The YMCA has been involved with education since its beginning 140 years ago. The organization sought to build a school in Northwest Detroit with an emphasis on service learning. “Service learning – what you would call community service – is teaching our kids how to give back to the neighborhood,” says Miguel Thornton, principal, YMCA Service Learning Academy, Detroit.
The YMCA Service Learning Academy, which houses 1,092 students, was created with modular and traditional construction methods. An experienced contractor in a former life, Thornton was accustomed to the difficulties of the construction process. To handle any tumultuous community issues, the charter board reached out to the surrounding neighborhood; school administrators and teachers spoke to local groups about the new school and its service mission. Today, the school is a source of pride in its community, generating good will through good works.
Among their good deeds, the YMCA’s schoolchildren have rebuilt a local playground, visited nursing homes, and manned soup kitchens. The service learning time varies according to project and grade level. In addition to the service learning time, the school is devoted to high academic achievement and includes a longer school day and year. “There is a commitment there from students, parents, teachers, and staff,” says Thornton.
Technology plays a large role in supplementing Edison’s core educational values. Weekly online tests benchmark performance in core subjects. Over the Internet, parents can monitor their children’s performance progress and communicate with teachers. Adds Thornton, “We have technology training for everyone.” Computers are provided for parents with children in grades Three through Eight for as long as students are in school. Full-time teachers have laptops that can be used to work from home.
Professional development for staff is also a key part of Edison. Teachers are given up to two professional development periods during each school day to improve their skills. Courses include classroom management, first aid training, and mentoring. This year, the school is piloting a Wednesday University, a flexible program where teachers can receive additional training, improve efficiency, and even air grievances.An attention to detail is behind the YMCA’s Service Learning Academy’s success. “At 7:30 in the morning, I am there for the kids. I like to meet them at the front doors, talk to them, and make sure they’ve got their heads on straight,” jokes Thornton. Thornton is extremely proud of the community service mission of his school and the progress of his students.