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:

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.

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