The back-to-school season means more to Tysean Harris than starting a new grade with a new teacher, new friends and new lessons.
It’s also about what the seventh-grader does once the bell rings an end to his day at Carnage Middle School.
Tysean spends his afternoons at The Daniel Center for Math and Science, a licensed child-care program in Raleigh designed to motivate children to learn and get excited about math and science, and prepare them for college studies and careers in the STEM fields.
“It definitely helps me with my homework and teaches me how I can build and create stuff,” said Tysean, 12. “One field trip told us about all the technology in the world, and it was so interesting. I loved it so much.
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“Plus, when I go to school, I already know a lot of things because The Daniel Center teaches me.”
Tysean is featured for positive achievement in one of the center’s back-to-school social media blasts, celebrating his selection as one of 15 students who competed in the state Department of Transportation’s Bridge Building Competition. The focus: problem-solving strategies and critical-thinking skills to make connections between what is taught in the classroom and real-world applications.
Salene Miller credits the center for her eighth-grade son Christian’s induction last year into the National Junior Honor Society, another highlight reel in the center’s back-to-school celebration.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Miller, whose sixth-grader, Isaiah, also attends the center. “My oldest son was struggling when he started middle school, not with intellect but with fitting in. The Daniel Center gave him confidence and, now, they both have excelled.
“It has sparked curiosity and given them confidence in their future,” said Miller, whose sons attend East Millbrook Middle School. “That’s a big deal.”
The Daniel Center also has launched its first Back to School Campaign. The nonprofit hopes to raise $20,000 by month’s end to expand its programming and add more pre-K children to its roster, said Kirby Jones, the center’s founder and executive director.
The Daniel Center opened in March 2011 and now hosts 32 at-risk and economically disadvantaged children ages 5-12. It holds a summer program for high school students.
The center rents space from the church Jones pastors, Williams Grove Baptist, on Rock Quarry Road in Southeast Raleigh. Its name, Jones said, borrows from a story in the Book of Daniel that describes young Daniel and his friends as well-learned in wisdom, knowledge and science, and able to stand before the king.
The Daniel Center curriculum outlines STEM-based lessons Mondays and Tuesdays. For example, lessons focus on energy, cell biology, plant science or solar energy.
On Wednesdays, scientists from the Lord Corporation in Cary visit, and Thursdays alternate between the expertise of HDR Engineering in downtown Raleigh and First Tennessee Bank, whose representatives teach financial literacy.
On Fridays, students learn about computer coding. Throughout the week, student volunteers hail from the N.C. State University Honors Village.
“Our philosophy is education is not only textbooks,” Jones said. “It’s experience, exposure and exploration, which, oftentimes, are opportunities children from lower-income families don’t have.
“But what we do is a small piece of the puzzle. It’s necessary that the whole community wrap around these children and provide them support.”
He’s right. Statistics tell us so, linking poverty to lower academic achievement and overall expectations, and higher dropout rates. In Southeast Raleigh, more than twice as many families live below poverty than in the rest of Wake County.
The area has a large number of minorities – about 70 percent of Southeast Raleigh residents are African-American, and nearly 10 percent are Hispanic.
“If you can ever motivate a child, set their default setting to succeed, the rest of it almost falls in line,” Jones said. “It’s hard to overcome a negative default setting, so our mission is to change that default setting for as many kids as possible.”
Done, said Tysean’s mother, Katrenia Dickerson.
“The Daniel Center has instilled a love of math and science for both of my children,” said Dickerson, whose fourth-grade daughter, Tashayah, also attends.
Of Tysean, she said, “He’s thriving. He loves it and he actually gets it outside the classroom, which is huge. It’s an extension of the school day at The Daniel Center that makes a difference.”