Carla Whitsett of Achieving College & Career Education is presented with the Education Support Staff Professional of the Year Award by Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Delsa Chapman in Ypsilanti Thursday, November 4. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

On Thursday, Deputy State Superintendent Delsa Chapman visited Achieving College & Career Education, a magnet school within the Ypsilanti Community School District. The school has 169 students from grades 6 to 12 and accepts students on a referral basis. During the event, Chapman awarded Michigan’s 2021 Education Support Staff Professional of the Year to Carla Whitsett, ACCE’s paraeducator.   

Prior to being a central office administrator, Chapman worked in the Lansing School District for nearly 30 years, serving as a science, technology, engineering and math elementary and secondary principal. 

As a paraeducator, Whitsett’s primary responsibility is assisting administrators and teachers with their assignments. 

During the awards ceremony, ACCE Principal Chelsea Harris-Hugan fondly recalled Whitsett’s support when she first became principal.

“(Carla was) one the first people I met here, and (she) sent me different Bible verses and was always so encouraging,” Harris-Hugan said. “I have young men and women here who are drawn to you all the time because of who you are.” 

In an interview with The Daily, Whitsett said she was gratified by the opportunity to bring students back in-person this year. 

“One of our biggest challenges is that a lot of our kids don’t trust people, so you have to build relationships with them,” Whitsett said. 

Whitsett also pointed out the meeting room as an example of the instructional innovation the school adopted during the pandemic. The soft seats were arranged in a circle and the light was dimmed to create a calm environment, Whitsett said.  

“My furniture is relaxed, you came in here and everyone could see each other,” Whitsett said. “This communal setting creates the power of environment for the students so they could be more productive to meet.”  

Whitsett also introduced ACCE’s project-based pedagogy, which resumed thanks to the in-person experience. 

“During a class, we took students to downtown Ypsi to test the water in order to learn the science hands-on,” Whisett said. “We also had a RCTC (Regional Career Technical Center) program in which students could do culinary and bodywork outside the classroom. I expect them to learn a trade because I want them to be successful in life and some of our students are also taking care of their families.”

After her visit, Chapman told The Daily the advice she would give to ACCE is to enhance its project-based learning. 

“When we can provide the problem that leads into a project students could directly participate in, we take their learning to another level,” Chapman said. “Film is one of the instructional strategies that could help students when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Daily News Contributor Chen Lyu can be reached at lyuch@umich.edu.