Detroit Story Booth

Why one woman thinks special education reform can’t happen in isolation

PHOTO: Colin Maloney
Sharon Kelso, student advocate from Detroit

When Sharon Kelso’s kids and grandkids were still in school, they’d come home and hear the same question from her almost every day: “How was your day in school?” One day, a little over a decade ago, Kelso’s grandson gave a troubling answer. He felt violated when security guards at his school conducted a mass search of students’ personal belongings.

Kelso, a Cass Tech grad, felt compelled to act. Eventually, she became the plaintiff in two cases which outlawed unreasonable mass searches of students in Detroit’s main district.

Fast forward to August, when her three great-nephews lost both their mother and father in the space of a week and Kelso became their guardian. Today, she asks them the same question she has asked two generations of Detroit students: “How was your day in school?”

The answers she receives still deeply inform her advocacy work.

Watch the full video here:

– Colin Maloney

Story booth

With no art teacher, students at this Detroit school say their talents go unnurtured

When the eighth-grade students at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy on Detroit’s west side talk about things their school needs, they point to a classmate named Casey.

“He’s a great artist,” one student said. “He can look at a picture and draw it in like five minutes and it will look exactly the same.”

If Casey attended school in the suburbs, his friends believe, he and other talented students would have an art class where they could nurture their skills.

“They don’t have the time to put in the work with their talent because we don’t have those extra-curricular activities,” another classmate said.

The students at the K-8 school have no art, music or gym teachers — a common problem in a district where resources are thin and where a teacher shortage has made it difficult for schools like this one to find teachers for many subjects, including the arts.

While the Detroit district has committed to expanding arts programs next year, it would need to find enough teachers to fill those positions. That’s the problem at Paul Robeson Malcolm X where there’s money in the budget for an art teacher but no one has taken that job.

“People out there think we’re not smart and they always criticize us about what we do,” Casey said. “We can always show them how smart we are,” he said, but that requires “getting the type of programming that we’re supposed to.”

Chalkbeat spoke with students at the school as part of a “story booth” series that invites students, teachers and parents to discuss their experiences in Detroit schools.

Watch the full video of the Paul Robeson/Malcolm X students below and please tell us if you know someone who would like their story featured in a future story booth.

Mumford High School

This Detroit school has seen some tough times, but its students mean business: ‘I’ve got to set an example.’

PHOTO: Colin Maloney
Dylan Heard: "My father — he didn't graduate high school...(but) he believes I can be better."

Dylan Heard knows that he’s being watched — and that what he does matters.

“I’ve got to set an example because I’ve got little cousins and I’ve got a niece and they’re looking up to me,” said Heard, a junior at Detroit’s Mumford Academy.

Mumford students have not had an easy time of it. The school has seen years of turmoil. It was seized by the state in 2012 and placed in a state-run recovery district. It was returned to the main Detroit district in July after the recovery district dissolved. This year, it was threatened with closure by the state, then spared — at least for a while — by a deal the state cut with districts.

Just before school started this year, Chalkbeat spoke with five Mumford Academy students about their plans for the coming year and the things that are inspiring them to succeed.

Heard said his draws motivation from his father.

“He didn’t graduate high school,” Heard said. “(But) he believes I can be better. He always pushes me.”

If you have a story to tell about education in Detroit  — or know someone who does — please let us know. Chalkbeat has been featuring the stories of students, teachers, parents and others in our recurring Story Booth series.

Watch the video to see the full story from these Mumford Academy students here: