Huntington West Virginia's Ritter Park fountain

Central City Students Have New Opportunity for Success

With the new year comes a new opportunity for academic success for students at Central City Elementary School.

Mike Fotos, of Huntington, recently established the Central City Elementary School Academic Program, an endowment fund at Foundation for the Tri-State that provides tutoring and other academic support to first-, second- and third-graders at Central City Elementary. Students began receiving tutoring through the program in January 2017.

For Fotos, the program isn’t just about helping students with math and reading. It’s about helping them find jobs.

“When I first started working, a person could get a job as long as he had the skill,” said Fotos, a retired superintendent with Appalachian Power. “Workers didn’t necessarily have to know how to read or write. Today, the jobs just aren’t there for kids who have poor reading skills or poor math skills.”

Fotos first became involved at Central City Elementary through his church, Fifth Avenue Baptist, which led a program at the school called Blessings in a Backpack. Fotos regularly visited Central City to help fill backpacks with food so that children in need would have something to eat over the weekend. When his own health issues in 2011 prevented him from continuing to fill the backpacks, he began looking for other ways to volunteer.

“One of the second-grade teachers, Mrs. Wolfe, said to me, ‘Why don’t you come help students during my math class?’” Fotos said. “I’ve always liked math, and I enjoy being around the kids. Of course I agreed to help.”

Fotos visited Central City Elementary two days a week for the next four years, providing in-class assistance to math students, and soon found himself coordinating a summer tutoring program for students in need of additional help. He was especially concerned with helping second-graders learn to read and write at grade level, he said.

“The second grade seemed to be a critical period, especially for reading and writing,” he said. “There were kids with very high potential who were falling behind, and they just needed a little extra help to get caught up.”

In 2016, Fotos and his wife Jane worked with Foundation for the Tri-State to establish an endowment fund that would support his tutoring program and other academic activities at Central City for generations to come. A selection committee comprising teachers, the school principal and the Foundation staff manages the hiring of tutors, the selection of students and the distribution of funds.

“With the Foundation, we don’t have to worry about choosing the right students, coordinating things with the tutors or making sure the money is there, because all of that has been taken care of,” said Jane Fotos, a retired nursing professor. “It’s nice to know this will continue long after we’re gone. It’s not going to slip through the cracks.”

Mike Fotos said eventually he hopes the program will provide support beyond tutoring, including funding for field trips and other academic enrichment activities. For now, he’s starting small—literally—with the school’s youngest students.

“When you volunteer somewhere, you really start to see what the needs are,” he said. “People might think, ‘If you want to support education, why not focus on a university?’ These kids aren’t going to make it to a university if they don’t learn to read and write.”

For more information about the Central City Elementary School Academic Program or to contribute to the fund, call Foundation for the Tri-State at 606-324-3888 or 304-942-0048.

Date published: January 23, 2017