Push for equality in education

SAGINAW, Mich. (WNEM) – Rayanna Joshua and Zayvion Peterson are two of many kids who spend their afternoons hooping after school at the Neighb.

“I like to play basketball so I go to the gym and practice,” Rayanna said.

The Neighb is a community center in Saginaw where fun and educational enrichment meet.

Director Canika Owen-Robinson, who is a professional chemist by day, said the center currently has about 136 children enrolled.

“We are sitting just miles away from a school with the highest indicator of low income. In addition to that, we are in the lowest 50 percent across the state in terms of test scores,” Owen-Robinson said.

A 2023 U.S. News and World Report shows about 62 percent of kids in Saginaw Public Schools were economically disadvantaged for the 2021 to 2022 school year and around 62 percent of kids in that same district are also minorities.

“Tests are snapshots, and tests don’t tell everything,” said Dr. Craig Douglas, a retired educator in mid-Michigan.

Douglas has worked in a plethora of roles from math teacher to administrator, and even on the collegiate level as a dean. He gave insight on why children who come from low income backgrounds struggle with testing and said the reasons why tend to vary.

“Children that come from areas of high poverty in general have lower test scores than other children do and there are a lot of reasons behind this. Sometimes they are limited to the vocabulary either before or as they enter school,” Douglas said.

Owen-Robinson gave insight as well.

“Internet access is limited or maybe the parents aren’t too familiar with how to maneuver through the internet,” Owen-Robinson said.

Douglas said another reason may be because one or both parents are working odd shifts.

This is where centers like the Neigh step in with a computer lab, a STEM room, a reading room, an Esports room, and a gym. When asked about the benefits of the Neighb, specifically the computer lab, Zayvion said it helps him with his homework and grasp a better understanding of various school subjects.

“It helps me work on my math, my English, my science, and my social studies,” he said.

Esports has become big across the country and in mid-Michigan. Owen Robinson said it not only gives students a chance to decompress after a long school day, but it also opens doors for other opportunities.

“We want to expose the young people to these opportunities. We know there are scholarships out there now,” Owen-Robinson said.

Although the gap in test scores continues to expand between majority white school districts with low poverty rates and majority black school districts with high poverty rates, the push for equality in education goes on with places like the Neighb standing in the middle, bridging the gap.

“Poverty is not an excuse but it is a factor we have to be honest and open about it. We have to use whatever resources we can to address it,” Douglas said.

According to Owen-Robinson, a difference is being made in the lives of the many children who spend time at the center.

“The question was asked, ‘what are you grateful for?’ And one of the young men says, ‘I’m thankful for the Neighb because I have a place to come. They support me, and I get to play basketball,’” Owen-Robinson said.

The Neighb is on Russell Street in Saginaw and is open from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. You can also get educational resources at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint or the Learning Express Library at Genesee County Libraries that can help with ACT and SAT prep.

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