School of the Week: Thurgood Marshall Elementary-Middle School

Family-Centered, Neighborhood School

When you walk through the halls of Thurgood Marshall Elementary-Middle School, you may be greeted by any student with a firm hand shake, exquisite eye contact and a well-mannered “Hello.” There is no running, and every student is always where they are supposed to be.

Principal Sharon Lee and her staff are strict, but students have come to respect the structured rigor they face on a daily basis and are appreciative of the tough-love.

“The teachers help here by staying on students because that’s what we need,” said seventh-grader Jayrionte Thomas.

Staff members at Thurgood have adopted the mentality of ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ The small close-knit school feels more like a family where all staff members are stakeholders when it comes to the education and well-being of every student.

While practicing a combination of 21st Century learning mixed with a bit of “old-school teaching,” Principal Lee prides her school on being a family-centered community that captures the essence of a high-quality neighborhood school.

Students are educated by highly certified, award-winning teachers with the use of the latest technology such as Netbooks, Smart Boards and Neo Boards. Community partners also have a vested role in educating students by offering mentorship opportunities and field trips to help ensure students learn outside of the classroom.

Pride in establishing positive relationships is evident at Thurgood. Aside from strong community partnerships, Thurgood administrators place equal focus on collaborating with parents to help students succeed.

Educating the ‘whole child’ and the ‘whole family’

Thurgood has an open-door policy where parents are welcome and encouraged to come into the classroom to observe what students are being taught so they can continue to educate students at home.

Parent Workshops, Parent Network, Pilgrim Village and a partnership with Gleaners Food Bank are programs that are offered to cater to the whole family.

“Educating the whole child means paying attention to the child’s home life, behavior, academics, emotional and physical well-being so that they can be the best they can be,” Lee said.

A different way to learn

Inside and outside of the classroom, Thurgood teacher YoLanda Portis cites high standards, structure and a nurturing environment as the keys to student success.

Portis teaches sixth-grade writing, seventh-grade ELA (English Language Arts) and reading. She practices differential learning, where students work together in groups according to their academic level.

“Differential learning leaves no student behind as they are all taking part in the exercise,” Portis said. “Students mature by learning this way. It gives them a chance to work out their problems with one another and take part in a healthy dose of competition.”

Like Principal Lee, Portis is also known for her strict teaching style.

“I may be a strict teacher, but when the students walk into my room, I know what to expect of them,” she said. “And in return, they know what to expect from me.”

Signs of success

The strict, hard-working mentality of Thurgood teachers and staff members is paying off. As part of the district’s recent enrollment campaign, Thurgood gained more than 100 students this school year and is up 30% from 2012!

“Unless it’s art-time or basketball-time, we don’t have time to play. Our staff is busy teaching and nurturing our students!” Principal Lee said.

To complement its robust curriculum, Thurgood has a variety of activities including: Art, DAPCEP, Science Club, Project Seed, After-School Tutoring/Extended Day Program, Summer Learning Academy, Cheerleading, Student Government, Basketball, Volunteer Reading and Business Corps partners.

Through the district’s new Strategic Plan, sports and music have also been added.

During the 2012-2013 school year, Thurgood received nine gold awards at the Science and Engineering Fair of Metro Detroit. Sixth-grade students outperformed all other elementary and middle schools in the district and outside of the district as well.

The project was titled, “How Does Ocean Acidification affect Marine Flora.” Thurgood also had two first-place gold awards, three second-place gold awards and four third-place gold awards, for a total of nine gold awards and seven blue (outstanding) awards.

Something you didn’t know…

Emergency Manager Jack Martin attended Thurgood Marshall! Thurgood, formerly known as Custer, is Martin’s alma mater. He regularly visits the school to volunteer.

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