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Shining a Light on Detroit's Lesser-Known Educational Programs

Detroit's future is now.

Ubiquitous are the headlines shaking a disappointed finger at Detroit schools, its teachers, leaders and even its students. Listen, we get it. There is indeed work to be done, improvements to be made, accountability to be had, but let us take care to not miss the positive changes happening, thanks to Detroit Public Schools Community District, the city’s charter school associations and other organizations. Let’s dim the interrogative light just for a moment, if we could, and shine a softer, more flattering glow upon some of the great programs and initiatives happening at our K-12 institutions. Some of these you may already be familiar with and some, we hope, will be newly discovered gems.

Aviation Training at Davis Aerospace Technical High School

For Detroit students interested in flying planes, it is excitingly possible to snag a pilot’s license before a driver’s license even. Around since the ‘80s, the program at Davis Aerospace – a DPSCD institution – offers a curriculum certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, taught by experienced fliers. Students are taught in simulators and when they’ve gotten their feet wet, they enter the cabins of actual, small planes. Many go on to complete their education at Western Michigan or Eastern Michigan universities.

Family Literacy Nights

These workshops invite families to come together in an effort to improve students’ reading comprehension in school and out. Parents are able to explore new curriculum, discover reading and writing programs, see examples of the work that they’re learning in the classroom and acquire tools that can be used at home. New sessions are continuously being added to DPSCD’s schedule; they’ll be at Maybury Elementary School at 3 p.m. Jan. 16.

Grow Detroit’s Young Talent Summer Jobs Program

Few things are more exciting in a teenager’s life than that first job. This citywide summer jobs program trains and employs teenagers and young adults in Detroit for six weeks, using a skill- and age-based model. Last year, various small businesses, corporations and organizations partnered with GDYT to place the young workers in areas like event planning, accounting, retail, public service and technology.

Cultural Passport Initiative

In collaboration with area cultural institutions, DPSCD students K-5 will participate in at least three cultural experiences during the school year. This “passport” grants children access into the world of fine and performing arts by way of scheduled field trips to the Music Hall, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Cranbrook Institute of Science, the Detroit Opera House and elsewhere. The hope is that students will develop a sense of innovation that’ll stick with them through adulthood and gain a deeper appreciation for the arts in Detroit.

FANUC Certified Automation Training Program at Denby and Pershing High Schools

The eastside DPSCD schools were recently chosen to host a new training program with FANUC America, one of the foremost makers of industrial robots in the world. Four robots are housed at each school. The course is offered as an elective for 11th and 12th graders, and students who complete the yearlong training will have the option to take a national assessment to receive the FANUC Certified Robot Operator I Certification.

P-20 Partnership

With the help of a $50 million commitment from Kresge, the first phase of a “cradle-to-career” institution is slated for 2019 on the Marygrove College campus. It’s a collaboration including Kresge, the University of Michigan School of Education, DPSCD, the Marygrove Conservancy, Marygrove College, Starfish Family Services, IFF and the Detroit Collaborative Design Center of the University of Detroit Mercy. The program will feature a state-of-the-art early childhood education center up through postsecondary and graduate studies. Roughly 1,000 students are expected to be enrolled by 2029.

Kids’ College

Developed by Wayne County Community College Districts’ School of Continuing Education & Economic and Workforce Development, five public school academies will launch after-school and before-school programming for students K-12. Partnering with Grand Valley State University and Eastern Michigan’s Charter School, kids will have access to culinary classes, high-level technology courses and more. Aside from the obvious educational component, the goal is to reduce absenteeism by getting kids interested in what’s happening before and after their regularly scheduled programming.

Learning Gardens

Big Green, a Denver-based nonprofit, is working with Detroit-area administrators to bring learning gardens to students K-12. The outdoor green spaces are maintained by the students, who are charged with growing and harvesting real fruits and vegetables while learning lessons in nutrition, agriculture and business. They’ve already partnered with several charter schools within Detroit – including Madison-Carver Academy and Bridge Academy West – and public schools in surrounding districts, and expect gardens in at least five DPSCD schools by spring. 

Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps

A DPSCD offering, students enrolled in the program learn environmental awareness, to develop leadership skills, improve their physical fitness, communicate effectively and how to work in a team. Enrollees have the chance to compete in national competitions for archery, precision drills and more. On-site skill-building happens with courses like the Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics Camp, a one-week program at a STEM lab on a college campus where they have the opportunity to interact with professors and students.

Student-Run Michigan First Branch

On Fridays from 10:30 a.m.-noon, Michigan First Credit Union employees set up operations in Room 34 of DPSCD’s Bates Academy for the “gifted and talented.” They oversee as students run the pop-up bank, handling actual deposits and withdrawals from fellow students, staff and visitors.

Paris Giles is BLAC Detroit's associate editor.

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