Echoing Green Fellow: Reach Incorporated Puts Education Within Reach For Struggling Students

It goes without saying that innovative solutions to the deep-seated problems surrounding literacy and education in the United States are at a premium.

Reach Incorporated may have one of those ground-breaking solutions. Mark Hecker, a Washington, D.C. social worker, former teacher, and the founder of Reach, is putting his idea to the test, “flipping the script” as he says, on traditional literacy programs.

We’ve all heard of star students tutoring struggling schoolmates — tried and true and certainly effective. But tried and true is not what Hecker is after. His goal is to attack the literacy problem from all angles. And here’s how he does it: Reach Incorporated hires struggling high school students to tutor second and third graders in Washington’s elementary schools. And although it may seem counterintuitive, the early results are promising.

Hecker, a 2011 Echoing Green Fellow, launched his program at D.C.’s Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in September and served 40 students this school year.

He described his organization’s impact by telling this story:

Reach works by bringing together teens like DaJohn who when we met him was among the 87% of D.C. public school students who enter 9th grade reading below grade level, with students like Willie, a rambunctious 2nd grader with a penchant for driving teachers nuts.

Each week, DaJohn spends 2 days training and 2 days tutoring Willie, fortifying his own academic skills through the teaching process. At the same time, Willie is learning to love reading, returning from Winter Break with this Curious George book, and begging me to let him read it with his tutor.

In only six months, DaJohn’s D’s have become B’s and through his skilled teaching, Willie’s fluency and comprehension skills have improved dramatically.

Reach’s creative approach to skills-building not only involves having teachers train the high school students and guide them in preparing lesson plans — a win-win for both the tutors and their students — it gives the tutors addtional self-confidence and feelings of self-worth because they get paid for their work. 

The idea grew out of Hecker’s experience working with at risk youth. As a social worker he witnessed the barriers his clients were up against because they lacked high-quality educations. He found that despite the personal progress he made with them, they were spit back into a system that had already written them off.

As Hecker says in his Echoing Green Fellowship biography: “Watching my clients become defeated by this negativity, I knew we needed a system in which all young people are not condemned based on past performance, but held to the same level of expectation as everyone else.”

Reach Incorporated aims to do just that. Hecker’s innovative approach empowers students – tutors and their charges alike. It levels the playing field, and gives them ownership of their learning – after all, isn’t that what educational opportunity is all about?

Related Reading:

Echoing Green Fellow: Equal Opportunity Education 

Echoing Green Finalist: Sanergy Seeks To Solve The World’s Sanitation Crisis 

Meet The Newest Social Innovators: Echoing Green Annouces Its 2011 Fellows [VIDEO]

Photo courtesy of Liz ( via Flickr


Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers7 years ago


Hege Torset
Hege Torset7 years ago


Tiffany L.
Tiffany L7 years ago

thank you

Carole Cherne
Carole Cherne7 years ago

The elementary schools I work in have struggling 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students tutoring students 2-3 grades below them, and we see great changes in self-awareness, confidence and reading ability.

Park Chung
Park Chung7 years ago

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Valerie G.
Val G7 years ago

Agree with Abbe A. and Arielle Black-Foley...
Thank you Suki for sharing this!

May Howie
may Howie7 years ago


Lindsey Williams
Lindsey Williams7 years ago

thank you.

Arielle Black-Foley

This is a sustainable solution- and, it seems to benefit everyone involved! It's incredible that Mark Hecker was able to eliminate a lot of the stigma experienced by at risk youth and empower them through helping others. This brightened my day!

Abbe A.
Azaima A7 years ago

What a great idea, building someone's self esteem, allowing them to help themselves by helping others. I love this thinking outside the box. Gives me hope.