Tucked away in Syracuse’s economically depressed Northside is a hidden gem of education creating opportunities for the refugee population that resides there.
Since 2009, the North Side Learning Center has provided adult literacy courses for refugees and immigrants in the Syracuse area. In recent years, it has added tutoring and after-school help to the community’s high school students.
Mickey Walker is the lead high school teacher at North Side Learning Center, and you would probably never guess what drew him into this line of work.
“Honestly, the reason I started teaching here was because I was so disgusted with Donald Trump that I chose something I figured would aggravate him if he knew about it,” Walker said.
The students that attend Walker’s class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings come from schools all over the Syracuse City School District (SCSD), and are mainly children of East African and Middle Eastern refugees who have only lived in the United States for only a few years.
And it’s because of this that their main barrier to academic success, according to Walker, is the language gap.
“The primary issue for them is just learning English,” Walker said. “They’ve only lived here for a short period of time, so they have an issue with some of the more complicated words and the more involved grammar.”
However, in a city with 2018 high school graduation rates coming in at just 58.3 percent, according to a recent Syracuse.com article, the North Side Learning Center can be seen as a sign of hope.
That’s because the students who attend the center’s classes have a graduation rate of 90 percent, according to Walker. Moreover, many of the students have gone on to pursue post-secondary schooling as well.
“At this point we have some students who have become the first in their family to attend college,” Walker says. “It’s been great to be able to watch some of these kids grow over the last few years.”
But it shouldn’t be considered a surprise that these students have excelled academically.
“All of these kids speak at least two languages. Some of them speak as many as five,” Walker said. “These are really bright kids that just need time, and then they can do anything that any other student would be capable of.”
In the coming years, North Side hopes to bring in more students from around the Syracuse area to combat the city’s downward trending graduation rates, and provide educational assistance to a population that is often forgotten.