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Howard University > Alternative Spring Break 2013
ASB Volunteers Battle Illiteracy in the Motor City

By Naomi Venerable
Howard University News Service

Junior Kenneisha Deas, a broadcast journalism major, and freshaman Dao Henderson, a applied health and sciences major, interact with children ages 3 to 5 at Tabernacle Head Start.

DETROIT (MARCH 15, 2013) -- The illiteracy rate in Michigan is about 18 percent.  In Detroit, however, 47 percent of residents are reported as functionally illiterate, the highest rate of a city in the nation.

For that reason, 50 Howard University students spent their spring break here volunteering as part of the university’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program in an effort to try to tackle the issue.  This is the fifth consecutive year ASB volunteers have worked in the city.

“The Alternative Spring Break program in Detroit is about the overarching theme of illiteracy within the Detroit public schools with a focus on mentorship and issue advocacy,” Andreya Davis, the Detroit site coordinator, told students during their 12-hour bus ride from Washington to the Motor City.

To tackle the issue, ASB participants were divided in two teams to cover primary and secondary education. The students served as tutors and mentors in Highland Park Renaissance Academy, J. E. Clark Preparatory Academy, East English Village Preparatory Academy and Cody High School.

Howard University students led a panel discussion in a room filled to capacity with seventh and eighth grade students at J.E. Clark early Thursday morning.

Led by Darius Thomas, a junior speech pathology major, a group of Highland Park Renaissance Academy students prepare for the 1st Annual Spelling Bee on the Henry Ford campus in Detroit, Michigan. 
Moderated by sophomore audio production major Miles Brown, the panel discussion included conversation on community service, relationships and college readiness.

“Where would you be if you did not attend Howard University?” asked seventh grade student Najimir Jackson to the panel of Bison.

Howard student Darius Thomas of Louisiana listed the opportunity to study abroad in China, Spain and an upcoming visit to Mexico through Howard University’s study abroad programs.
“Howard University has afforded me so many opportunities that I might not have received anywhere else,” Thomas said.

Upon closing the discussion Brown asked the auditorium, “Who is going to college?”

Every hand rose.

J.E. Clark principal Demond Thomas said the Howard students offered his pupils a unique opportunity.
“Our school’s motto is ‘Aspire to Go Higher in Education,’ and we want our kids to become lifelong learners and to one day attend college,” Thomas said.  “What better way for these kids to get the knowledge of the college experience than by talking with students from Howard?”

In Highland Park, ASB volunteers helped middle school students prepare for the 1st Annual Spelling Bee at Henry Ford Academy.

Fourth grade student Tre’Von Lowman, an aspiring math engineer, was awarded the first place prize after hours of preparation with sophomore public relations major Rachel Solomon.

“It felt great to know that our aid was, indeed, helpful, because at first a lot of the students didn’t feel prepared for the spelling bee,” Solomon said.

At High Park Renaissance Academy, principal Robert Warmack III said the Howard students had made an immediate impact just by showing up.

“Many of the young kids look at rappers and entertainers as benchmarks of success,” Warmack said.  “But it’s important for the young people to identify and interact with success stories, young people (like the Howard students) who look like them.”

At the end of the week, Davis said she believed the participants had made an impact and the experience had had an impact on them.

“The greatest lesson I believe the ASB participants have taken away by the end of this week is to learn of the selfless leaders they can be and as a result, see just how they positively affect the people around them.”

Detroit native and english major Andreya Davis plays with children ages 3 to 5 at Tabernacle Head Start in mid town Detroit during a week of service learning under university's Alternative Spring Break.
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