School of the Week: Munger Elementary-Middle School

As Principal Deborah Hurst walks down the bright new hallways at Munger Elementary-Middle School in Southwest Detroit, she high-fives a middle school student.

A few minutes later, she high-fives a passing teacher and then a parent filling out a form at the Department of Human Services Office just off the main hallway. Later, she stands outside the back door near the playground and high-fives every prekindergarten student walking back into the school after a mandatory fire drill.

“It’s the universal greeting at Munger,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you speak Spanish, English or Arabic. It doesn’t matter what your culture is. We greet each other here. This is not just a schoolhouse. This is a school home.”

In fact, the “universal greeting,” which Hurst said even extends to babies in strollers and parents in cars who wait in line for the Gleaners Community Food Bank food distribution at the school, is part of a larger message of creating a community atmosphere.

Munger is one of 21 Detroit Public Schools designated to be a “12/7 Community School,” offering longer hours each day and eventually opening on weekends to offer a wide array of services for students, families and the surrounding neighborhood.

The program is a central component of Detroit Public Schools’ new five-year Strategic Plan to better serve current students and parents, and attract new ones, by offering programs that students and families desire.

The goal is to ensure parents and guardians have the tools they need to help their children be prepared for school and remove barriers that can impede student achievement.

The community atmosphere starts in the classroom, where Munger teachers use a data-driven approach to ensure each child succeeds by grouping students based on their individual data.

In Sandra de Garcia’s classroom, students are grouped together at their four-person tables, with two lower-level readers paired with higher-level readers. The students are paired based on their data, which is constantly being analyzed so students can work together to improve.

“We work as a community in my class, helping each other,” she said.

The school administration itself is a finely-constructed team that works closely together as an educational community to raise achievement. Principal Hurst, who was appointed principal when the brand new $22.2 million Munger school building opened in 2012, came from the former Crockett High School. This year, she recruited Donnell Burroughs, also formerly from Crockett, as her assistant principal. Many of the teachers and staff were hand-picked, as well.

“I’ve had folks say when they come in the building that it’s a comfortable place to be, and it’s a great place. I’m very proud of that,” Hurst said.

Hurst and her team have a finger on the pulse of the needs of families and students and offer programs that they know are desired, including performance band and music.

The academic program includes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) activities across grade levels, such as Robotics and DAPCEP; Carnegie Math for middle school students; and Media and Journalism electives for middle school.

Through DPS’ Strategic Plan, sports will also soon be offered.

That’s exciting to students like Kevin Castillo, 13, who is eager to start playing soccer when it comes to Munger.

“I think it will help kids want to stay in school,” he said of the new extra-curricular offerings.

That’s the idea! Everything in a Community School like Munger is tailored to creating the ultimate atmosphere so students can succeed academically and graduate.

While the Community Schools program was just announced this school year, Munger already is well on its way to being a Community School, including extended hours.

Five days a week, from 2:45 p.m. until 7:15 p.m. students have the opportunity to work with tutors to complete homework and participate in activities that build leadership skills thanks to a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, said de Garcia, 3rd grade Bilingual Teacher.  Students pay just $50 for a year membership to the Boys and Girls Club.

Munger also creates a welcoming atmosphere to families through a variety of workshops and courses.

For instance, Southwest Solutions offers English-as-a-Second-Language classes for parents and provides additional opportunities for children and families.

On a recent morning, more than a dozen parents, many of whom were Latino, were in the parent room busily working on an English Language Learners test that quizzed them on how to address an envelope, look up information in a phone book and write a letter to a landlord.

Just a few days earlier, Elizabeth Lopez-Riachi, a Bilingual Education Tech, assisted a young mother in finding assistance to have the electricity in her home turned back on and get food and dental assistance for her children after the family suffered financial and personal setbacks.

“Kids can’t think when they’re hungry,” Lopez-Riachi said. “And kids also know when their parents are stressed and unable to provide. (These services) help increase achievement if we can take that worry away from parents.”

In addition to the classes, partnerships abound at the school to assist families. Among them:

Alternatives for Girls provides mentors for middle school girls, conflict resolution, team-building activities, and opportunities for girls to perform volunteer activities in the community.

Matrix Solutions provides in-school tutoring and counseling for students and parents.

Bridging Communities works with the school to improve the neighborhood, providing opportunities for students to participate in volunteerism and community service.

Gleaners Community Food Bank provides healthy cooking classes for students and an outlet for parents to receive needed supplementary food.

Forgotten Harvest also provides food for community giveaways.

Other partners include ThyssenKrupp and MGM Grand Detroit.

And the Department of Human Services has an office at the school and a full-time Success Coach to assist families.

The plan to draw families in to help their children succeed is working: 332 families turned out for “Meet the Teacher Night” and 600 came to the first Parent Teacher Conferences, Hurst said.

The sign that greets visitors in the main hallway says it all: Welcome to Munger School. It takes the whole world to raise a child.

Something you didn’t know…

In Munger’s first year, the band performed at The Evening of Fine Arts! Emily Monterubio, a 6th grade student earned a 2nd Place in the Detroit Art Teachers Association submission for photography.

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