School of the Week: Catherine C. Blackwell Institute of International Studies, Commerce and Technology

Continuing the family-link generated by African-centered, 21st century learning

At Catherine C. Blackwell Institute, students are taught beginning with the earliest grade levels that your character changes the world. A 20-year Detroit Public Schools educator, Blackwell Principal Patricia Hines focuses her curriculum on three basic concepts: culture, 21st century learning, and being able to express oneself artistically. Hines is determined to help her students become dynamic contributors in the multicultural environment in which they live.

One of DPS’ premier African-centered schools, Blackwell was named in honor of the late Catherine C. Blackwell. Mrs. Blackwell’s deep passion and long-time advocacy for the African culture carried over to her teachings, resulting in the school keeping her tradition alive by continuing to infuse the African culture within the curriculum.

“We keep a display dedicated to Mrs. Blackwell where all of the students and our visitors can always see it. It has her photo, musical instruments, art and other artifacts that constantly remind our students of the meaning behind the Blackwell name,” Hines said.

Daily, students and staff participate in an African activity known as “Harambee,” which aids in bringing the community together and provides encouragement through reciting chants and pledges.

During a recent visit to Blackwell, Deanna Hooks, a 7th grade student, performed the “Harambee” pledges and songs. Hooks said that through Harambee, “you are able to interact with your own culture as well as get a better understanding of the African culture.”

Strong family link

Principal Hines prides her school on being a close-knit community as many generations consistently matriculate back to Blackwell. Hines’ own children attended Blackwell and she currently has a granddaughter in kindergarten.

“We have that family-link here at Blackwell. It is not uncommon to have current teachers who were once students, as well as current students whose parents once were Blackwell students,” Hines said.

Hooks describes Blackwell as her “second home.” Since enrolling at the school, she said she has learned how to express herself more effectively with the help of multiple school mentors.

Thriving literary and musical artists

Many Blackwell students use poetry to express themselves. The school has two published editions of student-written poetry books. Principal Hines says that through these books, students have improved their self confidence as well as their academic writing.

Under the instruction of writer Dr. Suzanne Scarfone, an opportunity provided by the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, the students are currently working on their third edition of the Blackwell Poetry Book. Each book incorporates real-life experiences such as anti-bullying and confidence boosters.

Blackwell also has a thriving music program where Chorus Teacher Glenda Jones has provided students the opportunity to perform with artists including award-winning Aretha Franklin. Blackwell music students had the pleasure of visiting Motown Studios to record tracks for a holiday edition album with Franklin. Blackwell’s traveling gospel group has toured locations including Florida, Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama’s inauguration, and Toronto.

“Jones is a Wayne State University alumnus with a degree in music. She brings not only the gift of song to our school, but knowledge as well,” Hines said.

Jones, who is fluent in multiple foreign languages, is often utilized in other areas to help tutor students.

Lunchtime Learning

Extending beyond the traditional classroom setting, learning is present everywhere at Blackwell—even during lunch.

Lunchtime Technology Workshops are available for all students to enjoy, which complement the three technology labs at Blackwell.

“Students love Lunchtime Learning. At this time, they are able to participate in a variety of workshops that cover everything from ELA to Math,” said Willie Jenkins, Educational Technician. “Students can also gain exposure in areas including film and photography.”

Something you didn’t know…

The Blackwell community will soon join the growing list of DPS Go Green schools! The school will soon be home to a beautiful garden where scrumptious fruits and veggies will be grown. Currently, Blackwell is part of the Fresh Foods Program which enables families once per month to access fresh fruits and vegetables available at the school.

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