Working in Detroit Public Schools

I have been working at Osborn College Preparatory Academy for 3 years now and I have loved every moment! I have learned so much from this city, this school and the Osborn Students. I have watched these young people struggle through things that  most kids will not even have nightmares about, let alone experience. Yet, they come, they work, they survive!

That is the word I want to focus on right now, survival. Many of our students are in this mode all the time, they are struggling not because they are not smart, or because they do not care, but because they want to survive. I believe kids will do well if they can, and when they can’t something is blocking them. Many times for these kids it has to do with trauma, or unmet needs that are out of their control.

I know that test scores are important to the state and the federal governments, but the reality is our definition of what is causing the low test score is not correct! I do not believe it is about our teachers, I know, because the teachers in my building are excellent! There is no question that they are professionals, they care, and they challenge our students.

There are legitimate complaints though, about the conditions of the buildings and the lack of resources. Yet, these are not the root problem, they are a part of it, like a tree that is dying, and the bark is falling off. The problem does not lie in the bark, but under the grass and soil in the root of the tree. 

The root of the tree as it pertains to the youth of Detroit, are the traumas they have been through, as well as the the physiological, safety and love and belonging needs going unmet more times than not. This relates to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and the 3 brain model, when needs go unmet or a student has suffered through childhood trauma’s their ability to learn and produce are severely compromised. The bottom line is a majority of students that I work with are going through one or both of the aforementioned. Learning is secondary for them, not because it is not important, but because survival is more important.

What I see, What I experience while working with these youth, is power, strength, resilience, and a grit that is needed in our country today. They are extremely intelligent and capable of achieving great things in this world, but our educational system and our societies oppress these youth and I am tired of watching greatness slip through the cracks because of ignorance or lack of defining the true problem.

It is my belief, that if we were to address the real issue, focusing on mental health, healing trauma, providing the same resources of water, shelter, safety, love and belonging to these students, the change would be significant. We would see higher test scores, higher graduation rates, more students moving on to a post-secondary education, and would be productive members of society. Behaviors would improve, suspensions and expulsions would decrease, and the  City would rise on the backs of our youth.

One plan that we are working on through Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates and the University of Michigan Dearborn is to create a Trauma Induced Care School, where we build a strong foundation for the youth. Teaching, educating and dealing with the traumas in their lives. We will bring in counselors, social workers, and mentors to build a community of support. 

The second tier, will be tutors, mentors, and businesses to help build our students academically. To help truly make them college and career ready. The hope is that the students will be working throughout the year on understanding and building a strong self, in combination with academic support and career exploration through career pathways.

The third tier being career exploration, where students will begin to look at careers, colleges, and scholarship opportunities that will guide them towards their goals. We will encourage students to aim high,expect great things and work!

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