School of the Week: Davison Elementary-Middle School!

Where “collegiate” and “family” meet

Teachers at Davison Elementary-Middle School never want to leave. Substitutes who are assigned elsewhere stay in regular contact with Principal Dianne Holland to check on opportunities to return. A retired, 38-year Kindergarten teacher arrives at the school every Friday for regular service. Staff and volunteers spend Saturdays painting stairwells and lockers. And, longtime families and community leaders remain intensely loyal in spreading the word to new families about the educational opportunities and programs at the school.

Located in two century-old buildings sandwiched between a freeway interchange, City of Detroit neighborhoods with significant disinvestment, and the borders of enclaves Hamtramck and Highland Park, Davison staff and leaders could easily find many excuses for failure, or even giving up.

However, a visit to this learning community on any school day demonstrates ample and flowing evidence that this is a school of excellence teeming with support programs and a warm, welcoming, bright and colorful learning environment serving an unusually diverse set of African-American, Bangladeshi, North African, Arabic and Polish students including a sizable special needs population.

Asked how Davison, a neighborhood school, is listed by Excellent Schools Detroit as the fourth highest achieving Detroit Public School of any type based on student success in Reading over the most recent three-year period, Principal Holland, who has been at the school since 2003, says simply, “We work with the whole child. Whatever the need is, we look at it and try to make it happen. We don’t see differences. We just see students, families, and staff.”

Click here to view a video of Davison Elementary-Middle School:

“You come to Davison and it’s not work.”
Principal Holland uses the terms “Family” and “Collegiate” interchangeably in describing Davison’s culture of learning. “It’s a wonderful place to be, and, we have fun.”

“Staff will do all kinds of things to increase student achievement,” the principal says in explaining the uniquely collaborative, team-like commitment that Davison School’s teachers and staff have to serving students and maintaining long-term support programs. “You come to Davison and it’s not work.”

Support and enrichment programs at Davison are completely weaved into the school day (“I don’t like programs that are just before and after school,” Holland states). All programs include students in the planning, are equally divided with responsibilities going to every staff member, and they don’t die when even long-time members of the teaching staff retire. The school’s signature “Good Morning Davison” daily video broadcast was retained this fall when physical education instructor Thomas Barnes took over the program.

The breadth and variety of offerings at the school give further evidence of Davison’s collegiate environment. Barnes also runs one of the district’s two archery classes, an indoor 8-week activity made possible through a collaboration with Michigan State University that involves every fourth through eighth grade student. Asked how archery enhances student academic achievement, the teacher lists the benefits to student learning: Focus. Concentration. Procedure. Sequencing, Calculations. And, Attendance. “Very few students are ever absent when it’s their day to shoot,” Barnes comments.

Holland and Barnes hope the program will someday be picked up at the secondary level by Cass Tech, where many Davison students matriculate, along with Renaissance and Detroit International Academy. Holland is looking forward to a potential school partnership with the all-boys Frederick Douglas Academy as well.

Drop Everything and Write
Teacher Calli Leslie, who started at Davison as a student teacher in 2001, created an energetic and popular program, “Pop” Time, five years ago. It’s a daily drop-everything-and-write project that involves every student in the school completing a spur of the moment writing exercise, which greatly enhances writing abilities and relies heavily on prior knowledge accumulation, based on a wide variety of entertaining topics that are now submitted in droves by the students themselves. Davison students developed more than 550 topics to write about in the first month of this school year.

The school’s distinctive outdoor classroom, started some years ago as a partnership with Greening of Detroit, continues to expand and now includes an educational program in soil testing for the students, under the leadership of teacher Maria Jones Foster, who also oversees the building’s longstanding Micro Society student business educational programming.

Parent involvement is supported by integrating programs and events. The school has held an Evening of Jazz, including a dinner prepared by a teacher on the same night as parent-teacher conferences. The admission ticket is made available after the parent completes the necessary conference with their child’s teacher. Participation in conferences has grown from an average of 60 parents to nearly 400 as a result. There is a mother-daughter fiesta event, along with father-son adventures.

A true service to the Bangladeshi community
Davison’s Bangladeshi student population has more than quadrupled from the 70 students who attended the school when Holland began her principalship. Now, this community makes up more than 40% of her student population, and is serviced by DPS’ only certified Bangladeshi ESL teacher, three ed techs, student nutrition programs that feature Halal meals, and translated take-home school notices. “We offer the services that make these families most comfortable. We are all the same,” Holland says.

Art, art, everywhere
At the end of the school day on a crisp November Wednesday afternoon, it’s not difficult to see why not only the staff, but the children and families at Davison don’t want to leave. The school is bustling with activity. The classrooms and hallways—every hallway, including what would be a dark and uninviting basement level with low ceilings and mechanical piping hanging from every ceiling—are absolutely filled with full-size murals and every other artwork imaginable as developed by students.

One drawing, of the school’s mascot, sums it up. It’s a Davison Dragon. “Because, we’re on fire!” the principal concludes.

Something you didn’t know…
Davison is one of a small number of DPS schools that are housed in two buildings on one campus. In Davison’s case, the two structures housing the lower and upper grades are connected by a tunnel.

Something else you didn’t know…
Former Davison student volunteer and Northern High School alumnus Dr. Mashkur Husain is a DMC Receiving Hospital physician active in the immediate community surrounding the school. He also supports the school’s 4.0 Bangladeshi American Parent Program.  Dr. Husain came to this country in the 9th Grade.

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