Per a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, students who were not proficient in reading by the end of third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school than those who were proficient readers. Furthermore, according to the 2017 results from the National Assessment of Education Progress, Michigan ranks in the bottom third of states for fourth-grade reading.

Throughout its history, the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC (JCRC/AJC) has been committed to literacy advocacy. Specifically, more than a decade ago, the nonpartisan organization began serving as administrator for the Detroit Jewish Coalition for Literacy, an umbrella organization that seeks to increase the Jewish community’s involvement in the fight against illiteracy. In non-pandemic times, the group mobilizes and trains volunteer readers, tutors and book drive organizers who serve thousands of students in programs established in Detroit Public Schools and public schools throughout Oakland County.

Now, they are partnering with Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, a former board president for Southfield Public Schools, and the school district, on the “Brenda Lawrence Educational Initiative.” This literacy tutoring program will help ensure that Southfield schoolchildren will have a strong chance of success.

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence

Said Congresswoman Lawrence when the program was initially announced, “I am so proud to be a part of this critical initiative that brings together our community to help improve the educational trajectory of our children. It is of the utmost importance that we provide our students with the support they need to succeed in school and gain the confidence to know that they have the ability to achieve anything.”  

Added Charles Hicks, Southfield Public Schools Board of Education president, “I appreciate the partnership and collaboration between the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the Southfield Public School District. We must do whatever we can to mitigate any literacy loss as a result of challenges that arise as a result of the pandemic. Together, we can do what is in the best interest of our most valuable stakeholders … our children.”

Initially, JCRC/AJC has begun partnering with area synagogues to provide congregants to serve as tutors. Each congregation, which includes Congregation Shaarey Zedek and Young Israel of Southfield, is being matched with a specific school and then reading and math tutors are being trained and assigned to students by teachers based upon the pupil’s needs and the tutor’s schedule. Sessions will take place virtually, after school hours, and will be 30 minutes to one-hour long.

Currently, schools that have requested tutors, and will be participating in this initiative, include Adler, McIntyre and Stevenson Elementary Schools, Birney K-8 School, MacArthur K-8 University Academy, Thompson K-8 International Academy and Vandenberg World Culture Academy. Organizers encourage alumni from the schools to sign-up as a way of giving back.

“Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC is proud to partner with Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence and Southfield Public Schools as we prepare to launch the “Brenda Lawrence Educational Initiative,” said Jeri Fishman, co-chair of JCRC/AJC’s literacy program who is also leading the effort for Congregation Shaarey Zedek, where she formerly served as president. “The committee has been working together with school personnel to finalize the last details of the program and are looking for volunteers to virtually tutor students in grades one through five at the moment but would consider middle school grades if there is a need.”

Fishman’s fellow chair on JCRC/AJC’s effort is Shaarey Zedek Rabbi Yoni Dahlen.

For those interested in volunteering, please email Sandy Lippitt at