Detroit Public Schools is harnessing the strength of its largest constituency and one of its most valuable assets – alumni – in an effort to raise student achievement, foster pride in the district and make a positive impact on the district’s students.
The district in November reinstated its Office of Alumni Affairs, which had been dormant since 2000. The goal, said Alumni Manager Gloria Cunningham, is to create an alumni presence in every school throughout the city and to bolster communication between the district and its alumni.
“At least every high school should have a working alumni association. Those alumni could then assist in the development of groups from feeder schools,” said Cunningham.
The district is building its relationship with the Alumni Association of Detroit Public Schools, a 15-year-old network of alumni leaders from various organizations who are working to facilitate alumni growth across the district.
“Our connections have helped new groups eliminate the traditional trial-and-error phase and encouraged the development of more groups,” Cunningham said.
The needs throughout the district are tremendous, and alumni can be invaluable in helping to provide goods and services that the district has had to limit due to funding cuts, Cunningham said.
Among the areas where help is needed: funding for field trips and college visits, funding for students whose families are going through financial hardship and uniforms for underprivileged students. Among the volunteer opportunities are helping teachers in classrooms, serving as hall monitors and lunch-room aides and being a visible presence to inspire students.
“Alumni are proud to claim DPS schools, but we also want them to contribute, whether financially or in kind or to volunteer,” said Cunningham, a graduate of Mackenzie High School and alum of Barton and Drew elementary schools and McFarlane Junior High. “Alumni don’t just have to help out their own schools. They can make a difference at schools that fed their alma mater.”
Cunningham, who founded the office in 1998, serves as a bridge between the schools, the district and the roughly 30 active alumni associations. She is working to create alumni associations in schools that don’t have them and to coordinate the disparate fund-raising efforts for various schools by reaching out to alumni, community groups, the Detroit Public Schools Foundation and others.
“We can pool our collective resources” in ways large and small, said Cunningham. “For example, all the alumni associations have picnics, and for each one the organizers rent tables and chairs and hire bouncers. We could pool our funds to buy tables and chairs once, for the use of all the associations. That way, the organizations can funnel more of their funds directly to the schools.”
The Alumni Association of Detroit Public Schools will meet at 6:30p.m. Monday March 15 in the Detroit Public Schools Welcome Center, 3011 W. Grand Blvd. Leaders and citywide alumni are invited to attend to help plan the group’s first major project, an Alumni Basketball Classic featuring former pro basketball players and friends. The event is slated to take place April 30.