Leading & Learning

When 17-year-old Kofo Akanbi applied for an eight-hour-a-week gig at a Southeast Arlington learning center, and was hired a few weeks later, she didn’t realize it would chart the course of her future.

“It helped me path my future in college,” she says of her job at Kumon by the Sea. “Now, I’m thinking of going into Human Development and Humanities studies.”

Behind an unassuming storefront, the after-school math and reading program bustles as Akanbi interacts with children while grading papers and helping with homework. She’s among about a dozen young employees who perform various tasks at the Center, including interpreting.

Ashley Lawson, who Kumon by the Sea founder Alysia Sims describes as her “mini me,” is among several UTA students who also work at the Center.  In turn, the youth learn valuable career skills, Sims says, adding that she recently wrote a college recommendation letter for Akanbi.

“I didn’t know that part of my franchising was going to be mentoring,” Sims says. “I really like that.”

Sims, who opened the Center last year, explained that the name of her business was sort of a play on words with Southeast Arlington and the ocean. A few years ago, she’d moved to Texas from California where she had home-schooled her children and where her parents were educators involved with charter schools.

“I guess [education is] just kind of in my blood,” she says. “As a home-school mom, it kind of gets in your blood, too.”

Pausing occasionally to interact with the children, Sims explains how the Kumon program, which initially began 60 years ago in Japan, seeks to encourage independent learning.

“It’s really set up so students aren’t non-stop asking questions,” she says. “Everybody can relate to pencil, paper [and] your brain. There’s no technology. It works.”

Sims says the method appealed to her as a home-school mom, because it’s designed to accommodate children individually at different learning stages.

“The goal of Kumon is to get them ahead of [their] grade level,” she says. “If they’re struggling, we just do it again. We don’t move on until they get it.”

Sims notes that reading skills are especially important because with the rise of technology, reading doesn’t seem to be practiced as much in today’s culture.

Currently, about 100 children attend Kumon by the Sea after school on Mondays and Thursdays.

“Our Center grew so quickly,” says 24-year-old Madeline Henry, who works as an ambassador for Kumon by the Sea. Henry handles the library books and checks the children in and out of the Center, among other things.

“A lot of my job has to do with talking with parents and future enrollees,” she says, noting that she enjoys the fun, hopeful atmosphere.

“We have so much diversity,” she continues. “We have kids that are struggling, kids that are really ahead. But either way, we all just come together, try to get them to be better people and get a head start in life.”

Akanbi says she views the part-time job as “a blessing” whose many benefits include her co-workers.