Story booth

The secret to her child’s success in Detroit schools was getting involved, letting teachers know ‘that we were partners.’

Shawness Woods-Zende, a Detroit parent and instructional coach, shares her experience in the Detroit schools story booth.

While most of the headlines about Detroit public schools focus on the district’s many challenges, Shawness Woods-Zende says her daughter “reaped the benefits of being a student in Detroit.”

The secret to her daughter’s success? Making sure her parents were involved in her school.

“One of the most important things that we did when she was a student was to make sure we were very involved in the schools that she attended,” said Woods-Zende, an instructional coach whose daughter graduated and went on to Howard University.

“We wanted to build a relationship with the teachers,” she said. “We wanted to assure them that we thought her education was important and we wanted to let them know that we were partners.”

Woods-Zende shared her Detroit school experience in a story booth outside the School Days storytelling event that was sponsored in March by Chalkbeat and the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers at the Charles H. Wright Museum.

The event brought educators, parents and a student together to tell their stories on stage at the Wright but it also invited other Detroiters to share their stories in a booth set up by Chalkbeat and the Skillman Foundation. (Skillman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

If you have a story to tell — or know someone who does — please let us know.

Watch Woods-Zende’s full story here:

Detroit Story Booth

This Detroit educator used a sense of community and mentorship to help a student through a personal tragedy

Patrice Wright is committed to being an advocate for her students, she said.

The Michigan State University graduate is a youth worker with Playworks Michigan, an organization that puts AmeriCorps members in schools to teach social skills through physical activities and games.

In her first year working in Detroit schools, Wright said she drew on her own experience at Renaissance High School to help her students.

“Some of the best teachers that I learned how to be a teacher from and how to be a youth worker from are in DPS,” she said. “The hearts of the teachers never change.”

When one of Wright’s students witnessed the violent murder of an immediate family member, the child returned to school the next day, she said.

The student “knew there was somebody there who cared about her, school was that safe space she knew she could come to.”

Wright told her Detroit school story as part of Chalkbeat’s Story Booth series, which began last spring with our storytelling launch event at the Charles H. Wright Museum. If you know someone with a Detroit schools story to tell — a teacher, student parent or anyone else — please let us know.

Watch Patrice’s full story below:

Ask a teacher

What would Detroit teachers change about schools? Plenty! This video offers a glimpse

A new video called "Ideas from Educators" invites Detroit teachers to share suggestions for what they would change about education.

Ask a teacher how to improve education and you’ll get some interesting answers. Among them:

  • Change high school schedules so they’ll be more like college, with classes meeting a few times a week.
  • Get rid of grades.
  • Spend money educating parents as well as their kids.

Those were just some of the ideas Detroit filmmakers Colin Maloney and Dave Salazar heard when they interviewed Detroit-area teachers who work in district and charter schools.

The pair spoke with seven teachers, Maloney said, and included four in a short video called “Ideas From Educators.” The teachers in the video are William Weir from Schulze Elementary School; Molly Tannian from Starr Detroit Academy; Gerrard Allen from University Prep Science & Math, and Rhonda Jackson from Henderson Academy.

“I used to be a teacher down in New Orleans,” Maloney said. “In my experience, there is an abundance of discourse talking about teachers in Detroit and a relative dearth of discourse talking with them.”

Watch the full video here: