Detroit Future Schools 4.0: Humanize schooling in the classroom & beyond

Detroit Future Schools is now in its fourth year of facilitating in-school media programming and teacher professional development with the goal of humanizing education in Detroit. We work in a small number of anchor schools to develop and evaluate core instructional elements and practices. And this year we’re also excited to be launching a new project focused on documentary filmmaking.

DSCF0855Students from the painted Turtle Classroom, acting out the classroom agreements

We’ve also had some changes to our staff welcoming two new teaching artists to the DFS team: Andrea Claire Maio and Alicia Castañeda. Andrea is a Detroit-based filmmaker whose stories have been heard and seen on NPR, PBS, and at film festivals in the U.S. and abroad. Alicia has a background in creative writing and poetry and she also works as a writer-in-residence with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. In addition to our new teaching artists, we are excited to introduce our new program director, Nate Mullen, who was previously the lead artist for DFS.

Work at The Boggs School & Tri County Educational Center

This year we are partnering with two schools: The James and Grace Lee Boggs School and Tri County Educational Center.

Our DFS classrooms are immersed in a diverse range of media projects. At the Boggs School we are working with the “Painted Turtle” classroom where 1st and 2nd grade students are responding to the question “How do I tell my story?” They are using photography, motion and storytelling to investigate the purpose and power of literacy.

At Tri County Educational Center, high schoolers are using graphic design to investigate the question “How can we use design to address problems in our community?” In the second semester both of our classrooms will be embarking on long-term research projects about their communities and will convey their findings through a public art project called “data murals”. The production of these "data murals" is supported through an award from the Knight Arts Challenge.

Below is a video that documents one of the projects from the 1st semester of the graphic design class at Tri County. In this project students chose one of the DFS “11 Essential Skills” that they most identified with, and drew their own self portraits.

As we continue this important work of humanizing schooling, we’ve realized that in order for our work to thrive we must address larger, systemic barriers. We’ve found that in many classrooms standardized curriculum and testing leave teachers feeling like they don’t have a voice in their own classrooms, and dehumanizes learning so that the only value lies in test scores. As we see test scores decline, schools are defunded and dismantled— in Detroit more than 283 schools have been closed since 2000. This creates chaos in our public education landscape.


The Out of School Project (OSP) : Documentary Workshop

Although there are many people organizing around reforming the structure of education, there aren’t enough groups organizing youth and bringing their perspective to the table. At the same time we found that many students desire more dedicated time and instruction in developing concrete media skills, such as filmmaking and graphic design, in order to grasp a deeper understanding of media making.

This combination of systemic problems in our schooling landscape, a lack of youth voice in organizing around school reform, and a desire from youth to make media, has made it clear to us that we need to expand and evolve our work beyond in-school programming.

With this in mind we launched a new program in which, for the first time, DFS is working with youth outside of classrooms. The Out of School Project (OSP) is a six-month afterschool program that brings together students ages 13 - 21 from all over the city – including Detroit Public Schools, charter schools, private schools, alternative schools, and even a few college students. In this program, students are creating media that inserts youth voice into the conversation about the challenges and opportunities facing Detroit’s public education system.

The OSP kicked off in January and involves weekly after school sessions with teaching artist Andrea Claire Maio. As we continue to research our education system and begin to frame our documentary film, we are excited to delve into the practice of filmmaking using a hands-on approach. We look forward to sharing our progress with you over the next few months!