Making the grade Featured

9:47am EDT July 22, 2002

Last year, Lubrizol Corp. decided to adopt an urban school district, with plans to dispatch volunteers to help students with subjects such as math and science, a seemingly good fit for the Wickliffe chemical company. Then it discovered a more pressing problem.

When Lubrizol Manager of Corporate Administration Le’Joyce Naylor contacted the Euclid City Schools to pitch the program, officials were thrilled, but mentioned where they really needed help was with improving the reading skills of several third-grade students.

Helping the children improve their skills was a necessity because of new proficiency tests on the horizon for fourth graders. Starting in January 2001, children who do not pass the fourth-grade proficiency test face the prospect of being held back a year. Naylor decided that helping borderline students become better readers would be the best way to focus the energy of Lubrizol’s volunteers.

“Reading is the foundation of everything,” explains Naylor. “If you are having difficulty with reading, odds are you’re going to have difficulty with every other subject. We felt it was important, if the Euclid Schools believed this was a gap, that we worked with them in partnership to fill that gap.”

During the 1998-1999 school year, 20 Lubrizol employees spent an hour a week tutoring third-graders at Upson Elementary School. Before their first visit to the school, volunteers were trained on how to tutor students, focusing on the techniques of Reading Recovery, a one-on-one adult to student teaching program that boats a 95 percent success rate.

Lubrizol paid the workers to donate company time each week and is doing so again this year, although there are now 32 employees taking part. Employees who tutored students last year are teamed with the same children this year and will continue to help them until the fourth-grade proficiency test is given in March.

Although the true results of the program won’t be seen until spring, school officials say the program has resulted in a lower absentee rate and an improved interest in school.

“We’re really looking at it as a process and really as a long-term commitment, because that’s the best way we feel we will be able to have some impact,” Naylor says.

Robert Smolinski, principal of Upson Elementary, believes the enthusiasm of the volunteers played a major role in the success of the tutoring program.

“Kids thrive on that one-on-one attention,” he says. “I think for the kids we picked out, it filled an immediate need, and you can see the reward the tutors get from this. I had an impression that someone coming from the business world would look at it as ‘OK, this is just another thing I have to do.’

“But they came in here so friendly. That was the thing I was so amazed with. They are great models for the kids.”

Lubrizol’s partnership with the Euclid City Schools was not the company’s first step into the realm of community giving. For the past decade, it has been involved in many charitable and educational programs.

The company has provided volunteers and financial support for Harvest for Hunger and the United Way. On the educational front, Lubrizol sponsors the “Science Teachers Award” in Lake County, and made grants available for classroom use among teachers who have demonstrated a commitment to science excellence.

“It’s just been part of our history,” Naylor says of Lubrizol’s community involvement. “It’s something our founders really emphasized and something we continue to feel is important to give back to the community. We are a Lake County company, but we still consider Euclid our fence-line neighbors, and that’s why we are working with them.”

How to reach: Lubrizol Corp., (440) 943-1200

Jim Vickers (jvickers@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN.