Elementary school in the works at Marygrove Conservancy

In 2019 the Marygrove Conservancy, a nonprofit, took up residence at the campus that was formerly Marygrove College on Detroit’s northwest side and started the P-20 Cradle-to-Career Campus. This fall marks its newest addition; an elementary school. 

“We’re unique and a one-of-a-kind public institution where we’re going to be honing in on social justice and project-based learnings at an elementary level,” says Lisa Williams, the new principal of The School at Marygrove.  

The curriculum will focus heavily on Project Based Learning (PBL), a teaching method in which students learn by intentionally participating in real-world scenarios and simulated experiences that involve real-life decision-making. The goal is to move some aspects of learning academic content off the page and into practices that will enhance skill sets. 
“Students will be able to explore similar to a thematic unit where they will be taking a problem or a complex issue; something that's in the community and they will be unpacking it in all the different genres," Williams says.

Teachers and students will be able to examine current topics and subject matters that are affecting the students’ and their families' lives. 

“For example, they could explore, ‘How did Covid 19 affect elementary students?',  so they can look at different areas that explore that, and explore the conflict, then how to solve it, and create a presentation to show their work on that idea,” Williams says.

The elementary school also plans to incorporate social justice issues into its educational curriculums. Even at an early age, Williams wants to make sure they are encouraging students to use their voices and minds cohesively.

“It's about really educating them and empowering them on how to have a broad perspective on what is happening around the world.  Making sure that are equitable opportunities for all, financially, educationally, and just exposing them to that from an educational perspective,” Williams says. 

"And empowering them to be able to speak to different points and making sure they can express their point of view and to think about their feelings and how it relates to what's going on in our society."

One of the school's many attributes will be the steps it’s taking outside of the classroom norms that have been mainstays for the last half-century. Leaders say that the elementary school is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but better cultivate and curate educational practices that will bring out the best in the kids.

“Kids, when they’re born they’re very exploratory, they’re inquisitive, they’re trying things, touching things, and putting things in their mouths. I think a lot of times when we put kids in kindergarten, we box them in; ‘you gotta do this’, ‘you gotta do that’, and to some degree they lose that level of creativity and uniqueness that sets them apart. So I think this school is going to impact that type of change where we are teaching students to think about their thinking.”

The elementary school is a Detroit public school and will be housed in the historic Immaculata building on Marygrove’s 53-acre campus. Kindergarten enrollment will be capped at 80 students while 30 students will be enrolled in first grade, and 20 in second grade. The elementary school plans to add a third grade class in 2023, and a fourth grade class in 2024. The elementary school is financially aided by the Kresge Foundation’s $50 million commitment to the P-20 campus and financial and academic aid from the University of Michigan as well. 

“Some of U of M’s students will be placed in our school to intern, from there, they can apply for the job; once hired they will be residents and will receive 3 years of coaching and mentoring from U of M. So we get an additional layer of support for our teachers with classroom management, content areas, lesson planning, addressing social, and emotional learnings,” Williams says.

The Eureka Math, English Language Arts Standard, and Next Generation Science Standards will all be aligned with the districts' curriculum.  A diverse and communal learning atmosphere outside the classroom will also be encouraged.

“We’re going to have makerspace rooms where the kids can do projects, we have a library, a reading room [...] we’re offering art. A new playground to explore and stay in touch with nature. Scholars will have that recess and outdoor time. We want to make sure our scholars are well rounded and healthy- mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally,” Williams says.

Williams and the elementary school staff have been working diligently all summer to make sure everything is in place to meet the scholars' needs and believes the success of the elementary school will also carry over to the west side Detroit community it serves.  She’s worked in education for over 25 years and says this is the most excited she’s been to start a school year.

“I think it's going to be a shining star in the community [...] They have a blank canvas that they can paint the future that they choose, the future that they want. And they don’t have to have those barriers and restrictions that we sometimes give in different settings in schools. We’re going to be empowering scholars, empowering minds to change their futures, and to impact change in our global society.”
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