Dedicated to Detroit

Last week’s blog by ISKME’s Director of Research, Cynthia Jimes, focused on how institutions are supporting the development of social and emotional learning skills in students. This week we’ll get a glimpse of the work we at ISKME are doing to support skill development in teachers. As ISKME’s Education Program Manager, I have the privilege of working with diverse educators from around the world to help them improve the quality of their curricular resources and discover new methods for sharing knowledge with their peers. Over the past year alone, our work with educators has taken me to cities throughout the United States and abroad to countries like Suriname, Qatar, Greece, and the UK. While I’m always impressed with each educator community I encounter, the dedicated teachers of Detroit really stand out as an example of unwavering commitment and inventiveness, despite the many challenges they face.
Rich with culture and history, Detroit is the birthplace of the auto-industry, techno and Motown. Some of my favorite moments in Detroit include sitting in the Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum and listening to her recount what happened there on December 1, 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama; dancing to live bluegrass and soul in front of Diego Rivera’s mural at the Detroit Institute of Art; and visiting the Arts and Scraps Center, whose education programs reach over 275,000 students and repurpose 28 tons of materials per year.
However, the highlight of my trips to Detroit are always the educators themselves. I first met elementary school teachers Alyson Jones and LaTrelle Pierre three years ago at our summer Teachers as Makers Academy. I was immediately struck by their warmth and enthusiasm, even though they were unsure if they had a job come fall. Detroit public school teachers have faced many challenges over the years--- school closures, budget cuts, and large class sizes to name a few. Despite these frustrating circumstances, Alyson and LaTrelle came early each day and stayed late working diligently on their projects.
During the Academy we lead teachers through a design thinking activity to collaboratively create their own OER project that they can do with their students. They both focused their projects on addressing real needs for their communities while utilizing the resources they had available to them. Alyson created a school-wide philanthropic project empowering students to design and create items, such as dolls and scarves for Detroit hospitals and shelters.
LaTrelle expanded on her school garden project to create a Greenhouse Design Challenge. Students used a design process to build a greenhouse that will grow plants during the cold months; they also worked with the Greening of Detroit campaign to install a rain barrel. This project was inspired by ISKME’s Sun Curve Design Challenge Program. LaTrelle had to be creative with the garden placement because plants and even the flag pole were stolen from the front of the school. She was able to secure a safe location at the school and worked with the community to extend the garden.
Alyson and LaTrelle went on to be accepted into ISKME’s 2011-2012 OER Fellowship Program, along with six other educator leaders to champion OER in their education communities. They participated in ISKME’s annual Big Ideas Fest, helped organize and facilitate the 2012 Teachers as Makers Academy and are active in their outreach around OER. They have also developed new OER projects, with Alyson creating OER to bring philosophy to elementary school students and LaTrelle building resources to support citizenship in her community, as well as sharing the work she is doing with the Michigan League of Academic Games.
Alyson and LaTrelle continue to thrive and improve their professional skills and advocacy work. They are full of hope for what the future holds and I’m grateful to play a part in supporting them moving forward. As we embark on the first day of school, I’m eager to see what these two dynamic teachers will do and I continue to be inspired by their dedication to Detroit.
September 06, 2012