Tag Archives: Education

Schools strive to overcome digital dilemma

food distribution

Tensions abound in much of the world as medical professionals struggle to contain the novel coronavirus, governments look to get the economy back on track and families contemplate how they will navigate the “new normal.”

For the millions of educators responsible for nurturing new generations of Americans, the past few months have whipped up a whirlwind of decisions, from creating crash courses in distance learning to finding new ways to feed students and tend to their mental health. Along the way, this period has painfully exposed the digital divide that deprives young people in underserved communities of the opportunities to learn in the modern age.

Moreover, just as this coronavirus, called COVID-19, continues to slash corporate revenues and wreck the bottom lines of workers, the pandemic is also threatening academic budgets and posing a big question mark for the future: Will students be able to return to classrooms this fall?

Coronavirus-related school closures have disrupted more than 1.5 billion students and 63 million teachers worldwide, according to UNESCO’s Teacher Task Force. In the United States, 118,251 out of 123,952 schools in 48 states; Washington, D.C.; and the five U.S. territories closed their doors and moved to distance learning, affecting nearly 58 million K-12 students, according to MCH Strategic Data.

Kimberly M. Carter headshot

Kimberly M. Carter Superintendent, Battle Creek Public Schools

“It’s a high-stress time right now because you have to make sure all children learn,” said Kimberly Carter, superintendent of Battle Creek Public Schools in Michigan.

“How do we mitigate the impact of poverty, the impact of race, the impact of trauma and a host of other issues, to ensure students have equitable opportunities to learn? Failure is not an option. These are children’s lives we’re talking about.”

The digital dilemma

While some school districts were well-positioned to launch into distance-only learning, many—particularly those in rural or impoverished communities—were not.

David James, superintendent of the Akron Public Schools in Ohio, thought shifting to distance learning would be more of a struggle. Long before the coronavirus, the school district dubbed itself APS Connected Learning.

“We gave teachers a week to flip to Google Classroom assignments,” James said. “The one thing we had going for us is that several years ago, we went one-to-one with technology and provided all our students with Chromebooks they could use daily.”

Before the shutdown, Akron’s elementary schoolchildren didn’t take the laptops home. However, all 21,000 students were able to do so when the district closed schools. Although far from perfect, James is relatively pleased with the results.

“We’ve had about 44 percent of students really engaging, another 40 percent engaging on and off and another 15 percent struggling with internet access,” he said. For those students, Akron leased mobile hotspots to provide ad hoc wireless connectivity.

Yet, each school district’s experience has been different.

In Battle Creek, “We had to literally scramble, really try to figure out how to disrupt the digital divide that is present in our school district,” Carter said. “The majority of our population are considered economically disadvantaged. They need access to basics—such as food, clothing and shelter—let alone digital access.”

Battle Creek distributed each of its Chromebooks, then used its small surplus of funds to procure additional devices.

Student and teacher work on math problems

Detroit Children’s Center student working with a teacher on homework March 14. This individual attention is more difficult to come by with distance learning, now. Photo by Charlotte Smith

“We have families that range from no device in the home to one device in the home but multiple children,” Carter said.

The school system distributed 1,800 devices to those who could pick them up. However, because access to transportation is a problem, the district worked with Communities in Schools—a national organization that helps schools empower at-risk students—to distribute more. The goal was to ensure each of the 2,500 households in the Battle Creek district had one device.

“But how do you expect someone with four children to keep their kids connected and engaged?” Carter asked. “We have to increase the number of devices. We need to be prepared to go one-to-one. No child should be missing out on the opportunity to have a virtual learning experience.”

Alycia Meriweather headshot

Alycia Meriweather Deputy Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District

However, giving students devices without connecting them to the internet doesn’t solve the problem, said Alycia Meriweather, deputy superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD).

Although Battle Creek has purchased and distributed 300 mobile hotspots, Carter said, about 1,000 families still lack internet access.

In Detroit, Meriweather said 85% to 90% percent of public school students lack “educationally adequate devices or internet at home,” and 78 percent of the slightly more than 600,000 Detroit residents access the internet through their phones.

“A cellphone is not the ideal educational device,” Meriweather said.

Before the pandemic, the Detroit district was working to get one-to-one technology use for students during their school day. Administrators, teachers and many K-8 students had one-to-one access to devices. The next phase was providing that same access to high school students.

Then DPSCD received $23 million from Connected Futures, a coalition of businesses and philanthropic organizations. The money allowed the district to get devices into the hands of each of its 51,000 students before the end of the school year and provide six months of internet access in each home (34,000 of them) along with technical support.

While Detroit and Battle Creek work to shore up technology, each district also provides paper-pencil learning packets to many students.

Nevertheless, students there aren’t nearly as engaged as those in Akron, which already had one-to-one technology access.

“I have been honest with our staff about just maintaining levels of achievement,” Carter said. “We are trying to disrupt COVID-caused learning loss.”

In Detroit, Meriweather said homework hotlines are still operating, and teachers are holding online classes. Students who lack a computer or internet access and can’t join by video can still join by phone audio.

Still, educators said, it’s not enough.

The mental health dilemma

Education isn’t just about reading, writing and arithmetic. Socialization is an essential part of learning as well, said Dan Greenberg, a high school English teacher at Southview High School in Sylvania, Ohio.

Dan Greenberg headshot

Dan Greenberg Southview High School English teacher

Before schools closed, Greenberg and his wife, Nicki, struggled daily to get one of their daughters up and ready for school. Sometimes, she even begged to be home-schooled. Yet, when he told his daughter school was canceled, she cried.

“That’s how big a deal this is,” Greenberg said. “Socialization is important for the kids. If we don’t end up reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ next year, I’ll be sad because I like teaching it. But it’ll be OK. The most important thing is dealing with the trauma affecting kids.”

Helping children maintain their current levels of achievement means providing support not only for their academics but also for their mental health during traumatic periods such as the pandemic, Carter said.

“School buildings—especially for students in high-poverty, high-trauma areas—are sanctuaries,” Meriweather said. “We provide academics, but there’s this other element of a safe space where someone is greeting you, asking about you, encouraging you and pushing you to move along in your studies.”

As a school district that promotes a culture of safety, empowerment and healing, Battle Creek redeployed substitute teachers, ancillary staff and others to conduct welfare checks on students—call to ask how they’re doing, what they need and then connect them with resources to meet their basic needs.

“We already had in place some structures that helped us respond in a rapid way to the COVID crisis,” Carter said. To serve its students, the district works with medical and mental health providers, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Battle Creek Police Department, among others.

Similarly, Detroit set up a mental health hotline and, like many other school districts around the country, has teachers check on each student.

Akron Superintendent James said the student board has been a valuable resource in letting his district know what students need, and community partners have helped provide counseling resources.

“They can’t go to the park, they can’t go to the mall,” he said. “It’s very difficult for kids to deal with.”

Students aren’t the only ones struggling, however.

Greenberg, who is also president of the Sylvania Education Association, said it’s a stressful time for teachers as well. Among other issues, he said, they are concerned about their families as well as their students. They’ve lost the order and structure they thrive on. And they worry about being compliant with federal laws governing the education of special-needs students.

Dan Greenberg talks with two male and two female students at a table in a classroom

Dan Greenberg, an English teacher at Southview High School in Sylvania, Ohio, interacting with students before school buildings closed due to COVID-19. Photo provided by Dan Greenberg

“You turn your head this way or that way, and there is a litany of issues they’re dealing with,” said Greenberg, struggling to hold back tears. “I’ve had colleagues ask for a leave of absence even though they don’t have to physically show up at school. I take their stress to heart.”

Teachers nationwide are coping by engaging with colleagues through virtual meetings and talks with school counselors. Greenberg—who receives calls, texts and emails from distressed teachers all day and night—has been going to see a counselor twice weekly.

“As president of the teacher association, I feel personally responsible for all of the teachers,” he said. “Their problems and concerns are my problems and concerns. It really is hard to just cut it off and decompress.”

The hunger dilemma

In a normal school year, the National School Lunch Program operates in about 100,000 pre-K-12 schools, providing low-cost or free lunches to nearly 30 million children at school daily. Then, in mid-March, schools across the country began closing, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture began allowing program flexibility.

“Our food services staff has been on the front lines of this, working feverishly,” Carter said. Since March 13, the Battle Creek district has distributed more than 200,000 meals. Students pick up two days of breakfast and lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays and three days of meals on Fridays, or Communities In Schools delivers to those without transportation.

Detroit, which has a similar grab-and-go plan, created 19 sites for meal pickup, Meriweather said. The district is also connecting families in need with resources such as food banks. In Akron, James said bus drivers, school security staff and community partners have helped distribute 10,000 to 14,000 meals daily to children in need.

The reopening dilemma

Although school administrators across the U.S. can’t act until they receive gubernatorial and CDC guidance for opening classrooms this fall, they are heavily engaged in planning.

“First and foremost is answering this guiding question,” Greenberg said: “What can we do to best serve our students and their families?”

School systems are developing a plan A, B, C, D and E. But more questions continue to arise.

“We know no one will be happy with what we do,” Greenberg said. “We’re trying to do it with good conscience, keeping in mind the science, the social distancing aspect.”

In urban schools, James said, class size is an issue. “If we’re going to have a smaller class size to be safe, that means no more than 10 kids in a classroom,” he said. “It would be impossible for us to serve all the kids in our buildings.”

Making that work could mean different schedules for kids. For instance, some students may attend school Mondays and Wednesdays, while others attend Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or, perhaps one group of students attends on Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week and Tuesday and Thursday the next week.

Graph showing percentage of students at $10000 income increasing at increments

Pew Research Center

Meriweather hopes schools in Detroit can return to face-to-face learning but said schools envision a variety of scenarios, including modified face-to-face with social distancing or a hybrid of face-to-face and online learning—which Detroit would be able to do because of Connected Futures.

Another plan might be using all of a district’s school buildings for elementary students and having high school students continue distance learning, Carter said.

“And do we need to extend the school day, since we’re going to be in recovery mode when we return in the fall?” she said.

Also, James asked, how do you get kids who don’t have transportation to the schools?

“There are typically more than 40 students on a bus,” he said. “To socially distance, we could only have 10 to 15 kids on a bus. My thinking is that we start completely virtual, then slowly bring students back, maybe starting with kindergarten or special-needs students.”

Teachers, secretaries, bus drivers and food service workers have been expressing their concerns, James said.

“What do we do about PPE (personal protective equipment) when health care workers need it first?” he said. “The same question goes with food. How does returning to school impact how we feed our kids? These are complex issues, and all of them are interconnected.”

The budget dilemma

Underscoring these issues are unstable state economies. Each reopening plan requires money. But with revenue down in most states, schools face significant budget cuts.

Battle Creek’s Carter fears the budget consequences of buying the technology necessary to effectively teach remotely.

“We did a lot of hard work to pull ourselves out of a deficit and have been fiscally responsible over the last couple of years,” she said. Now, the district is using its fund balance to purchase equipment it didn’t expect to buy.

DPSCD expects it will need to add about $3 million of its own funds to meet the Connected Futures goal of providing each student a device and internet access by the end of this school year, Meriweather said.

“Cuts will hurt high-poverty districts even more because the needs are so much greater. Different students have different needs,” Meriweather said. “That’s the difference between equity and equality. Social services, teaching non-English speakers, special needs—those cost more money.

“There’s only a certain amount you can cut before you are really compromising the quality of service you are providing to students.”

(This story was originally published by the Ford Motor Company Fund.)

Nonprofits at work

News page at fordbetterworld.org

The United States boasts nearly 1.6 million nonprofits, including civics leagues, chambers of commerce, public charities and private foundations.

My client, the Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services is among those organizations. In addition to supporting other nonprofits, education and communities around the globe, Ford Fund is sharing stories about essential issues through its website, FordFund.org.

As writer and editor at large, I have come upon a multitude of nonprofits supporting children, veterans, and tackling poverty in impoverished communities. Many are working to end homelessness and illiteracy and providing disaster relief as well. Some of what’s happening is powerfully sad. But so much more is inspiring beyond measure. I learned about a community in which 15 teens died in 15 months, how a grieving mother decided to change the scenario and how Ford Fund stepped up to help

I also discovered how:

  • Gino Tubaro uses his love of invention to develop 3d-manufactured prosthetics for children in need;
  • Alvin Ailey, 826, Mosaic Youth Theatre and others are supporting the needs of children through creative programming;
  • the Center for Native American Youth is empowering students in neglected communities;
  • triple-amputees use their disabilities to inspire others;
  • basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabaar slam dunks racism;
  • social entrepreneurs are acquiring capital to make change;
  • Smashwords founder Mark Coker discovered his calling; and
  • college students created jobs for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Read about issues that matter: Visit FordFund.org today.

If you have a story you think we should share, let me know in the comment area below.

Universities drive innovation in Michigan

Someone putting in a contact lens.

Classical Roots: A trailblazer and a visionary

As part of the 40th Anniversary Classical Roots Celebration, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in March (2018) honored vocalist and educator George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to join the Metropolitan Opera, and academic and leader Earl Lewis, outgoing president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. I had the honor of interviewing the luminaries prior to the gala:

George Shirley: Born to sing (and teach)

By Leslie D. Green

Born April 18, 1934, George Shirley credits his love of music to his education.

“Anyone with musical chops could read music by sixth grade,” says Shirley, 83. His music teacher at Northern High School exposed him to Handel, Verdi, and other greats of choral music, but also inspired him to become an educator himself.

Shirley sang at his church, the historic Ebenezer AME in Detroit, and formed a community band to pay his tuition as a music education student at Wayne State University. Then, in 1955, the U.S. Army formed an official chorus. Some of Shirley’s friends auditioned and were accepted; he thought about auditioning himself, but was hesitant about a three-year Army commitment.

“Plus,” he says, “I knew there had never been a black member.”

But a year after securing a job at as the first black vocal music teacher in a Detroit public school, Shirley was drafted. “The Army was not something I looked forward to,” he says. “We pushed our wedding date up. I was enjoying teaching. But I believe that God works in ways that I can’t understand.”

Though his military experience was tedious, Shirley was now in the Army — so why not try out for the chorus? In 1957, he and a few friends (who were white) drove to Fort Myers, FL to audition. His friends, who went first, were rejected.

“I thought, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’” Shirley says. But he was a hit, and Samuel Loboda, who managed the chorus, fought all the way to Pentagon for him. Shirley became the U.S. Army Chorus’s first black member.

When he joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1961, Shirley was the first African-American tenor and the second African-American lead to perform with the company. “It was a thrill. I was sort of in a daze. I still find it hard to believe I ended up in this profession,” he says. He performed major roles in more than 20 operas while at The Met, and in 1968 he earned a Grammy Award for his role in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.

Though he traveled the world as an opera star, Shirley never strayed too far from educating young musicians. He has taught at Staten Island College, the University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan, where he is now the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Emeritus Professor of Voice.

“I didn’t ask God for good gifts, to make me a teacher or a singer, or for the less good gifts. They were just given. I can only be grateful for what I was given,” he says.

(Read The Washington Post’s 1979 interview with Shirley.)

Earl Lewis: Educating Diversity

By Leslie D. Green

Praised for being a generous mentor and visionary, Earl Lewis advocates for and creates diversity and equity in the arts, in education, and in life.

He served on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley (1984-1989) and the University of Michigan (1989-2004), where he also directed the Center for Afro-American & African Studies and co-authored Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan (2004).

“By the time I became dean of the Graduate School in 1998, the school was embroiled in affirmative action cases,” says Lewis, 62, now President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

He said U-M’s multi-year effort to get people to value diversity resonated and continued as a part of his approach to leadership. And his interest in the arts cultivated further when he became a trustee of the University Musical Society (UMS) and served as provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and a professor of History and African-American Studies at Emory University (2004-2012).

“All the schools and colleges reported to me, including the museum and library. It broadened my perspective and view and connected me to a whole range of players,” says Lewis. “I certainly gained a passion for the ability for the arts to explain the human condition or human treatise in a way that academic text could not.

“Bringing classical art forms is critical to the health and vitality of a community,” he continues, arguing that arts institutions are vital places that can bring back struggling or suffering economies. Lewis became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.

Mellon, which has supported the DSO for many years, recently pledged $2.75 million toward diversifying audiences and developing the next generation of musicians. Significantly, this gift enables the DSO to expand the African-American Fellowship to include two fellows.

Though Lewis’s term at Mellon ends March 16, he says his work won’t cease.

In addition to returning to the University of Michigan to teach, he plans to establish the Center for Social Solutions, which will focus on diversity and race, water in flood and drought-prone regions, and the dignity of labor in an automated world. He also hopes to launch a 10-year public humanities project, linked to theaters and museums around the country, on slavery’s continued impact on life.

Though he’ll be leaving the big budgets of Mellon behind, Lewis is excited about the future of these ideas: “It’s not just about the resources you have, but whether or not you can make a contribution that’s effective and important.”

Learn more about the DSO’s annual Classical Roots celebration.



Successful neighborhood investment starts with listening

Detroit continues to justify its moniker as a Comeback City with new restaurants, brand-name retail, residential development and a new hockey arena.

Much of the initial revitalization has been concentrated in the urban core of Midtown and downtown, where people and businesses are concentrated, but it has taken more time for growth to reach the neighborhoods.

While JPMorgan Chase & Co. is investing significantly in those areas — along with investments in TechTown and in Eastern Market — the company also is investing in struggling neighborhoods. Chase invested more than $100 million in Detroit between 2014 and 2017 and now expects to reach $150 million by 2019.

“We’re very focused on developing a robust, small business community, like what’s developing here in the Live6 area,” said John Carter, Michigan Market Leader at JPMorgan Chase, which has been doing business in Detroit for more than 80 years.

Live6, the Livernois–McNichols (Six Mile) corridor in Northwest Detroit, once had thriving residential neighborhoods and shopping districts. But as the economy waned and population loss soared, stores shuttered and jobs disappeared.

Tosha Tabron, Vice President for Global Philanthropy with the firm, said JPMorgan Chase made investments based on conversations that occurred over long periods of time with multiple partners and stakeholders. Now, area businesses are opening and thriving, jobs are being created and homes rehabbed and developed.

Still, she recognized, more work and more conversations are needed.

Beyond the gate

A fence lines Livernois Avenue outside University of Detroit Mercy. “We want, eventually, that there is no boundary, there is no edge between the university as an island and the neighborhood,” said Will Wittig, Dean of University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture. Darrel Ellis for Crain Content Studio

A fence lines Livernois Avenue outside University of Detroit Mercy. “We want, eventually, that there is no boundary, there is no edge between the university as an island and the neighborhood,” said Will Wittig, Dean of University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture.

“Part of creating a great community is having amenities — bars, restaurants, coffee shops — as well as everyday business services like dry cleaners, banks and pharmacies. But the commercial corridor is just one part of the strategy,” said Michael Forsyth, co-director of Live6 Alliance, a nonprofit working to activate vacant spaces and enhance public safety. “It really starts with the people and anything we can do to provide economic opportunities.”

It starts with dreamers like Jevona Watson.

By day, Watson works as an attorney. In whatever downtime she has, and with funding from Motor City Match, the northwest Detroit native is working to open Detroit Sip, a coffee shop on McNichols Road just west of Livernois.

Watson envisions Detroit Sip as a place where students at nearby colleges can study or hang out.

“University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College students could live here for four years and never really venture outside of the gate,” she said.

The gate around Detroit Mercy has been a source of contention for area residents since it was built in the early 1980s. For some, it implied the university was closing itself off from the surrounding community. Will Wittig, dean of the School of Architecture at Detroit Mercy, acknowledged the community and “many” on campus hate the fence, though some parents view it as necessary.

Nevertheless, Wittig said, the university wants its students to be active in the neighborhood.

“We want, eventually, that there is no boundary, there is no edge between the university as an island and the neighborhood as its surrounding context,” he added. “Our dream is to be a true urban university — to be integrated into a thriving neighborhood.”

In 1994, Detroit Mercy founded the Detroit Collaborative Design Center to “create sustainable spaces and communities.” Its neighborhood revitalization strategies beautify vacant spaces, turn auto-centric streets into walkable spaces with bike lanes, and create common areas such as Lollo Park on Puritan Avenue in the Live6 corridor and The Alley Project on Detroit’s Southwest side.

Although Marygrove College recently announced plans to discontinue its undergraduate program, it will continue its graduate teaching program and, administrators hope, also boost interaction with the community.

“It is my dream … to have the vibrant population of people on campus that were there when I was a student at Marygrove (in the 1970s),” said Marygrove President Beth Burns. She pointed to the Charles McGee sculpture gifted last year to the Community Commons, a placemaking space created to unite the community.

Public-private cooperation

Leveraging partnerships is essential, said Michael Smith.

The director of strategic neighborhoods for Invest Detroit said his organization partners with stakeholders involved with community leaders who can guide them to the opportunities and around inevitable obstacles. Invest Detroit is working with JPMorgan Chase and Detroit-based commercial real estate developer The Platform on commercial and residential investment.

The hope is that success in these neighborhoods leads to them being models for future neighborhood development and encourages future investment.

“Unless this work produces results that are sustainable, it won’t be replicable,” said The Platform founder Peter Cummings, known for his development of Orchestra Place in Midtown and for his recent purchase of the Fisher Building in New Center.

Cummings said he sees Detroit as “the great urban lab of America.” One test is in redeveloping the large Fitzgerald neighborhood — bounded by Livernois Avenue and Wyoming Street and Fenkell Avenue and West McNichols Road — which requires rehabbing more than 100 homes and 230 vacant lots in the 10 blocks between Detroit Mercy and Marygrove. Cummings said once residents see money being successfully invested in their neighborhoods, they’re going to want to invest in their own homes.

“We need to work with people like Tosha and John (at JPMorgan Chase) to figure out how we can come up with an affordable, sort of small loan program to help those people, who I think are the real heroes in the city of Detroit. Those people who have hung on and who’ve made their payments and who’ve kept the fabric of community alive.”

Neighborhood needs

Live6, the Livernois–McNichols (Six Mile) corridor in Northwest Detroit, once had thriving residential neighborhoods and shopping districts. But as the economy waned and population loss soared, stores shuttered and jobs disappeared.

Many residents in the Live6 corridor cannot afford to attend Marygrove or Detroit Mercy, both private schools, said resident Raymond Ware.

Ware, who turned his barbershop into Metro Detroit Barber College in 2009, said the area needs more trade and vocational schools to give residents education options.

Detroiters also could use education on how to assess, invest in and develop their own neighborhoods, said Chase Cantrell, founder of Building Community Value, which works with community leaders, entrepreneurs and investors to re-imagine and rehabilitate communities.

“We use the term placemaking, … being able to give people the vision and the understanding that they have power to actually determine their own futures, determine how their communities can look,” Cantrell said. He said community educators would be able to direct people to the resources they need to get through the process.

Cantrell and Smith also agreed it’s important that developers and investors ask residents what they actually want and what role they want to play in the redevelopment of their neighborhoods.

“It starts with listening. When you ask any member of the community — it doesn’t matter if they’re 3 years old or 98 — ‘What’s your dream for the community?’ people have an answer,” Smith said. “It could be education. It could be opening a small business.

“So the goal is to ask and then the goal is to plug them in and connect them to the resources. Build that bridge.”

This story was originally published by Crain Content Studio for JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Wayne State University reaches out

M. Roy Wilson, who over his career worked as dean, vice president, president and chancellor at four different universities, had what he called a “plum job” at the National Institutes of Health when he contemplated returning to academia as a university president. If he were going to make the move, the school had to meet his requirements.

It needed to be a public, urban, research university. It needed a large medical school.

And it needed an intimate connection with its community.

Wilson found all of that at Wayne State University. Programs like Street Medicine Detroit, TeachDETROIT, Math Corps, the Free Legal Aid Clinic and the Center for Urban Studies serve the city’s neighborhoods while providing hands-on learning opportunities for Wayne State’s more than 27,000 students.

This story was originally published by Crain Content Studio.  Read the full story here.

Read our series on how Wayne State University connects with Detroit neighborhoods:

After School Programs = Success in School, Life and Work

This story originally appeared on FordBetterWorld.org

The new presidential administration and questions about funding for school, after school and summer learning programs have amplified the national conversation about how we instruct our children.

While many are focused on traditional school day programs, some experts say out-of-school programs are equally, if not more, important to the development of today’s youth. Children spend about 20 percent of their waking hours in school. But, they don’t stop learning at the end of the school day or year.

Effects of creative youth development programs

• Sense of productivity
• Building connections to peers and adult mentors
• Resiliency
• Self-efficacy
• Fulfillment
• Greater community and civic engagement
• Engagement and leadership and higher levels of cross-cultural understanding
• Higher academic achievement as measured by grades, IQ, standardized test scores, and high graduation rates
• Greater creativity
• More sophisticated problem-solving and reasoning skills
• Increased emotional development

Sources: Arts Education Partnership’s Out-of-School Research Overview and Heather Ikemire, chief program officer at the National Guild for Community Arts Education in New York

“What they are learning depends on what they are doing, whether that means spending too much time on screen or with bad individuals,” says Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance in Washington, D.C.

Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. is when more than 11 million children are on their own, often unsupervised, waiting for parents or guardians to return from work. Between those hours, youth are more vulnerable to experimenting with drugs and alcohol and participating in gang violence. These children also tend to lag in social skills and, Grant says, are 37 percent more likely to become teen parents.

What’s more, during summer break, youth often lose two months of skills they learned during the school year. According to a Measure of American report from the Social Science Research Council, 4.9 million youth, ages 16 to 24, are disconnected, meaning they are not in school and not working and are isolated from routes that help them transition into an independent and rewarding adulthood.

“That’s a huge loss in workforce development skills,” says Grant.

However, they can grow as individuals in programs that help them succeed in school, in work and in life, she says. “If we really want our kids to be prepared for the workforce, we can’t underestimate them gaining soft skills in a safe space. Kids in afterschool programs do better academically, better behaviorally, attend school more.”

We take a look at three out-of-school, nonprofit youth programs — Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation’s AileyCamp, 826 National and Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit — that have been successfully enhancing youth development for more than a decade.


AileyCamp New York Percussion

Dennis M. Walcott, Chancellor of NYC Schools in AileyCamp New York's Creative Communication class.

Denise Montgomery, director of Creative Youth Development National Initiative and founder of CultureThrive consulting, says the most successful out-of-school programs pay attention to the whole person and offer a different dynamic than what young people get at school.

Denise Montgomery, director of Creative Youth Development National Initiative and founder of CultureThrive

“Successful programs aren’t trying to produce artists but young people who are engaged in their communities and productive citizens with fulfilling lives who have support to achieve their potential,” she says.

One example of this is AileyCamp.

Now in its 27th year, every summer about 1,000, inner-city middle-school students attend AileyCamp’s 10, six-week summer camps. While all participants take dance and other creative courses, the summer program emphasizes personal development, such as cultivating self-esteem, health and conflict-resolution skills.

“We’re looking to build leaders,” says Nasha Thomas, national director of AileyCamp and spokesperson and master teacher for arts and education and community programs. “It’s about getting along with others and being a team player. It’s about trying things in life that are difficult.”

Read the full story on AileyCamp.

826 National


Echo Park Time Travel Mart and Mar Vista Time Travel Mart, Los Angeles

Tutoring and writing-based program 826 National takes an asset-based view of learning by treating young people as authors and writers. From day one, Montgomery says, the mentors address them that way.

“Rather than treating young people as vessels to be filled or problems to be solved, they are really positioning young people as leaders in these programs, providing opportunity for them to gain skills,” says Heather Ikemire, chief program officer at the National Guild for Community Arts Education in New York.

Gerald Richards, CEO of 826 National, calls it “stealth education.” He says, “We work to give students a safe place. It’s not home and it’s not school. They are really excited about something, but they aren’t thinking about the fact that they are going to the tutoring center.”

Read the full story on 826 National.

Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit

Mosaic group

Mosaic students.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit not only trains actors, singers and stage technicians (ages 12-18) and stages student-driven performances and national and international tours, but the out-of-school program also mentors the youth in life.

Acclaimed for artistic excellence by national news media, even representing the U.S. at international events, Mosaic’s youth performers have performed at the Kennedy Center and opened for Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger and other notable artists.

More impressive, while most of the nonprofit’s youth participants are “disproportionately minority and from low-income families,” founder Rick Sperling says 100 percent of them have gone to college for the past eight years, up from 95 percent in the preceding years.

“You have a lot of organizations, like Rick’s, that have been doing tremendous work,” Ikemire says. “The focus is on realizing young people already have creative capacity and on how we unleash that while giving them high-quality training and life skills.”

Read the full story on Mosaic.

The Ford Motor Company Fund has been a longtime sponsor of Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. The 25-year-old nonprofit fulfills part of our mission by enhancing both community life and education.

Children out of school – by the numbers

1 in 5

Children are left on their own between 3 p.m.-6 p.m.1

3 times

students from low-income families participating in arts-rich experiences were three-times more likely to earn their bachelor’s degree than those with low arts exposure2

8 in 10

parents say afterschool programs help them keep their jobs1


For every $1 invested in afterschool programs, $9 is saved by reducing welfare and crime costs, improving academic performance and increasing kids’ earning potential1


students from low-income families participating in arts-rich experiences were 10 percent more likely to complete calculus than those with low arts exposure2


the amount in 30 years the academic achievement gap has grown between students from lower-income and higher-income families.1


of teachers say learning programs are important to student success


the number of additional hours that children in after school programs gain in learning by the time they reach 6th grade.1

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