The Rapidian

A Second Chance: GRCC's Life-changing Learning Corner

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Learning Corner at Wealthy

Learning Corner at Wealthy /Grand Rapids Community College

This article was written and edited by Anthony Alarcon-Santiago, Emily Barr, Damion Hernandez, Merlyn Nailon, and Rachelle VanDyke for EN 102-1593 at GRCC.


Michigan’s Constitution [Art. 8, Section 2], requires that a system of free schools be maintained and supported “in a nondiscriminatory manner.”  However, disparities within Michigan’s public school systems continue to thrive. For example, 31 percent of Grand Rapids public school students drop out. And the stakes for our community and for these students are high.  68 percent of Michigan’s prisoners are identified as high school dropouts.

Nevertheless, there is a healing ointment in Grand Rapids, a defender of the right to quality and adequate education. There is one who has lessened the pain of a historically open wound: The Grand Rapids Community College- Learning Corner at Wealthy Street. In 2003, The Learning Corner opened its doors to those who for years have been funneled out of schools and subjected to self-defeating lifestyles. GRCC has generously applied the curative balm of education to thousands and has literally changed forever the lives of hundreds by offering completion to high school dropouts, hope to young mothers for the future of their children, another chance to get it right for gang members, and meaningful success to ex-addicts.  
The Learning Corner at Wealthy Street has begun a good work. Despite the challenges, it has arrested the denial of adequate education by offering higher learning and educational opportunities to a struggling community, helping diminish youth gang activity and reduce the cost of community violence across the social spectrum. The strength of the Learning Corner’s success can be measured in the lives of individuals and families it has helped restore.


Merlyn Nailon, a former student at the Learning Corner, shared his experience. “After battling with a 20 year addiction, I was inspired by my wife Felicia to go to college through the Grand Rapids Community College Learning Corner.  She started at the Learning Corner after being out of school for over twenty-two years, and she is a living testimony that all things are possible. She has received her Associates Degree from GRCC, and is graduating this May with her BA in Sociology and a minor in Women’s Studies. My oldest son Willis got his GED at the Learning Corner and at 22 years old now holds a BA in Business Administration and is enrolled in graduate school.” Nailon believes that the Learning Corner is unique because “while located between a struggling neighborhood and a thriving business community, it meets the challenges of offering the invaluable service of higher education to a struggling, sometimes hostile community while upholding the integrity of the institution - this cannot be an easy task."
 Just months away from his Associates Degree, Nailon hopes that he left behind the example of perseverance. “Going forward, I will embrace any opportunity to give back to the good, difficult and hopeful community that gave so much to me,” Nailon notes.


Nailon’s positive view of the Learning Corner is shared by those who work there. Ms. Leneway, who came to the Learning Corner after six years of teaching in the public school system and now teaches at GRCC’s main campus, echoes great hope for a struggling population. Of her time at the Learning Corner, she recalls, “Teaching at the Learning Corner was a wonderful experience. I have had 184 students in a total of 10 classes.  Of those students 22% (41 students) received an A, 30% (56 students) received a B, 3% (6 students) received a C, and 27% (49 students) withdrew prior to the end of class. This means that 57% (over 95) of their lives were changed forever as a result of the work being done at the Learning Corner and their successful completion of all the requirements of the class.”


Ms. Leneway shares that many of her students excelled and were recognized for their hard work and dedication. For example, she notes, “Merlyn Nailon has been a recipient of the Milo Brown Scholarship. He had asked me to write him a letter of recommendation, and all I had was great things to say about him as a student and a person. Arlisha James had been featured in the Fall 2009 issue of GRCC Magazine. The cover story was ‘Success is Fundamental at GRCC’s Learning Corner.’”


Ms. Cason, a GED facilitator and Career Development Coach for the youth, offers the same heartfelt sentiments of hope stating, “One of the greatest experiences of my life is watching those students who had given up on their future take that walk in their caps and gowns- I am blessed to be in a position to positively change the lives of these babies and offer Grand Rapids the next generation of college students.”


How do we avoid faces soaked with the tears of disparity? What can we do reduce the number lives riddled with the bullets of desperation? What will it take to heal the local wounds of inequality and further GRCC’s efforts to educate a struggling population? We must start at the root causes. Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan’s executive director admits that we can’t even begin to address the youth population in prison “until we deal with the ‘pipeline’ leading from the educational system to prison.” From there we as a community of educators, college students, business owners and parents must work to build sustainable educational system where every child, regardless, receives a quality and adequate education. Where do we start? We start by taking a play from the Learning Corner’s playbook; dealing with struggling communities.

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