Date: September 5, 2007
Students lined the back wall of a crowded chemistry amphitheater in Halenz Hall for the kick-off of the 2007-2008 season of the Socrates Project, an after-school educational mentoring program concentrated in Benton Harbor. Two guest speakers headlined the event, sharing advice based on personal experience in the educational system.
Leading off, Chuck Wilbur, senior education and communication advisor to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, presented Andrews students with a number of educational issues facing the state of Michigan. Wilbur noted low graduation rates in high schools and state universities as areas for improvement.
"Education in Michigan," Wilbur said, "is powered by a three-letter word: all." Newly legislated changes in high school curriculum requiring students to take more courses in math, English, and foreign languages, will work towards ensuring a better education for all students. Also, State scholarships may be given after the first two years of college have been completed, giving students an incentive to stay in school.
But while the politicians in Lansing are the ones "changing laws," Wilbur recognized that people like those involved in the Socrates Project, who come into direct contact with students, are the ones "changing lives." "I regard you as the troops on the front lines," said Wilbur. "I come here to salute you."
Following Wilbur, Louretta Cunningham-Powell brought the issue of education down from the state to the local level. Powell, who serves as dean of MLK Freshman Academy in Benton Harbor, shared the experience of witnessing a transformation in her schoolgetting students who would rather be dancing or playing basketball, to take school seriously.
In a school system that ranks the lowest in Berrien County, Cunningham-Powell pushed for change by "stressing every day academics, academics, academics." She got the kids to "focus not on what is, but on what could be." One example of this strategy paying off was the story of training a MLK school team that won ten medals, including two gold, at the Michigan Social Studies Olympiad.
Cunningham-Powell was quick to point out however, that education is a group effort. "It takes a village to raise a child," she said, calling on community members to take an interest in the education and upbringing of Benton Harbor schoolchildren.
In his closing remarks, Wilbur reminded Andrews’ students that while no magic wand or silver bullet can make an instant improvement in the educational system, "you can change education one heart, one mind, at a time."