Last week, students at Relentless Academy gave family members, teachers, supporters and sponsors something to be proud of. In a packed auditorium at the Brooklyn Center Community Center, students from first to eighth grade gleefully presented some of their classroom highlights and achievements at the academy’s summer showcase.
The students took turns presenting drumming and science demonstrations. Naturally, the “candy DNA“ exercise seemed to be a big hit with the majority of first- through third-graders, though a few also cited soil samples.
“Tonight was amazing!” Relentless Academy Founder and Executive Director Nicoshia Wynn beamed after the event. “We had almost 50 kids come in and talk about what they’ve learned in their classrooms. Parents showed up, sponsors showed up, and it was another successful year—number two.
“Our children got to showcase what they’ve learned all summer long through a 10-week period in the areas of science, math, art, reading, and technology—we have music and financial literacy as well,” Wynn said.
The Aug. 18 showcase took place on the heels of the school’s “Community is Everything” event on Aug. 6, which provided 400 backpacks to families in Brooklyn Center.
Wynn launched Relentless Academy in 2021 with the goal of offering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes to supplement the academic needs of students of color and to prevent academic slide during the summer.
In its inaugural year, the program provided over 270+ hours of academic and enrichment classes to 25 youth who completed the summer program. The majority of the students, 97%, were exposed to coding for the first time. The academy also launched the Relentless Robotics monthly coding club for grades 2-8.
This year, the number of graduates in the STEM program doubled, with a 100% return rate of students who completed the program the previous year. Through sponsors like Emerson, 3M, and Donaldson, the school was able to broaden its scope to include horticulture lessons, as well as a health and wellness component.
“One of the things that we are super proud about is that we partnered with Brookdale Covenant Church as well as the [Hennepin Technical College’s Horticulture Department] for our gardening program to expand more learning to our children,” Wynn said.
“[The students] learned more about how vegetables grow, making recipes, and eating the vegetables. We actually had kids who never liked green vegetables eat green vegetables,” Wynn laughed. “They learned how to think strategically—how things work, move, and how they are created, which increases their brain power.”
She added, “If you have a foundation in science, there are various fields your kids can go into. Horticulture is one of them, even culinary arts is another one. There’s a food science career—nobody knows about that. We want to expose our kids to as much as we can to say hey, the sky is the limit.”
Zan Tomko, a student volunteer at Hennepin Technical College’s horticulture program, relished the experience of working with the students. “These kid were led by their curiosity,” Tomko said. “One time a toad showed up, another time a caterpillar, and these were teachable moments about the natural world around them.”
Tomko and Brenda Johnson of Brookdale Covenant Church worked together to come up with the horticulture curriculum. “I wish I had more time with the students,” Tomko said.
Relentless Academy was also able to partner with CreateMpls to expand from coding and robotics to include droning.
“We also partnered with AKN Wellness to provide yoga classes,” Wynn noted. “Our campus has a holistic approach to everything. We don’t just work on academics; we don’t just focus on STEM, but we care about the whole child and their families.”
In addition to an increase in programming, with the addition of more grants and corporate sponsorships this year, the school increased its staffing and overcame the challenges of finding teachers for a 16-hour-a-week commitment during the summer.
Looking to the future, Wynn said, “My plan is to expand to at least house 100 kids or more in the summer months. That would require us to start looking for a different facility to operate out of.” The program is currently housed in Brookdale Covenant Church in Brooklyn Center.
“We’re reaching capacity pretty quickly here,” Wynn added. “There are so many empty buildings here in Brooklyn Center. It’s just a matter of getting the funding from sponsors or corporate partners or federal funding to make that happen for us.”
Savoring the completion of a second year, Wynn said, “Our mission really is to help prepare the next generation of fiscally responsible, S.M.A.R.T. leaders that the world will need in generations to come. We are here for the community, to make sure kids are learning, they don’t have academic slide, and to make sure kids are OK. We’re here to stay—we’re not going anywhere.”
For more info about Relentless Academy, go to www.relentlessacademy.org.
Paige Elliott is the digital editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.