School of the Week: Gardner Elementary School, where students learn to share a warm, welcoming “Hello” in 21 languages


Al salaam a’alaykum. Tung. Parev. Oh-see-YOH. Ni hao. Halito. Bog. Nazdar. Hej. Hallo. Bonjour. Guten Tag. Sannu. Ciao. Konnichiwa. Dakota. Ahoj. Zivjo. Hola. Jambo.

All mean a simple Hello.

This one word displayed in 21 languages at the school’s entrance illustrates the vast cultural diversity and warm, welcoming climate that all Gardner Elementary School students, educators and parents share upon entering their second home each day.

Gardner is one of DPS’ most culturally diverse schools with roughly 320 students. The Middle Eastern student population accounts for about 40 percent, with families originating from Yemen, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.

The African-American student population also accounts for roughly 40 percent. Hispanic students from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico represent about 10 percent of the Gardner student body. Others have traveled from countries such as Nigeria in West Africa to make Gardner their second home, modeling to the world that people of all cultures can coexist.

Gardner’s mission statement is simple but sincere: “Many cultures, one goal, to become our best!”

A Second Home…
When asked how they would describe Gardner, nearly every staff member interviewed for the School of the Week feature used the phrase second home.

Educational Technician Sanaa (Jizzine) Joumaa, who is also a Gardner parent originally from Lebanon, takes the phrase very seriously. In fact, she thinks her children would prefer if Gardner was their first home.

“When there is a snow day, they cry,” Sanaa said with a smile. “They hate to miss school, and I have to tell you, I do too. This is my second home, for me, for my kids, this is my family. I have no family here in the U.S. So when I came here, I began volunteering at Gardner and they became my family.”

Sanaa began her career with Gardner as a parent volunteer. She was then hired as a School Service Assistant and is now an Educational Technician who serves as a parent, student and staff liaison due to her ability to speak four languages: Arabic, French, Spanish and English.

Sanaa has a critical message for all parents: “Your child’s school should be your second home. That’s goes for everyone,” said the feisty, nearly five-foot tall mom with a gentle finger wag.

“Volunteer as much as you can. You need to know what’s going on in your child’s school, and you can only know that if you’re there.”

Sanaa has four children total. Two have graduated from Gardner and two currently attend the school.

“You wonder why my kids want to come to school every day? This is why: Gardner is the best,” she said. “When people come from around the world, they bring their kids to Gardner. The environment is so welcoming. They make you feel warm and welcome in the U.S.”

Team work, True givers
Having a reputation as warm and welcoming extends far beyond the walls of Gardner.

Parent Julie Al-Shebami nominated Gardner as the School of the Week for its ongoing generosity in the community, particularly during the Thanksgiving season. Every year for nearly a decade, Gardner staff members have nominated and selected more than 30 less fortunate families to provide Thanksgiving dinner baskets.

This year, the parents and staff of Gardner worked diligently to purchase 32 turkeys and collected a donation of $750 in gift cards from Meijer to include in the baskets. The baskets were stuffed with all of the trimmings for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner including pie and Cool Whip.

“Gardner works because everyone works as a team, in every task we take on,” said Principal Karen Doneghy. “My entire staff is hardworking and dedicated. There is nothing I could ask of them that they wouldn’t do to support our children and families.”

Gardner also has a strong volunteer group from the Volunteer Reading Corps and a partnership with the University of Michigan-Dearborn offering a Pre-Teaching Practicum for graduate students.

“We’re life-long learners. We want to be abreast of the latest research in education and what is going on at the university level, but we also want to help nurture our future teachers,” Doneghy said. “Each semester we have U of M students who come and observe good teaching practices as well as tutor students.”

Want to know the secret to Gardner’s success? Teamwork based on a shared vision.

“Like it says in the Pledge of Allegiance: One nation indivisible. We all know what happens to a house divided,” Doneghy said. “Yes, my students are great, my teachers and support staff are awesome, my parents are supportive and love what we are doing here so much that they cross boundaries to have their students at our school. There is an air of enthusiasm and dedication throughout this school. We respect each other and enjoy working together.”

Cross-curriculum learning
The students of Gardner are not only culturally diverse, they are also lucky enough to have teachers who implement diverse instructional methods to meet their educational needs.  Take the Physical Education program as an example.

Paul Hayner, Physical Education teacher, integrates math, science, language arts, social studies and health into his program. He collaborates with the homeroom teachers to discuss Grade Level Content Expectations and infuses them into his weekly lessons.

He creates themed Word Boards related to sports and physical education, as well as the world outside of his classroom. The students are challenged with using the words in both a sports related format, as well as in an everyday setting.

“The idea is you never know when you’ll run into these words, and the students have to share with the class other places where they hear these words, and use them in a sentence,” said Hayner.

As an example, one of Hayner’s second-grade students recently attended a doctor’s appointment with his mother.

“He heard the doctor use the word cardiac. He shared with the doctor that he knew what the word meant, and then informed the doctor that Cardiac is related to the heart. It makes the students proud when they can connect what they’re learning in school to the world outside of school.”

Students also engage in fun learning activities with words that have double meanings. An example is the word spider web, which also relates to relay races where the hand must be open wide enough for your partner to place the baton. Therefore, the hand must be extended to look like a spider web.

As testament to his outstanding teaching practices, Hayner was recently nominated for the NFL Network’s PE Teacher of the Year award for a chance to win a $5,000 grant for his school’s PE program, along with a $10,000 personal stipend.

As part of NFL PLAY 60 and NFL Network’s Keep Gym in School campaign, nominations have been submitted from students, parents and concerned consumers for the PE Teacher of the Year since September.

According to the network’s website, the PE Teacher of the Year award recognizes the role of educators in achieving the Keep Gym in School mission to increase access to in-school physical activity and to teach skills needed to establish and sustain healthy lifestyles.

Five finalists will be selected on February 18, 2013. In April 2013, the NFL Network PE Teacher of the Year will be announced during the NFL Draft Week.

Friday Fun Clubs
With the goal of creating a fun learning environment and combating low-attendance rates on Fridays, Doneghy implemented the Friday Fun Clubs.

Teachers selected clubs they would oversee, and all students were able to pick which clubs they wanted to be a part of. The clubs are offered during the second-to-last period each Friday and include the Drama Club, Walking Club, Physical Education Club, Cooking Club, Book Club, Crocheting Club, Pep Club and more.

Other programs at Gardner include the Teacher Mentoring Program, where every veteran teacher is expected to mentor any new teacher in their area, and the Morning Announcements, which rotate weekly by classroom so that first- through fifth-grade classes can produce the school news and current events, and lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance as well as the Gardner Student Pledge.

Parent ESL classes are held daily to teach English and help with studying for citizenship testing.

For the Student of the Month program, a student is selected based on a different theme or attribute.  Principal Doneghy hosts a pizza party or breakfast in his/her honor and photos of the honorees are posted in the main hall for all to admire.

“We want our students to want to be here,” Doneghy said. “We want this to be a fun learning environment.”

Something you didn’t know…

Principal Doneghy has been with DPS for 33 years as an employee and completed her K-9 education within Detroit Public Schools. Her mother and sister are retired DPS teachers.

The schools she attended as a student included the former Keidan Elementary, Monnier, Noble, Hampton and Winship.  She began her career with the district as a student teacher at Pasteur and was then hired as a second grade teacher. The schools she has either taught at, or served as Assistant Principal and Principal include: Pasteur, Beaubien, McNair, Ruddiman, A.L. Holmes, Sanders, and Gardner.

Educator Focus:  Sanaa (Jizzine) Joumaa
After moving to Detroit in 1999 from Lebanon, Sanaa (Jizzine) Joumaa became a regular volunteer at Gardner Elementary School. She speaks four languages fluently: Arabic, French, Spanish and English.

“Once I heard her speak in all of these different languages, I said to myself we need her!” said Principal Doneghy.

Position: Sanaa was hired as a School Service Assistant and is now an Educational Technician.

What Works:  Sanaa provides translation services to staff, parents and students.

“When non-English speaking parents come through those doors, she’s the first person they ask for,” said Doneghy. “Our Hispanic parents don’t even call her by her first name. They call her family. She is a part of the community. The parents are comfortable speaking with her. We call her our goodwill ambassador because she is always working to help bridge the communication gap between our non-English speaking parents and students.”

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