FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Not too long ago, when Michael Towson was given a reading assignment in school, the 11-year-old would become frustrated.

"I got angry because I couldn't figure out the questions," said Michael, a fifth-grader at Seven Oaks Elementary School.

But with the help of a tutor in Fort Meade's Saturday Scholars program, Cryptologic Technician Networks 1st Class Christopher McGowan of the Naval Information Operations Command Maryland, Michael's reading comprehension has improved.

"I've been doing better and better with him," he said.

Michael was one of more than 40 students to graduate Saturday from the fall session of the Saturday Scholars program.

The ceremony was held in the gymnasium of School Age Services at 1900 Reece Road.

Students and their tutors -- more than 40 Sailors from NIOC Maryland -- each received a Fort George G. Meade Military Community Award for Excellence certificate from Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein and Master Chief John Drenning, command master chief of NIOC Maryland.

"This is a huge day. ...," said Sarah Bonise, Fort Meade's school liaison officer. "The most important ingredient of the Saturday Scholars program is the relationship between the student and the tutor."

The 7-year-old program, which was started by former School Liaison Officer Linda Redwine-Bell with a Sailor, matches third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from Fort Meade feeder schools with volunteer service members.

Recruited from all the military branches, the service members lead students in character-building exercises and provide tutoring in math and reading comprehension.

Saturday Scholars is a free program, held in two six-week sessions in the fall and in the spring. Each session is held on a Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the School Age Services.

In addition to academics, children participate in recreational activities such as basketball and jump rope.

In her remarks, Bonise said the relationship between students and tutors fosters "curiosity as well as academic skills."

The program's goal is to create "self-confident learners" who move toward "success and achievement," she said.

Rothstein called the children "VIPs." He said it is an important experience for tutors when they see change and progress in a child.

Drenning emphasized NIOC's commitment to community service.

"There's more to being a Sailor [at Fort Meade] than just mission," he said. "It's important to give back to the community."

The graduation began with the posting of the colors by the NIOC Color Guard and the singing of the National Anthem and "God Bless America" by the NIOC choir.

Marcus Allen, a technology lab program associate, showed a slide presentation of students and tutors working and having fun.

Two NIOC military liaisons gave brief remarks. One also read the poem "One Hundred Years From Now" by Forest Witcraft.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Brittany Bean of NIOC has been a tutor in the program for several semesters.

"I like to give back," Bean said. "I like to help with the children."

Tech Sgt. Brandy Turner, a broadcast instructor at the Defense Information School whose 8-year-old daughter Kayani graduated from the program, said she is pleased with the youngster's progress.

"I have seen a definite improvement," Turner said, noting that Kayani, a third-grader at Manor View Elementary School, is dyslexic.

As a result of the tutoring, Kayani's scores on her school's reading accuracy tests improved from 16 percent to 70 percent, said Turner.

"As a single mother in the military, it's hard to get her help outside of resources here," Turner said. "I'm really grateful to have this program."