What's New With Student U

  • Student U and Durham County - Early Partnership Highlight

    To see the potential of our future, we first need to understand our context and honor our history. As we continue to celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, this month we will be highlighting some of our early partnerships.

    Student U is proud to be built by Durham, and for Durham. Since its creation, Student U has
    partnered directly with Durham County to build the strongest program possible, in service
    of building the strongest system of education possible for the Durham Community. Durham
    County Commissioners have served as tremendous advocates for the organization, publicly
    endorsing our work and privately providing tremendous guidance to staff members.

    In April 2017, Student U, in partnership with Self-Help, officially purchased the W.G. Pearson
    Center (WGPC) from the Durham Public Schools. In addition to private money raised for
    the purchase, Durham County agreed to provide $4.25 million to support the remediation
    and renovation of WGPC. An official Memorandum of Understanding is currently being
    written between Durham County and Student U regarding how this funding will enhance
    the partnership. WGPC, a historic school building and a central landmark on the Fayetteville
    Corridor, is adjacent to the Fayette Place apartments and the future stop for the potential
    Durham-Orange Light Rail. With North Carolina Central University, the Lincoln Community
    Health Center, and the Hayti Heritage Center within blocks, Student U at WGPC will become a
    critical part of the Hayti Community, joining with other community institutions and individuals
    to advocate for equitable community improvements and continued community pride.

    Student U is committed to utilizing the WGPC in a manner that both honors its history in the Hayti community and best serves Durham. At the WGPC, Student U will continue to provide its holistic afterschool programming. As a result of the additional space, Student U will be able to collaborate with the Durham community to expand the reach of its best practices to better serve the citizens of Durham County.

    Expanded impact is expected to include:

    • Directly serving at least 33% more students in the next three years.
    • Enhancing leadership development opportunities for students and parents.
    • Creating an innovation hub to integrate best practices in to the school system.
    • Creating collective impact partnerships with other community non-profits.
  • Student U Start-Up Advisory Committee - Early Partnership Highlight

    To see the potential of our future, we first need to understand our context and honor our history. As we continue to celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, this month we will be highlighting some of our early partnerships.

    In 2005, a group of fourteen community leaders convened at the home of Tony and Teddie Brown. School Board members, representatives from University of North Carolina, North Carolina Central University, and Duke University, and Durham Academy administrators sat at a table and dreamt of a new way to empower Durham Public School students to own their education. Mary Williams, Amanda Dorsey, and Dan Kimberg, three college students, shared their commitment to working with the community to build a sustainable and impactful organization. Guided by what they learned from Tony Brown’s Social Entrepreneurship class and their work in education both locally and abroad, the three students facilitated a conversation about dreams, brilliance, and the spread of joy. Under the leadership of this fourteen-person Start-Up Advisory Committee, a program began to form. With core values as its foundation and a crazy dream as its objective, Student U was created by Durham and for Durham. 

    Members of the Start-Up Advisory Committee:

    • Beth Anderson 
    • Lynn Blanchard 
    • Tony Brown 
    • Heidi Carter 
    • Anthony L. Clay
    • Chena Flood 
    • Leslie Holdsworth 
    • Bela Kussin 
    • David Malone 
    • Eric Mlyn
    • Omega Curtis Parker
    • Jan Riggsbee
    • Steve Schewel
    • Michael Ulku-Steiner

    This passionate group of individuals committed countless hours to the development of Student U. Without receiving compensation or any official recognition, the committee did whatever was needed to ensure the successful creation of Student U. Major accomplishments include: 

    • Listening to the community and deciding that rather than be a part of an already established national network, Student U would instead become its own organization. 
    • Solidifying Durham Academy as Student U’s fiscal agent and host. 
    • Creating the original curriculum, system for recruitment and acceptance of students, and teacher training model. 
    • Agreeing to raise a full year of funding prior to advertising the organization to potential students or teachers. 

    Five members of the original Start-Up Advisory Committee went on to serve on the Student U Board of Directors, including Bela Kussin. Bela successfully led Student U through the transition of becoming its own 501(c)(3) and then served as the chair of the Board of Directors for three years. Most members of the original committee are still connected to the organization in meaningful ways today. All are continuing to spread the energy and limitless imagination that first defined Student U in their respective communities.

  • Writing The Next Chapter

    Writing The Next Chapter
    by Francis Dela Cruz

    Our future is waiting to be written. As part of the first class of Student U, I, along with my peers, have seen the evolution of Student U. I’ve seen the weekly tutoring opportunities turn into daily afterschool enrichment with Academic Power Hour and clubs at what is now Student U’s new permanent home, our home: the W.G. Pearson Center. I’ve witnessed many of Mr. Kimberg’s and Ms. Z’s speeches and heard as the language has shifted from what we hope to accomplish to what we have accomplished.  I’ve seen students become teachers. And, I have seen four Student U classes graduate from high school. Our past has been written, and it is filled with joy, excellence and hope. Now, it is time to pick up our pens again.

    Because for the next 10 years, this Student U Community of ours will continue to grow and create the traditional and nontraditional leaders of tomorrow. In the next 5 years, we will have about 200 college graduates. In the next 10 years, we’ll have double that. We have families and partners at every corner of Durham. We will have leaders all over Durham with all the wisdom and skills they’ve learned from their experience at Student U.

    Through my time with Student U, I have learned one important philosophy about leadership. Leadership takes a variety of forms. From running companies, to running for office. From taking care of your siblings while earning a college degree to giving up your spot so somebody else can join the game. You have the power to shape what your leadership will become.  

    Imagine what will happen when all of us take the initiative to invest in our own communities wherever we are. I see each and every one of us carrying the 6 values to places that have never heard of such things. Look to the person next to you. I’m going to remind you of our 6 values. Discover your best self. Respect yourselves and others. Share your brilliance. Dream fearlessly. Achieve greatness. And Energize your community. Whoever you’re looking at, they’re probably living some of these values, or maybe it’s their first time hearing them. Either way, that person is capable of living any of these values. And if you ever find yourself alone, with no one beside you to bring the Student U model along. Go and stand in front of a mirror and there, you’ll find a person that’s capable and courageous enough to share the brilliance of our community.

    I have a dream that some of us will bring this Student U model of a collaborative and believing community to places that need a little change. The past decade readied us for this.

    At the end of these next 10 years, I see someone else standing where I am right now, reflecting on the past 10 years. That person will talk of Student U students standing up for what they believe is right. Of students who followed their passion in the arts, sciences, and music. Of students who made living in Durham more accessible. Of a Durham, where brilliance is shared, where greatness is possible, where dreaming fearlessly is not shut down, where the community energizes other communities, and where its people discover their best selves even when all the odds are against them.

    Pick up your pens, the next ten years start now. 

  • Student U’s model spreads to Gastonia

    Student U’s successful model of helping students reach their full potential has spread to Gastonia. Three dozen students in west Gastonia who will start sixth grade in the fall have become trailblazers in a bold new program called the Dream Center Academy. Organized by the nonprofit Dream Center of Gaston County, it’s a summer enrichment and after-school tutoring program aimed at helping selected students reach their full potential. The goal is for it to eventually grow and involve as many as 350 students at a time.

    The model for the entire venture has been modeled after Student U. Dream Center leaders first visited us two years ago and began planning to implement it in Gastonia. Over a decade, we have achieved proven results and have helped students develop better attitudes toward school and academic achievement while also showing greater social development. While our mission is to create a Durham where all children are succeeding, it is also part of our goal to support the development and implementation of practices in schools and other settings.

    Read Full Article Here

  • words

    by alex lowe 

    “words are important and powerful because they tell people certain things. language is the tool of love and the weapon of hatred at the same time.”

    on june 21, 2010 – my first day of teaching my first english class during my first summer at student u – jessica, one of my sixth graders, wrote these words on a sticky note.  she was right.
    the english language is made up of just 26 letters that can make 44 individual sounds, or phonemes.  spanish?  27 letters and 24 phonemes.  think about that – it is truly incredible.  we take these minimal resources – sporadic squiggles on a piece of paper and a strikingly small number of isolated sounds – and we turn them into words.  we manipulate a maximum of 44 sounds and move them around like puzzle pieces to form infinite thoughts, infinite opinions, infinite identities, infinite questions, and infinite answers.
    words are amazing.
    and especially right now, i believe that words matter.
    whether typed in 140 characters on twitter or being shouted from the mouths of marching people, whether written eloquently on official court documents or casually spoken amongst friends in lunchtime conversations, there is no doubt that words – now more than ever – are not just important, but powerful.  we are surrounded and inundated by words carrying piercing power – as a tool of love, yes, but increasingly as a weapon of hatred.
    the question, then, is not if words have power – they do.  the question for us is, what will we do with this power?
    because perhaps the most important thing to know about words –  after we know that they are powerful – is that we are each owners of our words, and though some may try to silence them, our words cannot be taken from us.  my words are my words and you cannot take them from me, and your words are your words and i cannot take them from you. in times where we may feel like we do not have control over much, we must cling to the fact that words are power, and we all have words.
    so – what does it look like to use the power of our words responsibly?  for that, i do not have an answer for you – we are different people with different brains in different situations.  and while i cannot give you answers, i can give you two questions to consider:
    1. what would happen if we went through our days knowing that every word we think or utter or write or tweet or share holds power?  the power to build up, the power to tear down; the power to amplify, the power to silence; the power to condone, the power to challenge; the power to build empathy, the power to bend the arc of the moral universe one step closer to justice? 
    2. what if we each looked at our own little patch of the world and considered what it means to use words as a tool of love there?  what does that look like for you? is it writing your words?  is it sharing them for the first time?  is it speaking them in the face of fear or disagreement?  is it silencing your own words so that someone else’s may be heard?  what does it mean to use words to amplify messages of love and negate messages of hate in the small moments and minutes of your life?

    because the truth is that your words have power and they matter. and while senate rules or systemic racism or people you encounter may temporarily silence them, they are yours, they cannot be taken from you, and they deserve to be heard.  i am in a position of privilege to get to share mine here, freely, in a public space, in all lowercase letters (just the way i like it) – but your words are just as important as mine.  if you need someone to hear them, student u is here.  my email address is alex.lowe@studentudurham.org.  i have a keyboard of 26 letters and 44 sounds, and i’ll email you back.

  • Courage

    by Holly Guss 

    In his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt told the nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". These words were meant to engender confidence in government at a time when the United States was suffering through the economic crisis of the Great Depression. However, since the 1930s, FDR's words have been used to inspire people facing all manner of struggles, anxieties, and crises. In fact, this line has become synonymous with courage. 

    Since Donald Trump's inauguration, I will admit that I have been in a constant state of fear. I fear the next move of these new leaders who do not see themselves in the people they govern. I fear that their isolationist policies will lead to more hatred and violence in our communities. I fear for the future of public education in an economy that values competition and profit over the lives of children. I fear that families will be torn apart by policies like border walls and immigration bans. I fear that our black and brown students will internalize the racist messages they hear and see all around them. I fear that families like mine will lose the legal rights finally granted to them. 

    Yes. I am fearful. But FDR's quote above doesn't bring me much peace. Sometimes the fear is so great it feels as if I can't escape, so how can I have nothing to fear? Later in his career, FDR also said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." This quote rings far more true for me than the first. 

    I believe it is true that to have courage does not mean that I am not afraid. I can be afraid, but I can still act. I can fight through this fear - I can resist it's pull. I can declare with all my words and actions that love is more powerful than fear. I must do this. We all must do this. Together, we can become a courageous and powerful people. 

  • Choose Hope

    Choose Hope
    by April Warren 

    “I’m still asking you to believe — not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.” -Barack Obama

    These words came from Obama’s final tweet as President of the United States. When he was first elected in 2008, his campaign was built upon this promise of change and progress toward a more just world. His presidency brought hope for racial reconciliation and social justice, yet with the recent change in power, our nation feels more divided than ever before.

    On Monday morning, the week before the inauguration, we gathered as a full-time staff. As we reflected on how we and members of our community would feel with this transfer of power, words like “fear, anger, confusion, paralysis, and hopelessness” filled the room. These words felt especially real on Friday. As I watched the Obamas receive the Trumps on the steps of the White House and welcome them inside, tears streamed down my face. I was witnessing far more than an inauguration ritual of morning tea. I felt as though I was watching the hopes and dreams of so many Americans go down the drain. I was consumed by this sense of hopelessness.

    Shortly after watching this moment, I heard the above quote from Barack Obama. I was reminded that my hopelessness would not change our current circumstances, but would instead paralyze my own ability to invoke change. The Law of Attraction claims that focusing on positive or negative thoughts can actually bring positive or negative events into existence. While I am not claiming that this is a scientifically proven fact; I do believe that your pre-conceived notion of a situation can influence your perception of that event as either positive or negative. In this case, if I sit and wallow in my hopelessness and frustration; I will continue to view the world as a hopeless place, devoid of justice. I have to consciously choose hope.

    I choose hope when I remember that I serve a God with a plan and trust that He is still in control. Although I do not currently know or understand His plan, it is part of a greater scheme that I am clearly not meant to understand right now and may never fully grasp. I hope and pray that justice and mercy will prevail over a rhetoric of hate that has been given a voice.

    I choose hope when I remember the power of individuals to advocate for change. Last week our middle school students did an activity at YRP on resistance. They read bios about individuals who devoted their lives to advocating for change. Many of these individuals fought for their beliefs through civil disobedience, writing, art, or organizing people to collectively make change. We do not have to be bystanders who must now sit and watch our world change. We have a voice that can and must be used. Whether this is by marching with four million people nationwide to advocate for women’s rights or simply a conversation with someone whose views are different than yours, using your voice right now is critical.

    I choose hope when I look at our students every day at YRP. As Obama stated, I believe in change because I believe in them. Last Friday, as a group of students discussed their feelings about the inauguration, one student vocalized her desire to be president one day. She went on to cite all of the changes she would make in order to strengthen our nation and make it a more inclusive space for all people. She was met with a chorus of affirmation from her peers. I believe that our students are the change agents that our nation desperately needs right now. I find hope in knowing that they are our future leaders and that they too have a voice to use.

    There will be many more moments in the next four years when I feel tempted to fall back into a sense of hopelessness. As policies change and individuals are appointed, it will be increasingly difficult to picture an America where there are equal opportunities for all people and where each individual is seen and accepted for his or her inherent value and worth. It is not easy to choose hope right now, but it is essential.