More than 100 girls, family members and staff from Dixon Educational Learning Academy are set to enjoy a fun-filled overnight stay in Dundee, Michigan at a splash park and hotel, with proceeds fully covered by donations from partners like Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, the Department of Human Services, Dixon staff and others.
The “Girls Lock-In for Dixon” event, which typically happens at the school in the gymnasium and has included games, workshops, movies, mini-manicures, crafts and so much more, is not new and is not an anomaly for this school community which considers itself a family.
Indeed, long before DPS launched a program where 21 schools will serve as Community Schools, open longer days and offering services for students and families, Dixon has been quietly creating a Community School setting with a purposeful patchwork quilt of staff, partners, parents, non-profit organizations, churches, volunteers and corporations working together for the betterment of Dixon students.
“We do this family-style,” said Principal Dr. Ora Beard. “This school is not an application school. We take every child who walks through the door, and we take responsibility for providing an excellent education for those children. We do that together with a great staff, parents and partners and high expectations. And I insist on the best for our children.”
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Offering a rigorous, engaging curriculum certainly is the linchpin of the Dixon model, including a Mandarin Chinese class for grades K-4, extended time for reading and math and an emphasis on attendance. And the school radiates tech-savvy with SMART boards and SMART tables in many of the classrooms.
But staff members, like Kindergarten teacher LaVonna Evans, say that creating a family atmosphere is the key ingredient to the school’s success.
That starts from the moment students enter the door in the morning when Evans and other teachers monitor and greet students for 30 minutes before the start of class. This gives her and others a chance to interact with students – outside of academic settings – and ask them questions about their daily lives and identify problems or issues that the school and its partners can help address. Sometimes those small interactions lead to extra assistance for families or a recommended trip to the school clinic. Other times, a warm hug is the prescription.
“When they know they have a caring teacher who wants to be involved in their lives, students are more eager to come in and be ready to learn,” Evans said.
Dixon staff believe in their “family” mantra to the core and have demonstrated over and over how to successfully implement strategies to create a familial structure that benefits the students. No more was that on display when the highly lauded former Dixon Elementary was set to merge with Lessenger Middle School in 2010 at the site where the school currently is located.
Beard and her staff used the summer months before the merger to hold get-togethers, joint summer school and a barbecue picnic – “like an old family reunion” she said – to join the two school communities before the start of the year. “It was a marriage – not a merger,” she said.
That smooth transition has since been a model for other schools.
Now, Dixon Educational Learning Academy, which celebrated across-the-board increases in MEAP scores last year, continues as one family, regularly offering programs and activities to help their fellow family members – the school’s parents.
A highly successful gathering is the “Second Cup of Coffee” for parents once a month, offering parents exposure to an array of resources, social workers, Department of Human Services staff, clinical assistance, real estate workshops, medical providers to help parents gain access to needed medication for their children and much more.
A new partnership with Home Depot and the DPS Office of School Nutrition will enhance a popular garden club at the school. And in typical Dixon fashion, Beard said she welcomes the community to harvest vegetables as a way to connect Dixon to the neighborhood.
This school year, a new Mobile Medical Clinic opened on the grounds of Dixon as part of the Children’s Health Project of Detroit, delivering comprehensive health care services to children from economically disadvantaged families. Students from Dixon benefit from the pediatric clinic on wheels that also visits schools and youth centers in the area on a weekly basis.
In the vein of a true “Community School,” Beard said offering access to needed services for parents is critical to ensuring parents can spend more time concentrating on helping their children achieve and less on personal barriers.
Partners like Temple Beth-El aid in that effort by providing books, uniforms and coats for families throughout the year.
Beard also maximizes other community partnerships and her district resources to provide abundant extra-curricular activities for students, including church mentors, reading volunteers, Robotics/Science Clubs, Media Club, Book Club, a pen pal program through the University of Michigan, Boys and Girls Basketball Teams, scuba diving for students 12 and up, cooking, fencing, sewing, music, art, skiing and golf.
A partnership with the Oakland Hills Country Club provided a free golfing event this year for students and families.
Joanne Manning, the Dixon Golf Club coach, said such experiences are critical for students to enjoy coming to school, and she has loved introducing more than 280 students to the game of golf.
“This game teaches them discipline and self-control,” she said. “These are the same skills they will need to succeed in school and in life.”
DeAndre Crabtree, a seventh grader, said he loves being on the golf team. But while it’s a great sport – second only to his beloved basketball – that’s not the main reason he stays on the team.
“I enjoy it because of the people,” he said. “We are like one big family.”
Dorothy Jackson, a grandparent at the school whose children attended Dixon, said the “Girls Lock-In” is another great example of using a family-style activity to improve the culture of the school and help eliminate barriers to educational success.
“It allows us time to get to talk to the girls on a personal level,” said Jackson, who helps coordinate the event.
“I have never seen a school that works harder one-on-one with students,” she said. “They go beyond the call of duty to make sure the kids are safe and clothed and fed. It’s what makes Dixon different. This is a home away from home.”