When Dr. Sherrell Hobbs of Golightly Education Center starts talking quickly about a dissertation in the halls of her Midtown school, she likely is not talking about her own doctoral thesis, but instead one of the hundreds of dissertations that she requires from her students.
Golightly’s mini-dissertation, which in an in-depth writing exercise on a lesson, is just one of the many tools Hobbs uses to create a college bound culture and a collegiate mindset among staff, pushing her 504 “scholars” to excel.
“When children come here, they find themselves learning what their goals, dreams and aspirations are because we help them be creative in their own choices,” Hobbs said.
Golightly Education Center, an application school which also accepts a percentage of students from its immediate neighborhood, has a storied history of innovating educational practices. Originally named Balch School, Golightly was the first city elementary school built to use the “platoon teaching system” and attracted observers from around the world.
Platooning is a model in which elementary students leave their homeroom to be taught by teachers in their area of subject expertise instead of staying with one teacher all day who teaches all subjects, as is typical in many elementary schools.
Now, parents seek out the Golightly because their children, many of whom are high-achievers, have dreams to become doctors, engineers or other professionals, and Golightly overflows with different programs to help them pursue these dreams, Hobbs said.
Programs include Accelerated Reading, National Beta Club, National Honor Society and Doctors Inc. (Distinguished Responsible Scholars who Initiate a Need for Change), honors classes for the highest-achievers in which students are encouraged to pursue their career aspirations through hands-on learning and projects sponsored in part by local professionals and business owners.
Heavy writing assignments, like dissertations, are incorporated into practically every lesson. If a student goes on a field trip, they come back and write about it. At the end of each lesson, they write about what they’ve learned. And they are taught, just as they would experience in college or a career, that writing is a process, Hobbs said. That’s means that they are encouraged to write drafts, edit them and rewrite them before their final, “published” product.
Demographics Do Not Define A Child’s Destiny
The school’s culture of high expectations was on display recently in the Honors Math Class, in which the 20-plus students, girls and boys alike, were wearing deep navy sport coats emblazoned with a gold embroidered Golightly Education Center logo.
The jackets are worn, mostly on special occasions, by Golightly’s top students as an honor.
When Dr. Hobbs walked in the class recently, she greeted the students with her customary moniker for them: “Good morning, Dr. Frazier,” she said to one of the students. “How are you today, Dr. Grice?”
Being in the Honors Classes is a tribute to the students who excel, and it’s a club students aspire to be part of because they are treated with respect and admiration, Hobbs said.
Wearing the navy blazer is a special reward for high achievement and the students wear it with pride, said Joseph Frazier, a fifth grader.
“To wear it is just a feeling. It’s amazing. It shows the things you can accomplish, and it represents the school and it represents success,” said the young Dr. Frazier.
To accommodate the accelerated students, teachers must alter their individual curriculum and lesson plans to incorporate more advanced learning, said Social Studies Teacher Candice Petross, who teaches fifth/sixth grade English Language Arts.
For instance, her honors students took a lesson on Ancient Egypt to the next level through hands-on projects in the construction of pyramids. One student designed and crafted a pyramid of gold-colored sugar cubes.
Ms. Petross is a “class-act” says Dr. Hobbs. “She takes education to the next level and adheres to the policy, procedures and expectations of both the school and the district. Ms. Petross is genuinely concerned about the students she services and communicates that well as she provides a rigorous and relevant learning environment that builds relationships. Her classroom immediately captivates the attention of students and parents.”
Science lessons come alive! In the spring, students harvested vegetables in their outside garden boxes and then used the plants in the winter to create healthy snacks, like seasoned baked kale, in the school’s kitchen.
Hobbs said she applies the same high expectations to all students in the school, whether they were admitted through the application process, which has a requirement of a minimum 2.5 grade point average, or whether they were admitted simply because they lived within the nearby neighborhood, which accounts for about 15 percent of the student body. The high expectations also show in the school’s attendance rate. Golightly attendance averages 92-95 percent.
To that end, Golightly strives to cater to all potential parents, whether they would be a doctor who works at the nearby Detroit Medical Center and commutes from the suburbs or a grandmother who walks her grandson to school from a few blocks away. The school draws parents from as far as Canton and aspires to be the premier school for the burgeoning population in blossoming Midtown.
“Our motto is that demographics do not define a child’s destiny,” Hobbs said. “Whether you have a 1.0 or 4.0, you can find your place at Golightly. We aim to bring the scholar out in every child.”
Bringing all Scholars to the Next Level
Though high expectations are a mandate at Golightly, Hobbs and her staff are also committed to ensuring a child’s success and that also means working with children who struggle to meet the school’s demands.
“What makes Golightly special is the commitment of staff, our administrators, the people who work with kids hourly, to the custodial staff and to lunchroom staff,” Petross said. “It’s a family-committed environment. No matter what their role is, the goal is the same in that we want the kids to do well.”
If a child is struggling, Hobbs and her team employ a four-tiered disciplinary process to work with the student and parent, starting with the teacher, students and parent, then the counselor, followed by the Assistant Principal and finally, Hobbs herself.
“Even when we are disciplining, we use a systematic model of support,” she said.
Its systemic method also includes using every resource at its disposal and exploiting it for the benefit of all students.
Golightly works hard to make use of its well-situated location in the heart of Midtown and within walking distance of the city’s cultural center. Field trips are frequent to the Charles Wright Museum of African American History, The Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne State University, The Detroit Public Library’s main branch and more.
The field trips, which also include farther-away places like the Ann Arbor Children’s Museum and the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, make lessons come alive, said Duwan Anderson, a fifth grader.
“We go to a lot of museums that are educational,” he said. “I like that because they are interesting and fun.”
Community and university partnerships abound at the school, including those with Michigan State University, Detroit Renewable Energy, Wayne State University, University of Michigan, Action Photo, Hartford Memorial Church, law firms and more. Thanks to Target Corp. volunteers and the Heart of America Foundation, the school has a bright, cheery newly-renovated library stacked with more than 2,000 books, eco-friendly design features, technological upgrades including iPads, and colorful new furniture, shelving and carpet.
To meet the needs and goals of all children, the school also offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities like volleyball and football.
Teaching children “holistically” is a core dictum at the school, Hobbs said, in order to help every child attain their goals, and she credits her excellent, staff, partners and parents for making that happen.
“Each One to Reach One,” Hobbs said. “That’s our motto.”
Golightly Education Center’s Unsung Hero
“Golightly Education Center’s “Unsung hero” is none other than our physical education teacher, Mr. Glen Wilkerson!” said Dr. Hobbs. “Mr. Wilkerson takes physical education to the next level with data results that are tried and proven. Mr. Wilkerson is constantly thinking of innovative ideas to support student achievement in meaningful ways. For example, he has built over fifty (50) games to use cross curricular. These games include kinesthetic activities that support teaching and learning opportunities in English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and science. An ELA game that Mr. Wilkerson has built has included students doing a body word search as they have to use each limb to identify and select a vocabulary word with only a few given moves for each. A mathematics game includes dials that are chance driven where students have to first determine how to use their physical body to make the dials move. To support the science curriculum, Mr. Wilkerson built a game that is a wind tunnel where students must first predict how many play bills they will be able to catch as they use their body to work against the wind. Mr. Wilkerson also provides golf, tennis, volleyball, basketball, football, hockey, and bowling experiences to the physical education curriculum as students learn how to strategize effective ways to work as a team in a competitive manner. The resource of knowledge that is imparted to the students is truly amazing and appreciated by the entire student and staff community.”
Something You Didn’t Know about Golightly
Golightly Education Center has Diana Ross as an Alum.