‘U’, Detroit Public Schools launch engineering and social justice-focused high school

Monday, July 29, 2019 - 10:08pm

Detroit community members meet for a cookout and to discuss the new school on Marygrove College’s campus, which comes out of a partnership between the University of Michigan and the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Detroit community members meet for a cookout and to discuss the new school on Marygrove College’s campus, which comes out of a partnership between the University of Michigan and the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Ryan Southen / NOSELL

The University of Michigan School of Education is partnering with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to open a new high school located on the Marygrove College campus. Ninth graders will begin at the school in fall, adding a new ninth grade class yearly until the school is full.

According to an email from Chrystal Wilson, DPSCD assistant superintendent of communications and marketing, the school will be social justice themed and have an emphasis on developing critical thinking. The school, officially called The School at Marygrove, will also have a focus in engineering.

“Operated by Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), the new social justice-themed public school has been designed to develop critical thinkers and community-minded citizens who have the skills and knowledge to be makers and leaders creating a more just and equitable future,” Wilson wrote. “DPSCD and the University of Michigan School of Education have co-developed a project- and place-based engineering and design thinking curriculum that will empower students to identify, collaborate and solve complex problems found in our city and in our world.”

Education senior Hannah Whitman said social justice is a pillar of her teacher preparation coursework. She said it is important for both students and teachers to understand why social justice is important in society and for educators to teach with social justice in mind.

“It’s so important for students to have the ability to be an advocate, not only for themselves, but for people in their community or people around the world,” Whitman said. “Teaching that as young as high school or even younger is really empowering for them.”

Marygrove’s Liberal Arts Building is undergoing renovations throughout the summer and will be ready for students in September, Wilson wrote. Though Marygrove is set to close its doors in December because of declining enrollment and financial struggles, Wilson wrote that this is not expected to impact the new school.

The Kresge Foundation, a private foundation working to expand opportunities through grants and investments, is also involved in opening the school. The Foundation did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.

According to Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, 97 percent of accepted students are Detroit residents, half of whom are returning to DPSCD after leaving for suburban districts or charter schools. He also noted 75 percent of the accepted students live within two miles of the Marygrove campus.

As of early July, the school filled 90 out of 120 spots in the incoming class with recruitment still ongoing, according to Chalkbeat Detroit. A community cookout brought school leaders, investors and interested families together on the Marygrove campus to discuss plans for the new school on July 13.

Returning students are a key demographic for the district, according to Chalkbeat Detroit. Increasing enrollment in this category is expected to help the district — which has made national headlines in past years for infrastructure issues, low staffing and poor test performance — achieve a healthy fiscal status.

The elementary school component will begin with a kindergarten in 2021 and add a new incoming class each year until all grades from kindergarten through 12th grade are filled. There are also plans for an early childhood center on the same campus run by Starfish Family Services.

At capacity, the school will house approximately 1000 students. Seven teachers have been hired for the school so far, according to Wilson.

With the launch of the high school in September,  the University’s School of Education will begin its teaching residency program to prepare new educators in Detroit. Recent graduates of the University’s undergraduate or graduate teacher preparation programs will become “residents” within DPSCD with support from the University during the first three years of their career. Pre-service teachers will also be eligible to work within the school.

Alistair Bomphray, program project manager, has been working alongside the School of Education and Nir Saar, the new school’s principal, to prepare for the upcoming academic year. He said Education Dean Elizabeth Moje first had the vision of the teaching residency program to model similar ideas of a teaching hospital.

Bomphray said the teaching residency program will give extra assistance to teachers following their graduation. Immediately after graduation, the teachers will be working with and learning from veteran teachers.

“One of the biggest problems in education right now is the fact that so many new teachers leave the profession within their first two to five years and don’t stay within the profession,” Bomphray said. “We’re hoping that these residents will graduate, and the first three years of their career, they’re going to get this extra level of support that most new teachers don’t get.”

Additionally, Bomphray said the residency may help teachers graduating from the University’s teaching programs have a smoother transition into teaching as their first jobs will be at the same school in which they completed their pre-service teaching.

“They are already going to know the students, teachers, the systems of the school, rather than if you do your student teaching in one school and you get your first job in a totally different community, different staff; it’s all new,” Bomphray said.

For the upcoming school year, Bomphray said the school will have one resident teacher and will place students in undergraduate and graduate programs in the school during the year as well. He said the school expects to employ approximately 20 resident teachers at full capacity. 

Whitman said the residency program will allow new teachers an opportunity to better acclimate to an urban school district, which could help mitigate issues in the education field like high turnover rates. However, she questions how the compensation of the residents will compare to teachers, which she said already face low pay in the profession.

“Personally, I was very interested in teaching in an urban school until I heard horror stories from teachers or people who have worked in urban schools,” Whitman said. “This program would give people like me that chance to feel comfortable teaching those populations, and feeling prepared to do so.”

Bomphray said the program is currently not offering scholarships or student loan repayments as incentives for teaching residents, but hopes to do so in the future. Certified teachers at the school will be paid by DPSCD.

Additionally, he said the School of Education has been assisting DPSCD in establishing the student academic experience, including choosing experienced teachers for the school and creating valuable curriculum.

In the future, Bomphray hopes the program will expand to include other student and family health and support services in conjunction with other University schools. These would health center and dental clinic that would function similarly to the teaching school model.

“The larger idea here is that these are people — teachers, nurses, social workers, dentists — who are interested in working in an urban setting,” Bomphray said. “This would be a way to provide that experience to them as they are getting trained, working with an urban population, and hopefully when they are certified, they decide to commit to Detroit.”