Aloka Narayanan (MPP '20) speaks about her work withBrilliant Detroit to tackle issues regarding early childhood education, food security, and homelessness.
Hi everyone my name is Aloka Narayanan and I'm a 2nd year MPP originally from San Dimas California.
Some of my earliest and fondest memories come from the San Dimas public library, my local favorite place in my home town.
I have vivid recollections of walking in the seemingly gargantuan double doors, hand in my mother's, on my way to the next fantastical adventure that is whichever book I grabbed first.
My mom, who is now retired, was a preschool teacher who worked part-time when I was a kid, my dad worked full time as an accountant.
Mom was there to drop me off and pick me up from school everyday, read to me every night, cook healthy meals for the family, and volunteer at my school whenever she got the chance.
As a result of my parents' stable career and incomes, I enjoyed the privilege of a childhood oblivious to the threats of food insecurity and homelessness.
My parents continued investment of time, money, and attentiveness are the reasons that I'm here today.
Most of Detroit's children don't have the same opportunities that I did growing up due to simple truths of economic disinvestment.
Some parents work 2 to 3 jobs a day with barely enough time to sleep, let alone take their kids to the library.
60 percent of Detroit children under 5 live in poverty and only 15 percent of children are reading proficiently by grade three.
When I point to key reasons for why I'm here today, it all comes back to early childhood education and supports that I received.
That's why I chose to spend my summer working on a citywide grade level reading campaign in Detroit.
I worked with Brilliant Detroit, a remarkable nonprofit in the city that builds kids success neighborhoods, where families and children are able to build steady, healthy, stable lives.
The initiative I worked on is called 313 Reads, and it boasts a systems level approach to ensure that more children are reading by reading proficiently by grade 3.
During my 10 week internship, I worked with Brilliant Detroit and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan to strengthen 313 Reads' collective impact model in 3 ways.
First, I interviewed nonprofit directors in Detroit to assess capacity for expansion of early childhood services and possibilities to build stronger referral networks between them.
Second, I researched leading practices used by grade level reading campaigns across the nation and education experts here at U of M to track progress on community-wide literacy goals.
Finally, I built an evaluation framework informed by all of the above that would allow non-profits and community leaders alike to see how well the city was doing at accomplishing all of those goals.
I feel empowered every single day by the sincere efforts of my parents to build opportunity for me.
The closest intervention to the comprehensive supports that I and others in my position have perceived is a collective impact model, which is essentially a comprehensive model for collaboration.
313 Reads involves partners from early education providers to pediatricians and food banks.
Promising progress of other collective impact grade level reading campaigns gives me the inspiration to continue doing this work in Detroit.
After graduation, I certainly will remain connected to the city and find new ways to contribute to the rise of new generations.