The Detroit Robot Factory may be an unusual name for a project designed to help young writers, but when it opens near Eastern Market in September, it will do just that.

A new initiative of Ann Arbor-based tutoring company 826michigan, the Detroit Robot Factory facility will house tutoring programs for Detroit students, as well as provide a space for aspiring young writers to improve and teach their craft.

826michigan, a writing and tutoring center, is in its 10th year, and currently serves more than 3,200 students across Detroit, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.  All of its events and programs have a robot theme.  

Though plans to establish the space have been in the works since 2011, 826michigan is now attempting to collect donations beyond the $150,000 given by the challenge.

Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826michigan, said the factory will be a natural expansion for the tutoring program, which previously worked solely out of a space in Ann Arbor on East Liberty Street.

“We looked at ourselves as an organization and decided that we were strong and ready to grow and wanted to grow,” Uhle said.  “We determined that there was a need and capacity to do it and that we could make a difference.”

The most recent Michigan Merit Exam, given to elementary through middle public school students, revealed that only 25 percent of Detroit Public Schools students were proficient in writing and 40 percent were proficient in reading. This is compared to a 53 percent average statewide writing proficiency and 68 percent proficiency in reading.

Uhle said the Detroit Robot Factory is meant to serve as a step in the right direction toward mitigating problems that arise from the Detroit’s struggling public education system. About 47 percent of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate, meaning they read at between a fourth and sixth grade reading level, according to the National Institute for Literacy.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which supports ideas that engage communities, promote the arts and foster quality journalism, is helping start the nonprofit writing and tutoring center initiative with a $150,000 investment. The money was allocated as part of their 2015 Knight Arts Challenge, a competition that gives out grants to creative programs and projects in Detroit.

Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at the Knight Foundation, said cities are most successful when everyone has access to the arts.

“Talent is equally distributed, access isn’t,” Rogers said. “We hope this new center helps foster a sense of wonder and curiosity that these students will ultimately apply to their lives and community.”

The Detroit Robot Factory’s mission statement says the building will be designed to spark students’ imaginations, providing a facility to house services for local school-aged students free of charge. Volunteer tutors will help students complete their homework, work on writing projects and craft their own stories.

Last year, adult volunteers contributed 23,365 hours as homework tutors, in-classroom assistants and writing instructors. According to the 826michigan website, organizers hope these numbers will grow with the opening of the new space in Detroit.

LSA junior Danielle Jackson has been working with 826michigan as a tutor since the beginning of the semester.  During her time with the organization, she has seen the program continuously improve the accessibility of tutoring for students.

 

“The tutoring is now more streamlined so the kids can get done with their homework faster and get paired with a tutor who can help them with the subject they’re working on,” she said. “I think a lot of times these kids go through their school day and they don’t get clarification on things or a lot of attention and they’re rushed. Students here get attention and can ask as many questions as they want without feeling silly.”

826michigan’s long-term goal is to expand its impact to be focused equally on Washtenaw County and Detroit. Currently, 826michigan serves about 500 Detroit students, but organizers hope to serve upwards of 2,500 students in a few year’s time, half of which will be in Detroit. 

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