It’s a toss-up between crime and the schools as to what keeps most people out of Detroit. Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have an awful reputation. For several years the management of the district has switched hands between the school board and the state. Sadly, neither have had much success. The result has been that many parents living in Detroit chose to send their kids to private schools, charter schools or elect school of choice and drive their kids to the suburbs. Since I didn’t go to DPS schools, I never had a reason to check one out but I was always curious to see first hand what they are like.
Last week I visit the Academy of the Americas
in Southwest to present for Career Day. It’s a K-8 immersion school that instructs students in English and Spanish. Southwest Detroit has a large Hispanic population and most of the students who attend the school speak Spanish at home. As I mentioned before,
there are certain school within the DPS system that do well. Academy of the Americas is one of those school.
According to online reports their academic success is below state average (although it exceeds the district average) but the environment at the school seems on par with any elementary school I’ve visited. When I arrived the principle was at the front of the school greeting parents and students. I waited in line to go through the metal detector (a sad reality that I fear is too common in most schools) with students who were patient and respectful.
Student leaders greeted guests in the lobby and my tour guide for the day led me to the room assigned for Career Day visitors. I was immediately impressed by the students giving the tour. They took their responsibility very seriously and were dressed professionally. My student wore a suit and tie! I can rarely get Danny in a suit on holidays and this student wasn’t required to wear one. His commitment to his assignment was especially impressive because it was an 80 degree day and the school has no air condition! I was melting and I had on a dress.
The school’s counselor coordinated the event. She told me that she’d been at the school since the late 90s and really likes it. Teacher turnover is a common problem in the district but it appears the teachers at the Academy stick around and several send their own children to the school.
|Student created art is found throughout the school. This was my guide’s favorite mural.
I visited 3 classrooms during my visit – 6th, 7th and 8th grades. I brought candy and short videos to heighten the entertainment value of my presentation. Unfortunately, only the 8th grade classroom had the ability to show the video (if I had brought my own laptop I could have used the projectors in the other classes). Thankfully, candy never fails and I was easily able to entertain the kids with trivia.
I left the school impressed and encouraged. Negative news stories can plant seeds of doubt about Detroit’s potential but experiences like this are wonderful reminders that the city isn’t a lost cause or the wild west. Detroit is like everywhere else. It’s a city with neighborhoods, communities and families living their lives and doing their best.