Judging by the numerous school closings, it seems the quality of public school education is steadily declining as a consequence of drastic budget cuts. While the state of the economic crisis is often highlighted, what’s not making headlines is how community organizations like the Young People’s Project are working to salvage the public education system from the havoc wreaked by the economy.
Often, the social unrest that lives within America’s public school system is due to violence in the classroom, high student-to-teacher ratios and poor spending habits by the city government in control of their district’s schools. Because some of this nation’s public schools, especially those in the inner city, unravel from disorganization and low expectations, some of these schools’ educational standards rival those in third-world countries.
That’s where the Young People’s Project comes in, using math as a tool to organize communities. According to Angela Abiodun, LSA senior and YPP Organizer, YPP shows students that “playing math games can be just as fun as playing laser tag or basketball.”
Local community organizations like the Young People’s Project in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area have a unique characteristic that bureaucratic national organizations don’t. Community-run organizations are the authentic voice and advocate of the people whose motivational drive is simply hope. I credit the founders of the Young People’s Project — Omo Moses, Taba Moses, Khari Milner and the students from the Brinkley Middle School of Mississippi — for dreaming big. From its creation to present-day, YPP believes in the possibility of a child, and they have challenged the notion that the school that a child goes to or the neighborhood that a child grows up in will define his or her status in life. Brett Cunningham, School of Education senior and Young People’s Program Coordinator, recently remarked how he “saw a high school student who could have been stereotyped as a ‘class clown’ in school, teaching elementary students how to factor and multiply.”
Thanks to Andrea Rigard, the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area is fortunate to have YPP in its own backyard. Housed in the College of Literature, Science & The Arts Administrative Building, YPP is uniquely approaching the “achievement gap” issue by initiating an after school program where college students from the University, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College train high school students to teach a conceptual math module, Flagway, to middle school students. Together, college, high school and middle school students are forming relationships with each other to tackle a pressing national issue that presently hinders our place in the world as educated “global leaders.”
The issue of disadvantageous public schools has racially and socioeconomically divided this country for years. Though it is indeed true that the issue of the “achievement gap” is certainly an issue that divides these communities, some organizers also concern themselves with the quality of education of other populations of color that are not typically included in the conversation of education equality. With YPP, there is no hierarchy of oppression. If students who are non-English speakers of Asian, Latino or Middle Eastern descent are in need of strong math skills at a YPP site in Chicago, for instance, their interest in receiving a quality education should be as much of a priority as the populations that are commonly thought of to occupy low-funded urban and rural areas.
What I admire about community organizing is the activist approach: taking responsibility for the hiccups of national politics as well as the economics that negatively affect struggling communities, ranging from housing development and job cuts to the integrity of public schools. YPP is not only innovative in its approach to social activism, but also in its ability to break ground in broadening the conversation about America’s public schools and students.
Brittany Smith is an LSA junior.