School of the Week: Durfee Elementary-Middle School

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company… a church… a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

~Charles Swindoll

Each morning during the daily school announcements at Durfee Elementary-Middle School, fifth-grader Blair Bell reads the poem “Attitude” by Charles Swindoll. The quiet 11-year-old with long pigtails may come off as shy at first glance. But as soon as the camera is rolling, and she is cued to speak, Blair sits up straight, clears her throat and reads in her best broadcast voice.

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Led by six members of the Durfee News Team, the daily announcements set the tone for students and staff members each day to have a positive, productive day based on their attitudes. Of course, Principal Ricardo Martin could read the poem daily himself to students and staff, but he feels the daily messages have more meaning coming from a student’s voice.

“We want our kids to have a sense of ownership,” Martin says. “Ownership starts with their attitudes. We need them to know that their behavior, attendance and course performance dictates their ability to achieve at any level. If they can learn this early in life, they’ll be able to handle any challenge that comes their way with a positive, optimistic attitude.”

As the newly assigned principal at Durfee—a PreK-8 school housed in a beautiful, historic three-story building constructed in 1927 at Linwood and Collingwood streets—Martin has set out to change the culture of a school that once “had a reputation of being among the toughest in the city,” according the Martin.

“This has nothing to do with the fact that our mascot is the bulldog,” he says jokingly. “But I always tell people not to mistake ‘mental toughness’ for ‘mental resiliency.’”

Durfee’s ‘Tough Teaching Tools’

Martin and the school’s leadership team have adopted a “Teach Like a Champion” philosophy with more than 50 outlined techniques that all teachers must adhere to with classroom instruction.

In addition to the usual district-wide mandates, such as data-driven instruction—where teachers utilize test results to learn each student’s strengths and weaknesses to shape individualized learning maps for all students—teachers also implement techniques such as ‘SLANT’ or ‘The J-FACTOR’ with daily instruction.

Technique 32: SLANT – “If students are not sitting up, alert, and actively listening, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the lesson is.”

SLANT is an acronym to remind students to Sit up, Listen, Ask and answer questions, Nod your head, and Track the speaker. It is also a reminder to ensure students are not slanting—literally—and are ‘SLANTing’ figuratively.

Technique 46: The J-FACTOR – “Including joy in the work of learning is part of a high-achieving classroom.”

At Durfee, The J-FACTOR may involve including anything from games into the coursework, to suspense-filled activities such as setting out a box wrapped as a present for students and building anticipation about what’s inside, as long as it is tied to the daily lesson.

“The teachers here are tough, but it’s more like tough love,” said Dayjhane Smith, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Durfee. “They help us a lot. They show you the right path on how to achieve your goals and help to prepare us for high school.”

Antonio Matthews, 13, agrees. The aspiring doctor is also a member of the Durfee News Team. He jokingly shares that he is the “most intelligent and reliable person” on the News Team because he has “great teachers who really care.”

Durfee students “Get Schooled” with great attendance

Social Studies Teacher Linda Miner is one of those teachers identified by her students as among the best. Miner was instrumental in leading a recent attendance challenge at Durfee titled the Get Schooled Attendance Campaign.

As part of the back-to-school season, Detroit Public Schools announced a partnership with Viacom and its social responsibility umbrella Viacommunity to host a Get Schooled Attendance Campaign, encouraging DPS students and their families to attend school all day, every day.

Through the nation-wide Get Schooled campaign, students across the country competed to win prizes simply by “checking in” on the Get Schooled webpage as they attended school daily. Viacommunity created a DPS-only Get Schooled campaign that solely included schools within the district competing for the most check-ins.

The Get Schooled campaign supported DPS’ new Attendance Policy, announced in September as part of the district’s five-year Strategic Plan, which aims to ensure students are in school, on time, every day and prepared to learn.

Durfee, which has a 91% attendance rate daily, was identified early on as one of the top schools with daily check-ins. Jawaun White, 14, an eighth-grader at Durfee and his teacher Linda Miner helped many students check in daily, resulting in Durfee winning the contest.

As the top school with the most daily check-ins, Durfee students will receive an in-school event in early December from Paramount Pictures about the making of the new Transformers film, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” in Detroit before it hits theaters next year.

Some offerings at Durfee

Girls Basketball Team, 2013 city-wide champions; Boys Basketball;  Communities in Schools; 21st Century Tutoring; Cheerleading; After School Tutoring; First Move Chess-Critical Thinkers; Universal Breakfast; After School Bible Club and more.  School partners include: Brother Bill – Best Fight is No Fight; Detroit Police Department 10th Precinct; Sam’s Club; Home Depot; Lowes; Whole Foods Detroit.

Something you didn’t know…

Principal Martin spent most of his childhood in the neighborhood near Durfee. He grew up on Richton Street where he lived with his grandmother in the summers and evenings before moving to the city’s east side.

Something else you didn’t know…

Durfee’s historic building recently received a facility upgrade with a brand new, secured entryway.

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