When 95 students walk across the stage next year to receive their diplomas at Marygrove High School they will be celebrating much more than the certificate that comes with completing four years of high school. They will be the first graduating class, and will be celebrating Marygrove's newest educational chapter since the closing of its college.
“It means a lot to be of the first to graduate from a school,” says senior Daniel Arnold. “That’s not something a lot of people in this generation can say, so it feels important.”
“It's about being able to create something so brand new,” says Racheal Allen; Marygove’s COO. “These students have been so resilient. So obviously going through and experiencing the pandemic. They have experienced their entire school building being renovated the whole four years, they’ve actually been in their classroom as the school has been an active construction zone. And now they're actually about to see some of the fruits of their labor.”
The graduating class of 2023 is the first crown jewel of Maygrove's “cradle to career” educational platform. The curriculum allows a student can enroll at the early education school as an infant, then graduate to Marygrove’s elementary school, then middle school (opening soon), and finally to the high school. Although the graduating class did not start as infants; they all started as freshmen and the same students have been together all four years.
“We built the high school out first, as a proof point for the school and the interest in the school continues to rise so much so that within the next couple years we will be able to support 1,000 students on campus,” says Allen.
Jasila Smith and Imani Daniels are part of the senior class.
“It means a lot to be the first graduating class because we are role models, we can set bars for the little ones to surpass by the time they graduate,” says senior Jalisa Smith.
“What's unique about Marygrove is that because it's on a college campus there is a lot of historical connection to education there and so you have a larger, more invested alumni class that looks to help support and make sure the reputation of the school still exists. No other school has that,” says Gerrard Allen, the Dean of Culture for Marygrove.
From the beginning, Marygrove has taken a progressive approach to the academics of its high school. Their classes are longer and they incorporate social justice approaches. Marygrove High School is an engineering- and design-based school that extends those concepts to architecture, environmental devices, and various mechanisms with the potential to create positive impacts on the community. Students are encouraged to be a part of solutions, not just talk about them.
Gerrard Allen is the Dean of Culture for Marygrove.
“Students now are working on human-centered design and engineering. They are responsible for actually collecting real data; where that be from their classmates, teachers, or community partners. They bring it into their learning and are asked to shape that idea [...] I know a lot of places of education it's always theoretical; ‘what if we do this, what if we do that.’ But in this environment they get to see the things happen,” says Gerrard Allen.
The students were even able to put their collective ideas together to assist in designing Marygrove’s new cafeteria. Their input led to the addition of a salad bar coming this fall. According to Gerrard Allen the ongoing campus construction has been used as a “real life Rubix cube of sorts as it relates to design.”
“Marygrove has a special kind of student,” says Racheal Allen. “These kids are inquisitive. I’ve been working in education for over 10 years now and there is something really special about the kind of student that is attracted to Marygrove.”
Margrove’s high school students have a youth advisory council and youth ambassador positions where students can receive compensation for their feedback on campus planning issues.
“They get paid to attend events and represent us and the school, and the community and so it's been great to help develop opportunities for young people that are not only meaningful but educational [...] We know we can go directly to the students and they're going to be interested and engaged in that way. And in a typical school district kind of environment, it just doesn’t work that way,” says Racheal Allen.
Senior Ameen Yinusa says the best part of his time at Marygrove was growing and learning critical skills and ideas with his peers. He plans to implement those teachings in her future endeavors.
“My plan is to go to college and study in the engineering field. I hope to gain more knowledge and apply the knowledge from Marygrove to pursue my dreams,” he says.
As senior year begins, the students understand that all eyes from the community are still on them. The Kresge Foundation's $75 million contribution and the University of Michigan's financial and academic involvement have drawn the attention of educators from all over the country and the spotlight has never been brighter.
“The best part of my Marygrove high school experience so far is becoming a part of a socially just and family-paced environment. The students are always allowed to have insight on what our environment sounds like, looks, and feels like,” says senior Imani Daniels.
“I think they get it that they’re building a legacy,” says Gerrard Allen. “And that's a lot of pressure to put on a young person who hasn't even lived long enough to have a full definition of what legacy is but they’re taking it all in stride.”
All photos by Kahn Santori Davison.