By Harold C. Ford
The New Evolution Education Center (NEEC) will open its doors to 50 youth in grades kindergarten through 8th grade this summer for six weeks running from July 9-Aug. 17. The nonprofit NEEC will focus on literacy, science, and math, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
A $64,000 grant for the project was awarded by Sigma Pi Phi, the first successful and oldest African-American Greek lettered organization in the U.S. The fraternity was founded in Philadelphia in 1904 by Henry McKee Minton and a small group of colleagues. Wesley Coleman, a Disney Company executive since 2006 and Sigma Pi Phi’s current national president, came from California to present the check to NEEC in person.
“When I was sworn into office almost two years ago, it was after all of the headlines about the Flint water situation,” Coleman said. “So I knew we had to do something…but you don’t know what to do or how to best help. But I told everybody the one thing we’re not going to do is just go and pass out water.”
Local career educator Jacquinne Reynolds wrote the grant proposal for the NEEC project as suggested by her husband, Lawrence Reynolds, a retired pediatrician and fraternity member. The proposal made its way up the fraternal chain of command starting with the local chapter and ending with the national board of trustees where Coleman said it met unanimous acceptance.
“When we saw the project,” recalled Coleman, “I said ‘I think this is what we’re looking for.’”
“This has been a dream of mine for many, many years,” Reynolds said. “I am overjoyed because I have finally seen a dream of mine come to fruition.” She will serve as program director.
Joyce Piert, an instructor at the University of Michigan-Flint, will be NEEC’s executive director.
“The grant money coming from Sigma Pi Phi enabled this program to happen by providing financial support,”Piert said. “This will be an intensive literacy focus program.”
UM –Flint Professor Erica Britt, NEEC board president, credited Piert’s role in envisioning the project. “This has been an interesting process of watching Dr. P’s (Piert’s) vision,”she said. “She’s been nurturing (this project) for many, many years. To see it blossoming is really exciting.”
Reynolds, Piert, and Britt all bring advanced degrees, decades of educational experience, enthusiasm, optimism, and a commitment to social justice to the NEEC project.
Model influenced by civil rights movement:
Inspiration for the program’s curriculum model derives from the vision, philosophy, and experience of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project and the subsequent Freedom School model championed by Marian Wright Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund in the 1990s.
The Freedom School model will feature, according to Reynolds, “Afro-centric literature, putting self-confidence in our children that you can be somebody in your community.”
A press statement that accompanied NEEC’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 25 suggested five essential program components:
- high quality academic and character-building enrichment;
- parent and family involvement;
- civic engagement and social action;
- intergenerational servant leadership development;
- nutrition, health, and mental health.
Partnerships with Genesee County Parks’ For-Mar Nature Preserve and local dancing impresario Bruce Bradley’s Tapology will help to deliver NEEC’s unique programming. Robotics and chess are other important components. A focus on “mindfulness”, according to Piert, will help to address the deleterious effects of Flint’s water crisis by strengthening the prefrontal cortex.
NEEC is, in part, a timely response to Flint’s water crisis, declination in students’standardized test scores, and suspected learning loss during idle summer vacation months.
“That (Flint’s water crisis) was an intricate part of the proposal,” Reynolds said. As summarized by Jamie Lincoln Kitman in the March 2000 edition of The Nation, and previously reported by EVM, lead can cause lowered IQs, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and interference with growth.
A just-released report by the Education Trust-Midwest shows that Michigan’s third-graders are last in the nation for early literacy, and scores continue to fall. As reported in the March 2017 EVM, Flint students’ test scores are abysmally low by nearly all measures. For example, on the 2015-2016 SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) EBRW (Evidence Based Reading and Writing) test for grade 11, 37 Flint students in all, only 16 percent, tested At or Above Proficiency whereas 2,575 of 4,536 students, or 56 percent, in Genesee County tested At or Above Proficiency.
“We have children in the city of Flint in the third grade that are reading at a first-grade, fourth-month level,” Piert said. “We know our children can read given the proper instruction given by people who love them.”
“Children lose reading and mathematics literacies,” said Piert about the long months of summer vacation. Some studies generally show 2.6 months’ loss of grade-level equivalency in math and about two months’ loss in reading for low-income students.
“I’m looking forward to the results,”said John Littleton, Sigma Pi Phi local president. “In order to get continued funding we have to have results.” Toward that end, the NEEC team plans to hire a data collection manager.
“We’re up to the task; we’re very meticulous about assessment,”said Piert, her confidence stoked by previous success as program manager at the Christ Enrichment Center Summer Day Camp. “We were able to maintain and improve literacy in reading and mathematics for six weeks in 95% of our 48 children.”
The ribbon cutting ceremony at God’s Love Church COGIC, 3641 Wyoming Avenue, was attended by several members of the local fraternity including Kyle McCree, community affairs manager for Consumers Energy; Craig Coney, recently retired president of Michigan Works Workforce Development Agency; GM retiree Warren Underwood; and dentist Tom Belford.
Other attendees included: Sylvia Campbell, NEEC board treasure; Kendall Nash, NEEC board secretary; and Jordan Barnett, site coordinator for the project. All were welcomed to the site by Brenda Richmond of God’s Love Church COGIC.
More information about the project is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or 810-814-2037. The project is based at the James E. Kennedy Life Center, 1610 W. Pierson Rd., Flint.
EVM staff writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at email@example.com.