“Miss Rachael, can we PLEASE have homework? Not the paper kind, the building kind!” I couldn’t be more excited to hear this from one of my 4th graders on the FIRST Lego League (FLL) Team at our final competition for the season last weekend. It reminded me of early mornings spent in my middle school wood shop, asking for extra projects from my teacher.

The FLL competition was held at S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center. S.A.Y. Play is a 2,500 square-foot digital learning and tutoring center on Detroit’s northeast side. The center has an innovative approach to encouraging students to meet their academic goals. Students who maintain a 3.0 grade point average or enroll in after-school tutoring are able to utilize the center’s impressive athletic facilities and meet Detroit’s professional athletes. The center has a brand new gymnasium renovated with the help of a $600,000 commitment by the Detroit Pistons along with a new football field sponsored by Lion’s quarterback Matthew Stafford. S.A.Y. Play reopened an abandoned recreation center in the Osborn School area in Lipke Park. A few years ago Detroit was forced to close the majority of rec centers in the city due to budget cuts, leaving youth with few safe spaces to play and engage in enrichment activities.

Today, the opportunities offered for youth at the center are impressive. Among the athletic and learning centers I also spotted a recording studio and space for students participating in middle school robotics programs. Seeing the result of collaborations between the City of Detroit, non-profits, and private partners was exciting. I believe that exploring innovative learning models like S.A.Y. Play’s, along with giving students the opportunity to see that education goes beyond “the paper kind,” is what will propel them to succeed academically and pursue their dreams.