Changing the education narrative in Detroit


On a steamy morning last summer, three Model D people – editor Walter Wasacz and writers Melinda Clynes and Amy Kuras – pondered the issue of education in the city of Detroit. After all, anyone raising – or even thinking about – children in the city struggles with the “school issue”. Between the iced coffee rounds at Hamtramck’s Cafe in 1923, we put aside the notion that schools are necessarily deal-breakers for budding Detroiters.

We decided it was high time we started an alternate, positive narrative about educational opportunities in Detroit. Within an hour we had a long list of amazing “hidden gems” – and some not-so-hidden ones – that go with whatever is available in the suburbs. Sure, we got a little busy with caffeine, but we also felt like a real energy building chattering about all the cool education-related happenings in town. And it is this energy and excitement that we hope to share with you in an ongoing Model D educational series. Now that we’re in the middle of autumn, it’s high time to get started.

We’re going to create a new craze that doesn’t require coffee and that is relevant to everyone – including childless city dwellers and suburbanites – because we all understand the importance of schools to a thriving city. After all, the quality of education in the city affects everything from the value of your home to finding decent employees for your business – and yes, that affects people north of Eight Mile as well.

With Model D as our platform, we are planning a public dialogue about what Detroit has to offer for people who choose to live, work, play and raise their children within the city limits.

First of all, let’s put an end to the argument that DPS is an instant no-go. There are public schools that do a great job in the D and we’re going to give them the spotlight they deserve.

In addition to gems like Cass Tech and Renaissance, there’s the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School (known as FLICS), as well as Burton and Chrysler for the elementary school, which is closer to downtown. At the high school level, Osborn and Cody are doing great things, and the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Pregnant and Parental Teenage Girls caught the attention of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and was the subject of a wonderful documentary.

Charter, private, and parish schools offer an alternative to DPS, and we’ll uncover the good ones that no one really knows about. Yes, every middle and upper class parent looks to Friends School or the Detroit Waldorf School first for good reason. They are great schools that produce great children. But for those of us with thin wallets, University Prep and the Detroit Edison Public School Academy offer high quality learning environments without the heavy tuition. And Cornerstone Schools and Most Holy Trinity School, to name a few, serve a more religious purpose, along with teaching the three Rs.

And message flash! You will not see a nun with rulers at these schools, just teachers and staff who care deeply about their students and raise children in poverty and children of college professors equally well.

Sometimes even the best school doesn’t have everything you or your child needs – and we Detroiters certainly don’t shy away from DIY. If you know where to look, there are numerous options for arts, sports, and language enrichment. MSU has an outpost of the Community Music School in Woodward that provides affordable music classes to children and their parents alike.

In southwest Detroit, children at COMPAS learn flamenco from a nationally recognized dancer as well as from other music and dance classes. DPS kids demonstrate their cultural literacy with frequent shows on the Detroit Public School radio station, and Think Detroit PAL and the boroughs of Rosedale Park host soccer and baseball leagues for the sportier families. Winter brings hockey to Clark Park.

The proof, of course, lies in the pudding: can DPS graduates or Detroit children continue to shine? The answer in one word (well, two) is “Um, yes!” We’re going to introduce you to Detroit products – some who attended preschool as part of their PhD programs – that are sure to make the world sit up and take notice.

And since we all know that good nutrition and plenty of exercise contribute to academic success (and prevent diabetes, which is a huge threat to U.S. children if the trends continue), we look forward to highlighting many of the cool initiatives that are take place in the EU green arena. Countless independent projects run by nonprofit groups open the eyes and mouths of good, healthy local food to children and eyes in Detroit. Building community through eating and cooking; Bringing children out into the fresh air by using available land to grow produce; and even teach school specialists how to prepare and cook fresh vegetables from local farmers. In parallel with Detroit’s amazing urban garden scene, schools with private sector support are encouraging students to get their hands dirty.

For example, many Detroit public schools dust and clean their beautiful, well-designed greenhouses to teach science. Accordingly, the G2 Good Gardens program promotes science, engineering, engineering, and math education through school greenhouses and outdoor gardens – and works to improve nutrition, nutrition, and health for DPS students.

If these stories don’t dispel the somber myths of raising a child in Detroit, nothing will. It is a truism that whenever two or more Detroit parents meet, the conversation immediately turns to schools: “Do you like where your kids are? Have you heard of this place making waves? Can we carpool? ” With all this informal dialogue, we know that there are more great things going on out there that we should share. Did we miss your amazing neighborhood school? Does your child go to a great school that nobody seems to know about? Are you homeschooling? Tell us (Walter will receive and forward your emails). We aim to use your knowledge and share what is happening in terms of education in the D. solid, fresh and exciting.

About the authors
Amy Kuras has been involved in raising Detroit children, both as a Detroit child who grew up in North Rosedale Park and as the mother of two Motor City children who grew up in Green Acres – and is proud of it to be able to say that she never lived in her suburbs at her own request. She started researching educational opportunities seven years ago when she was pregnant with her first child and has not stopped since. This is her first post on Model D, although she is a frequent contributor to sister publications Metromode, Concentrate and Research Corridor, and worries about parents and other topics on the internet.

Melinda Clynes is a freelance writer who regularly writes for Model D and a suburban mother who firmly believes that every child deserves a chance at success, starting with a solid education. She has been writing the good work of nonprofits in Metro Detroit for 22 years, with a passion for telling the often unheard stories of disadvantaged children and families. Melinda was once an active travel writer touring the globe and occasionally writes stories about recreation, festivals and nearby destinations.

All photos in Holy Trinity School by Marvin Shaouni Photography

Contact Marvin here.


Dusty Kennedy