At the Young People’s Project, education is not a privilege granted by adults — it’s a right acquired by youth. The Cambridge- and Boston-based nonprofit views quality education as a basic right, and empowers youth to expand math literacy.
Founded in 1996 in Jackson, Miss., the Young People’s Project (YPP) grew out of the work of Bob Moses and the Algebra Project.
Moses, a former Civil Rights activist and member of Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), saw education as the next frontier in the struggle for equality in the United States. After obtaining a graduate degree from Harvard and working as a teacher in Cambridge, Moses won the MacArthur “Genius” grant, and used the half million-dollar prize to start the Algebra Project, a math literacy program, in Cambridge.
Moses decided to focus his educational activism on increasing skills in mathematics to prepare students and parents for the growing technology industry. He started going to schools in the Greater Boston area to learn which ones were teaching algebra. For the ones that were not, he started after-school programs and organized parents and teachers to push for better math education.
In 1996, the first group of Algebra Project students graduated from college, and resumed their work with Moses — but this time, with a different objective.
The new Young People’s Project was created to address not only academics, but also the broader community issues surrounding education. The founders believed that math literacy would improve young people’s academics and their ability to be productive members of society. YPP also advocated a different model of activism — young people as the primary engines of community change.
With this spirit, YPP began training high school and college students to teach a younger generation of students. These high school Math Literacy Workers and College Math Literacy Workers offer programs to give elementary and middle school students extra math help. The after-school workshops run a few times a week throughout the year. Workshops for younger students, grades 3-6, typically use games and activities to develop math skills and to generate excitement for learning. Workshops for older students, grades 7-9, focus on collaborative and collective learning to develop an understanding of algebraic concepts.
Since it’s founding, YPP has grown to cities across the country, including Jackson, Miss. and Chicago. The nonprofit organization is also developing programs in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami, Mansfield, Ohio, Ann Arbor, Mich., Petersburg, Va. and at Hamilton College in New York.
In the greater Boston area, YPP has trained more than 750 high school Math Literacy Workers and 100 college Math Literacy Workers to teach more than 1,500 elementary students.
In addition to teaching young students, the Math Literacy Workers and College Math Literacy Workers organize Neighbor Circles, dinners for parents and community members to discuss local education issues. In Cambridge, this has led to a group of parents pushing for a city ordinance that would guarantee education as a basic right, and has motivated another group to take on the challenges of transportation in their neighborhood.
The youth also run workshops for parents to learn more about math — so they feel better equipped to help their children.
Chad Milner went through the program as a student in the late 1980s, and said, “YPP had a great impact on my life.” Now serving as the National Director of Programs and Initiatives, Milner said that in addition to helping students reach college, YPP develops self-esteem and leadership skills, and “changes the definition of what it means to be cool or successful.”
He explained that YPP is creating a sub-culture in which school and personal development are important. Moreover, he said that YPP instills a “sense of ownership” in the students, teaching them to “look at this [education] problem as a collective problem,” not just a personal one.
YPP is “owned by young people, supported by adults,” Milner said, a model he hopes will inspire others across the country.