Fourteen-year-old Asia Hudson, a freshman at Detroit’s Renaissance High School, was a bit apprehensive about starting school this year, but after her stint with the MUSE program, she is confident that she has acquired the skills and mindset that will carry her through the next four years.  Asia, a graduate of Ludington Middle School, was a participant in the Motorcity Urban Summer Enrichment program, or MUSE.

The MUSE program, which began in 2010, is geared towards assisting incoming high school freshmen with math, English and extracurricular activities in order to smooth their transition to high school and further prepare them for college.  The program is unique in that it only utilizes those in undergraduate school to mentor and teach its students.  The founders of the program, Iman Taylor, a student at Harvard University, George Hardy, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kyla Taylor, a student at Denison University, developed the non-profit because they saw the need for a summer transitional program which would enrich the lives and educational experiences of inner-city students eager to prepare themselves for college.

Astounded by Detroit’s 25% high school graduation rate, they felt the urge to give back to their native Detroit.  They spent late spring knocking on doors getting funding for the establishment of their 501C3.  In addition, they sought educators willing to donate space for them to hold classes.  Their search ended at University of Central Preparatory High School, formerly Central High.  The administrators of the progressively changing school were more than happy to lend a helping hand, providing classroom space, computers and presentation boards to Iman and George for the running of the MUSE program.

Ken Watson, college and scholarship coordinator at the high school, played a central part in assisting Iman and George with their needs.

“Iman walked in off the street and asked if she could speak to our students,” Watson said.  “As soon as she said she was from Harvard, I said yes.  Then when I heard that her partner was from Penn, I knew that God had blessed us with the purpose of helping these students.”

According to Asia,  the MUSE program assisted the students in a such a tremendous, way, that it helped them to begin thinking about college ahead of time.  Not only did the students receive assistance with math, essay writing and ACT preparation, they also engaged in electives that caused them to think critically.  But Asia was really impacted because she and the other students could relate to their instructors because of the relative young ages of Taylor and Hardy, both 20.

“The mentors had a lot of fun with us,” Asia stated.  “They weren’t like teachers.  They were like friends teaching you.  That helped the learning process.”

And that is exactly the response that excite Taylor and Hardy, who both are interested in keeping a sisterhood/brotherhood feel within the MUSE organization by only utilizing undergraduate students as mentors.  This brotherhood/sisterhood feel would inevitably foster a sense of connectedness that might not be found with older mentors.

“MUSE is different than other programs in Detroit,” Iman said, emphasizing the young age of the mentors.  The undergraduate aspect keeps the mentors close in age with their mentees.  Although MUSE stands apart from other programs designed to help transition students from middle school to high school,  Taylor and Hardy certainly don’t knock other programs.  As a matter of fact, they are proud graduates and advocates of Horizons Upward Bound, a four-year summer enrichment program that helps high school students transition to college.

“Our involvement in Upward Bounds helped inspire us to create MUSE,” Iman said.

Iman Taylor, who taught English to the MUSE students, made a profound impact on the ten students that were tutored.  The students had elementary writing skills which dramatically improved by the end of the summer.

While Taylor taught English, her partner Hardy taught math.  Realizing that some of the students had no grasp of basic math concepts such as adding and subtracting fractions or the order of operations, he admits that teaching the students was not an easy task.  However, he did help them understand its importance and its application to money, engineering and medicine.  In addition, he helped them learn to take timed mathematics tests in preparation for the ACT.  Both Ie were able to recognize the individual strengths and weaknesses of their students.

In addition to teaching math and English, they both taught extracurricular activities as a means to expose the youth to critical thinking skills.  Their electives began with a quote-of-the-day, public speaking and confidence building activities.  Some of the topics they covered were “The Black Family,” “Blacks and Philanthropy and Politics,” “21st Century Hollywood,” and “Blacks in the Harlem Renaissance.”  The elective classes were filled with debates and lively discussion.

Asia enjoyed the elective classes because Hardy and Taylor challenged her and the rest of the class and got them thinking. In addition, she was exposed to some pertinent topics that were yet new to her.

“We had electives based on African American history and I wasn’t exposed to that in middle school,” she said.

While Asia is enjoying the beginning of her freshman year at Renaissance High, Iman Taylor and George Hardy have both returned to college.  Nevertheless, they, along with Kyla Taylor, who spent this summer abroad, plan to return to Detroit next year to further expand the MUSE program.  They are seeking volunteer mentors as well as interested incoming freshmen.

Watson is excited about the return of MUSE to University of Central Preparatory High, and would like to see the program expand in such a way as to accommodate all University of Central Preparatory’s incoming freshmen.

Although  Taylor, Hardy and Taylor are flexible when it comes to their expansion of the program, they definitely seek to acquire a connection to some of the local four-year universities like Wayne State University and the University of Michigan.  This would help give them a steady stream of undergraduate students to mentor next year’s incoming freshmen.

Asia would encourage next year’s incoming freshmen to join the program.

MUSE would like to add incoming tenth and eleventh grader to next year’s program.  In addition, they would like to ensure that a large range of Detroit high schools is represented.

Anyone interested in becoming a MUSE volunteer mentor, participant or supporter should contact the organization at muse.detroit@gmail.com.

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