Setting the tone for students in Detroit

September 28, 2015
Welcoming students to school at Henry Ford Academy.

Welcoming students to school at Henry Ford Academy.

What began as a simple, thoughtful idea quickly transformed into one of the best starts of the school year Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School had ever seen. Black men from the surrounding community lined the doors to the Detroit elementary school on the first day of the academic year and cheered, high-fived, danced and applauded as child after child made their way into the school.

Behind the whole production was Marini Lee, an academic specialist in the College of Education.

Marini Lee (R) with Nanette Gill (L), superintendent of Henry Ford Academy.

“You see so many bad stories about Detroit education,” Lee said. “I wanted to contribute toward a positive counter-narrative of Detroit as a place with a community supportive of education and its youth.”

Lee duplicated the idea from a similar event done in Connecticut (see more photos from the event here). She loved it so much, she called her friend Curtis Lewis—a three-time alumnus of the college: He graduated with a B.A. in Education in 2000, a M.A. in Teaching and Curriculum in 2003 and a Ph.D. in Curriculum, Teaching and Educational Policy in 2011. Lewis is the principal of the Henry Ford Academy middle and high school. Together, with administrators at the affiliated elementary school, they organized the event for the K-4 students, hoping to show the parents and children community support and involvement in their learning.

Lee noted that most of the volunteers were affiliated with Michigan State University, which included Assistant Professor Chezare Warren; graduate students of the college; Detroit-area MSU alumni; John Ambrose, associate director of admissions at MSU and volunteers and mentors from the Midnight Golf Program.

“The parents didn’t know this was going to happen. They were so happy, and kept saying, ‘This is so exciting, this is so nice.’ The kids were really excited as well—one even ran into school, and how amazing is that? To see a child running into school, excited to learn? Something like this, seeing people cheering you on as you head into school, it can set the whole tone for their educational career,” Lee continued. “The atmosphere was electric. I’m excited. It helps remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Lee, who works in the college’s Office of Student Support Services and Recruitment, works with many of the college’s urban education initiatives, including serving as program coordinator for the Summer High School Scholars Program and providing support for the Urban Educators Cohort Program.

She plans to do another event like this next year, with hopes that the event will be bigger and at even more schools in the area.