MONROE - Lawrence White was working up a sweat in the muggy Lincoln Elementary School gymnasium, ducking dodge balls thrown by girls involved in the Back to Basics summer school program two week ago.
The afternoon is downtime for the Back to Basics program, designed to work with students in this low-income neighborhood in Monroe. The morning time was spent reading various newspapers and sharpening reading, writing, and math skills.
The students didn't have to come, but they did. The Back the Basic program averaged between 25 to 30 students daily, from Monday through Thursday. It's a program put on by neighborhood parents and adults who have volunteered their time. Mostly, it has been Mr. White and Kellie Vining, two of the organizers of Concern Parents for Literacy, Inc.
Lincoln has an African-American population of 15 percent and most of the students are from lower-income households.
Frustrated over poor proficiency test scores and low academic accomplishments by the students and what they feel was an indifferent attitude from teachers and administrators, the group gathered parents together to engage the children themselves, Mr. White said.
“I don't think the teachers understand the cultural reality of these kids,” Mrs. Vining said. “When we mentioned cultural reality, it was like we crossed a line and we couldn't talk with some of [the teachers] anymore.”
Charles Watkins, the lone African-American member of the Monroe Public Schools board of education for the past 10 years, had started a similar program a little more than a decade ago with former Monroe resident Rosie Barnes.
Mr. Watkins said the work Mr. White and Mrs. Vining have done this summer will affect students throughout the school year and as more parents should get involved.
“Whenever parents become so concerned about what's happening to their children that they come to the school board, I have to take that seriously,” Mr. Watkins said. “I think their concerns are legitimate. Whenever parents become deeply involved, it gives their kids a better snapshot that what they're doing [in school] is bigger than Lincoln and bigger than their community.”
The program received support from the Monroe Public Schools and the community. Concerned Parents for Literacy received donations from local banks, a restaurant owner provided lunches throughout the summer school, and the school district provided a bus to take the students to a museum in Ann Arbor last week.
Mr. White and Mrs. Vining said they believe the work they did this summer will make a difference in the students' attitudes and achievement when they return to classes at Lincoln this month. Both said they plan to continue to talk with and mentor their students throughout the year.
The Back to Basic program is one part of an overall strategy for the group called, “Community as [an] Extended Classroom,” Mr. White said. He said the group outlines four areas it would like provide assistance.
w Interactive literacy activity between the parents and their children.
w Training for parents regarding how to be the primary teacher in the education of their children.
w Parent literacy training that leads to economic self-sufficiency.
w Age appropriate education to further prepare children for success in school and in life.
Concerned Parents for Literacy organized after a March meeting on the treatment of African-Americans in Monroe Public School, specifically Lincoln. Many people at the meeting, organized by the Monroe County NAACP, claimed that teachers and administrators weren't doing a good job in educating black students.
“We saw a lot of people pointing fingers, but no one coming up with any solutions,” Mr. White said. “We basically left the meeting feeling that we weren't heard. That's when we decided to come together as parents and come up with solutions ourselves.”