In light of the many traumatic events affecting the State of Michigan currently, I have come to reflect on many experiences that Challenge Detroit has put me through these past months. Specifically, regarding the media around Detroit Public Schools, the sickouts, and lacking of school resources for students.
I think back to our second challenge as a cohort when we worked with Detroit Public Schools. This was, to say the least, an extremely eye-opening experience for me: a white female who grew up in the suburbs of Metro Detroit. These opinions are completely my own and from my own perspectives throughout my time working with DPS. I obviously have a much different viewpoint from the other fellows and the individuals directly involved at DPS.
Hearing the media behind the current situations occurring in the DPS district has made me angry and disappointed that we (as a society) pick and choose the times when we want to talk about certain issues when the reality is they’ve been going on for an extended period of time and also thinking it’s going to be fixed in 2 weeks. I got a glimpse of what the current situation is affecting DPS and to this day I try and share my experiences (from my viewpoint only) with others unknowing of the situation.
Our challenge while working with DPS was to increase parent engagement in schools. To do so, we were broken down into six teams, each given a different school to examine and deliberate on for 5 weeks. These schools ranged from K-8’s, middle schools, and high schools. Each group visited their respective schools each Friday, interviewed different stakeholders throughout the DPS district, and gathered data to create what we thought would be a beneficial solution to that school’s current parent engagement situation.
What we didn’t expect to come across was the obvious distrust between all parties involved at the schools. The central offices of DPS didn’t communicate with the principals and teachers at the schools, the teachers didn’t want to talk to the parents because they figured they just wanted handouts, and the students are left in the middle of this conflict not knowing what is going on. Who are we harming in this situation? Are we really that self-absorbed and need to have our opinions be the “right” opinions that we let our kids and students suffer from it?
The answer to that question, at times, seemed to be yes. There was such a major lack in communication between all the adults in the situation that nothing beneficial for the students was ever able to get done. You have teachers that give their all to students in the time that they have them and even past the school day. You have some parents that are being criminalized for not being at parent-teacher conferences, when the reality is they have to work three jobs to put food on the table or have children in different schools but conference times that overlap. You have a central office that has great intentions but doesn’t speak to the individuals that their decisions impact. And you have students who have to grow up a lot faster because of these adults refusing to get on the same page with each other. Every group is pointing fingers at each other, blaming one another, when the focus should be on the students and what is best for their futures.
This goes to show you how important communication is in a situation as intense as this. These students have not had school supplies, let alone cohesive support systems, longer than this past month of the sickouts. This has been their everyday for much longer than that.
My point is not to make people feel guilty for stepping up now. It’s a call to action for everyone to step outside of your media outlets and do some research of your own. Figure out what the actual need of these schools are and make a proactive and beneficial effort to help. Don’t just read something and assume it has all the facts. And also don’t assume that two weeks’ worth of assistance is going to change the game. We need strategic and resourceful thinking, we need people to assess the actual problem at hand, we need people to step outside their comfort zone and make a change.