing this dream so she can learn how to run a business properly.
Abreona is not only focused on her own future. She believes in the future of Reach. As the organization grows, she believes the aspect that should never change isn’t one that can be written into the curriculum. It’s the relationships. “It takes time to get to know people, so they need to make sure to always put in the effort to get to know the kids.”
The impact of the value Reach places on relationship-building is clear. Of Reach’s program associate, Kim Davis, Abreona simply says, “I wish she were my sister.”