School of the Week: Clippert Academy

At their teacher’s urging, every student in Ms. Emma Howland-Bolton’s fifth-grade class eagerly grabbed two markers from their pencil boxes. But the Clippert Academy students had no intention to write with them.

On cue, a table of three smiling students in the back corner of their colorful classroom kicked off what appeared to be a familiar ritual with the plastic casings of the markers by tapping them rhythmically on their table in a steady beat, twirling the markers in the air, clapping their hands across the tables, and then launching into the first stanza of a rap song that would be handed off — in a similar fashion — table to table throughout the room.

“Do you know what you’re eating?

Does it come from a root?

Or some other plant part?

Like a leaf, stem, or fruit?

Is it made from a flower?

Could it come from a seed?

Those plants give us all

Kinds of food that we need!”

The “Plant Parts Food Rap” by Suzy Gazlay is just one of the many methods Howland-Bolton uses to engage her students in learning throughout the class day. Whereas a lesson on ecosystems could otherwise be a boring textbook study of the food chain, her room is a constant buzz of chatter, hand motions, clapping, experiments, discussion and interaction.

“I use a couple of different strategies,” Howland-Bolton said. “One is whole brain teaching, which is a cognitive instructional approach where I’m trying to reach all parts of the students’ brains during class. I did some research and found out that fifth-graders on average have about a six-minute attention span – and that’s on the upper end — so they need to have constant interaction.”

Howland-Bowlton’s interactive classroom is only one example of how Clippert’s teachers and their award-winning school use creative teaching methods and differentiated instruction all day long in every classroom with the goal of reaching students on multiple levels of their brains.

“I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful staff that is always looking for opportunities to do new things with the children that will increase their achievement,” said Principal Kim Gonzalez, who has led Clippert Academy for the past eight years. “I leave my door open so that they come in and approach me with those ideas, and then we work together to make those things happen.”

Their strategy clearly is working.

Defying some of the barriers that might limit achievement, including a high poverty rate and a heavy population of Latino students who speak English as their second language, Clippert Academy in Southwest Detroit is recognized as one of the top 5 percent high-achieving schools by the Michigan Department of Education. Clippert, which houses grades 5-8, also has been honored as one of the top 20 elementary-middle schools by Excellent Schools Detroit; has been named among the state’s top-performing schools by the Mackinac Policy Center; and has been recognized by the Skillman Foundation.

The school also has an abundance of partnership support including Strategic Staffing Solutions, Southwest Solutions, Inside Out Literary Arts, Living Arts El Arte, Cranbrook Horizons Upward-Bound Program, Mercy Education Project, Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, and the Skillman Foundation.

“I can’t say enough about my staff,” said Gonzalez, adding that their open, collaborative relationship allows their team to bring tons of creativity to their teaching.

That creativity played out in a recent science class in which Science Teacher Kathryn Meloche rallied students to get excited about a lesson on how humans affect their air and water quality.  To make the lesson come alive, she decided to demonstrate the concept of how it’s nearly impossible to mine without affecting the environment.

The students were all handed cookies and a toothpick and were challenged to work for five minutes to extract gold (chocolate chips) from their mine with as little disruption as possible to the surrounding environment (cookie).

Real-life lessons are common at Clippert. Last year, students drew media attention by analyzing the city of Detroit’s budget and using their skills to add and subtract in various departments to balance the budget.

Social Studies teacher Brendan Mullane integrates music, which is his personal passion, in his lessons to engage his students and make learning interactive and fun. His Social Studies lessons are typically accompanied by a Bass or guitar that sits in the back of his room. Students are encouraged to play the songs with him, bringing their own talents to the lessons and drawing them further into his teaching.

But there may be no classroom in Clippert where students’ and teachers’ creative talents coalesce more than in the art room, where award-winning Art Teacher Ruth Goldfaden works to find creativity and brilliance that students did not know they had within them. She also coordinates with other teachers throughout the school to infuse art in Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts Lessons.

The students’ artwork has been transformed into full-sized floats that have appeared in America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; appeared as juried works on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts; and been displayed at local stores, restaurants and public spaces throughout Southwest Detroit.

“I spend a good amount of time trying to inspire them, and I give them a lot of opportunities and materials and let them go for it,” Goldfaden said.

Like so many teachers and staff members at Clippert, Goldfaden did not credit herself for the honors and awards. She credited the children, and said the job of teachers like her is simply to use a variety of methods to inspire each individual child, so each child’s creative talents can shine.

“It’s just reaching them and finding a way to bring their talents out,” she said.

Something you didn’t know:

Through the Living Arts El Arte program, local Artist Lisa Luevanos, and 5th grade Teacher Emma Howland-Bolton, Mexicantown’s popular Café Con Leche coffee shop on Vernor Rd. hosted Clippert’s ‘Cool Nerds’ photo exhibit; Teacher Emma Howland-Bolton plans to continue to collaborate with local artists annually.  Today, Artist Luevanos’ studio contains a window gallery of Clippert’s inspiring photo work.

Something else you didn’t know:

The Bearded Dragon in Kathryn Meloche’s class has her “own” blog, which the students take turns writing. And the dragon, named Sepharia, has even dabbled in art in teacher Ruth Goldfaden’s class, creating some colorful “claw prints” that adorn the wall in Meloche’s classroom. Read more at


Where to find Clippert Academy:

Clippert Academy

1981 McKinstry Street, Detroit

(313) 849-5009

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