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Middle Tree to foster student success

A new Claremont endeavor was launched this summer, the nonprofit Middle Tree Academy, with the aim of making top-notch academic support and college preparation affordable for all students.

A number of students have just finished attending Middle Tree’s inaugural summer camp, held on the Pomona College campus. In many cases, their participation was supported by scholarships.

The camp featured two sessions of three weeks, with some students attending for all six weeks.

The focus for high school age students was on SAT and ACT preparation. The teens began their session by taking practice versions of the culminating exams. They then set out to address any areas of weakness with the help of Claremont resident Brandon Ecks, who teaches high school at the Public Safety Academy in San Bernardino.

La Verne resident Olivia Silva, who is going into 11th grade, plans to take the ACT in spring. Her mom was looking online for a test preparation program and happened upon Middle Tree Academy. It has, Olivia says, proven to be “reliable and very good.”

The prep test revealed something Olivia already suspected; she could use some work on math and science. She feels a lot better after her time at the Middle Tree Academy, and hopes to continue attending the academy when it begins regular tutoring sessions in the fall.

Olivia is pretty business-like about her goal of excelling on the ACT, because she has high hopes of attending a prestigious college. Still, like all teens, she’s relieved to find that her instructor isn’t a bore. “Mr. Ecks is a fun teacher,” she said.  

The middle school students spent their morning taking classes in speech and debate, followed by an intro to writing. The classes lasted 80 minutes to better approximate the college experience. After lunch, the kids gathered for an afternoon of creative problem solving.

When the COURIER stopped by Pomona College’s Carnegie Hall on Monday, the middle school kids were constructing trees representing three pressing problems: the drought, animal abuse and bullying. The efforts were overseen by Mr. Atman, with the help of volunteer Rachel Fagg.

The drought was represented via the bare branches of a tree made from wire hangers. Given that schools offer fertile ground for bullying, the students made their anti-bullying tree out of books of every size and ilk stacked and glued together.

The plan is for the kids to display the trees in various Claremont venues, spreading awareness of their chosen causes. They will also put out a collection box, soliciting donations for related charities.

“We’re not just tutoring. We’re building community,” Mr. Atman said. “Our mission is to be a center for social growth.”

Gabriel Buenfio, an eight grader at Townsend Junior High, has enjoyed his experience at the Middle Tree summer camp. “It’s nice, fun and helpful,” he said. “Before I came, I had problems with math and equations.”  

Savannah Arruda, 10, Day Creek Intermediate in Rancho, agreed that the most helpful aspect of the camp was working on math skills.  “But the most fun would be the speech and debate,” she said. “We get to do presentations. We had to choose a famous speech to study and I picked John F. Kennedy’s ‘We Choose to Go to the Moon’ speech.”

Middle Tree Academy is the brainchild of co-founder and CEO Joseph Atman, a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate University. He plans for the academy to target students with merit and creative ingenuity from all backgrounds.

“Claremont is the perfect location, because the people who can afford to pay for our program can help pay for the people who can’t,” Mr. Atman said.

In the fall, pending permit approval, the Academy will operate out of offices at 250 W. 1st St. Staff and volunteers won’t just provide homework help with homework, nor will they use a pre-prepared workbook created for general student remediation or acceleration.

They will be using a patented curriculum developed by Mr. Atman and Mr. Ecks—one they say is fluid and will adapt as needed, and which will encourage deep learning. 

“We’re trying to get you ahead,” Mr. Atman said. “We’re going to help a D-student have college potential. An A-student will become an A-plus-plus student.”

The Academy’s model for its year-round tutoring sessions will be an unusual one. Families will sign up for a membership, just as they would a gym. Students will come when they wish, with their attendance paying off in dividends.

It’s an ambitious plan, but it’s one that Mr. Atman has taken on with enthusiasm.

“I’m doing this because there’s a need and I’m an audacious person,” he said. “I think education is done improperly on the whole. There’s too much of a focus on tests and workbooks.

“In the normal education system, everybody is expected to learn things the same way, but we’re individuals,” he continued. “We want to flush out our students’ individuality and help them learn in individual ways.”

So far, that plan is going over well with Middle Tree’s target audience.

“It’s a great place,” Jade Sleiman, an 11-year-old El Roble student, said.

Thirteen -year-old Sarai Carline of Foothill Christian School, was similarly enthusiastic.

“My mom wanted me to get better at writing and found this program,” she said. “It’s super fun and has helped me a lot. I was stoked to come here.”

For more information on Middle Tree Academy, visit www.middletree.org.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

  • Sarai Carline, Jade Sleiman, Savanna Arruda, Bella Duarte and Gabriel Buenfil create a tree out of old books during the afternoon session of the Middle Tree Academy summer program at Pomona College.

    Sarai Carline, Jade Sleiman, Savanna Arruda, Bella Duarte and Ga...

  • Middle Tree Academy founder Joe Atman speaks with Rachel Fagg, who works a few different jobs at the academy, last Thursday during a break in the group’s summer program at Pomona College.

    Middle Tree Academy founder Joe Atman speaks with Rachel Fagg, w...

  • Khalish Thompson decorates a donation box for abused animals on Thursday during the afternoon session of the Middle Tree Academy’s summer program at Pomona College.

    Khalish Thompson decorates a donation box for abused animals on ...

  • Bella Duarte steadies a tree made of old books that students in the Middle Tree summer program created on Monday at Pomona College.

    Bella Duarte steadies a tree made of old books that students in ...

  • Giovani Garcia and Khalish Thompson decorate a donation box for abused animals on Thursday during the afternoon session of the Middle Tree Academy’s summer program at Pomona College.

    Giovani Garcia and Khalish Thompson decorate a donation box for ...