Extra! Extra! Read All About It…by Emily Phillips
Bio: My name is Emily Phillips and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA for HandsOn and Repair the World in Detroit, Michigan. I recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors of Science. I love working with kids and I am interested in education reform.
After a robust democratic voting process, the Bagley Book Brigade decided on “Cougar’s Corner” (the cougar being their school mascot) for the name of their student school newspaper. Over the past six months of being an AmeriCorps VISTA I have had the opportunity to work in a multitude of schools in the Detroit area. Bagley Elementary is a Detroit Public school located in Northwest Detroit in the old Jewish neighborhood. Although the school is one of the most organized schools in Detroit I have had the opportunity to work in, the staff inquired about the possibility of enrichment programs to give students a challenge after the school day.
How perfect would it be if the fourth and fifth graders could be the leaders of their school and write articles about what they were passionate about for the school to see? So that is what happened. Throughout this year of service my VISTA colleague and I have teamed up with the administration at Bagley Elementary and partners in the community to create a curriculum for an Elementary School newspaper. One of the most rewarding aspects of the program is listening to the ideas generated in the classroom for the articles during after school hours. Even after a long day at school the students have so much to say and are so excited about getting their voice out to their school community. With one edition of the “Cougar’s Corner” completed the students are itching to write articles about summer reading, gender roles in the kitchen, dance and art opportunities in the city and much more.
The process of building capacity for the program and finding a volunteer base willing to commit to coming to Bagley twice a week for four hours a week has been a struggle. We have luckily recruited volunteers from the Wayne State Community, the Metro Detroit community and a few siblings of our newspaper club students that are interested in the afterschool program to help run the enrichment program. It is also difficult to think about the sustainability of the program, as I would only hope that the success of this program would continue after I leave my role as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
Beyond building the curriculum for this particular program I have had the opportunity to experience the educational landscape in Detroit in various schools in the city. I have seen the good, the ugly, and the frustrating. I am currently working in schools that are under the Education Achievement System (EAA) for being the lowest five percent of performing schools in the city. The EAA schools are under the control of the emergency manager and the topic of education is continuously debated. I have witnessed decisions that have negatively affected the students. I have specifically seen a school rearrange the classroom by levels in the middle of the school year multiple times as teachers have been assigned different classrooms upwards of four times between when the students arrive in September and the middle of the year. I have always been invested in making sure youth are getting the proper education. As an AmeriCorps VISTA I am continuing to delve deeper into the educational landscape in Detroit to gain a more truthful and holistic understanding of the system. As I give my time to working on literacy programs in the city, I am fortunate to also receive an education on the school systems in the city of Detroit.
Repair the World