Story booth

A bad kid turned school principal motivates students with life lessons she learned

PHOTO: Kimberly Hayes Taylor
Karen McEwen, principal at Cooke STEM Academy in Detroit, understands why some children misbehave. She was one of them.

Karen McEwen, principal of Cooke STEM Academy, knows what it’s like to be a bad kid in school. She acknowledges she was one of them. McEwen wasn’t the type of student who skipped classes to hang in a friend’s basement or cause mayhem outside school. She did it right in the classroom while sitting at her desk.

“I would write a note, and we would pass it around the classroom. It would say, ‘When the hand on the clock hits 5, we will all stomp our feet,’” she recalled. Sometimes, she led other students to clap their hands or stand up simultaneously. Her ideas were endless, and she was a good at leading the other students to act out until she got caught as the main culprit.

Chalkbeat spoke with McEwen as part of a “story booth” series that invites studentseducators and parents to discuss their experiences in Detroit schools.

Now that McEwen leads Cooke, a pre-K to 6th-grade school on Detroit’s west side, she said she draws on her past as a trouble-maker to relate to her students today. 

“I see so much potential in them,” she said.  “I call them scholars because that will ring in their heads. No matter what.

“I tell them, ‘You have to constantly fight for yourself no matter what’s going on at home, no matter what’s going on in your family, no matter what’s going on in the classroom. You have to be prepared.

“You are our future. We are not going to live forever. So you are going to have to take care of us. You are our future doctors and lawyers, and no matter what you decide to do in your life, you have to be prepared.

“You are going to kindergarten, to middle school to high school and then college. It’s not a question of if you are going to college, but where you are are going to college. But you are going to college.”

Do you know someone whose story should be featured in a future story booth? please let us know. 

 

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