Food pantry, computer room planned for new after-school program at Ypsi Township school

A cluster of recently vacated rooms in Washtenaw County's academically lowest performing elementary school will soon house a robust after-school program, thanks to a collaboration between local educational institutions and a nonprofit.


When administrative staff moved out of the rooms at Ypsilanti Township's Brick Elementary earlier this year, several individuals reached out to Derrick Miller, executive director of Washtenaw County-based nonprofit Community Action Network (CAN). Brick receives Title 1 federal funding disbursed to schools with more than 50 percent of students using free and reduced-lunch programs. However, because other Lincoln Consolidated Schools have higher academic performance than Brick, the school can't attain federal 21st Century Community Learning Center funds for enrichment programs.


CAN is already involved in several after-school or summer camp programs around the county, including a summer program at Brick, so the school tapped CAN to shape a new after-school program with logistical support from Engage @EMU.


CAN hosted two walkthroughs of the space in early December to help community members envision how the eight rooms can be used for after-school activities and to fundraise for the new program.


Rooms will be dedicated for a food pantry, storage, and a computer/technology area. Three rooms will be set aside for small group after-school activities, and a larger room will be a media center that can host large groups.


The food pantry is just the first phase of wraparound services CAN would like to provide through the after-school program. Miller says he'd eventually like to include utilities assistance and eviction prevention services for families of the after-school program participants as well.


CAN is hoping Brick pupils will show similar results to those CAN has seen in other schools where it runs enrichment programs.


Students who participate in other CAN programs "have a 90 percent high school graduation rate, compared to 70 percent for their economic peers," Miller says. Additionally, the children on average attend eight more days of school per year.


Schools with high-risk populations tend to stagnate or even backslide academically, Miller says, but students in CAN programs maintain or improve their performance, with 88 percent improving by a full letter grade or maintaining an A or B average.


While CAN's school enrichment programs are focused on improving academic achievement, they can only achieve that goal through community, Miller says. That happens through activities like back-to-school barbecues or catered "homework dinners" engaging kids, parents, school faculty, and CAN staff.


"In reality, creating meaningful relationships is a huge part of what we do," Miller says.


Miller says he expects there will be about 10 staff members and volunteers running the after-school program, including a full-time site director. CAN staff are aiming to kick off the after-school program in mid- to late January.


The United Way of Washtenaw County has already given the program a $15,000 grant, and another $12,000 came from a Washtenaw County Public Health grant. Miller says anyone interested in supporting the program can do so by making an online donation here and earmarking the donations for Brick Elementary.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the interim project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Derrick Miller photo by Sarah Rigg. Group photo courtesy of Derrick Miller.