School of the Week: Cooke Elementary School

Approximately 404 geniuses walk the halls of Cooke Elementary School daily. If anyone disagrees, they’ll have to take it up with Principal Philip Van Hooks, who not only refers to each of his students as prodigies, but also said it is his “personal responsibility to harness their genius and put them on a positive path not only for their personal benefit, but for the benefit of our city.”

Housed in a beautiful brick structure that dates back to the 1920s, Cooke Elementary School is located in the prominent North Rosedale Park community and attracts students from outside of the school’s boundaries.

Cooke’s rigorous academic curriculum encompasses differentiated instruction at all grade levels, research projects for even the school’s earliest learners, and a strong focus on mathematics and science with hands-on learning opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subject areas.

Just last Thursday, students from Cooke attended the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix Education Day. More than 750 DPS students total visited the Raceway at Belle Isle Park to take part in activities focused on key concepts in racing like friction, gravity, aerodynamics and safety.

Each student who attended the Grand Prix Education Day either participates in the Grow Up Great or Fifth Gear programs where DPS students are educated on STEM subjects through motor sports thanks to a partnership with PNC Bank, the Detroit Public Schools Foundation, the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, Quicken Loans and other supporting organizations.

Kalila Mason-Smith, a fifth-grader at Cooke, attended the Grand Prix. Although Smith said it was “cool to see the race cars” and “learn about engineering and technology, and how they’re connected to race car driving,” she likes science a tad bit more.

“I really, really like science,” Smith said. “I want to become a veterinarian and help animals. Science projects have always been the most fun for me.”

Hearing a female student exclaim her love of science is what teacher Frances Smith lives for. A 24-year educator at Cooke, Smith has made it her mission to get more young women engaged in science and mathematics, subjects that are traditionally less popular amongst girls.

So exactly how does Smith cultivate a joy of learning to dissect animals, playing with creepy crawlers, and dominating at science fair competitions?

“I don’t allow girls to say ‘ewwwwwww,’” Smith said with a smile. “We have fun studying nature, and we don’t just do it from a book. We take walks through Rosedale Park to study nature.”

Cooke also has a gardening program, is active in the DPS Go Green Recycling Program, participates in multiple science fairs throughout the year, has a partnership with the Greening of Detroit and more.

Betty Thomas, who has been a teacher at Cooke for 28 years, and a DPS educator for 34.8 years total, adds to the school’s rich mathematics curriculum. Thomas teaches fifth and sixth-grade mathematics and has been an Academic Games coach for more than 30 years.

Cooke was one of several elementary school teams in the city this year to attend the National Tournament for Academic Games in Knoxville, Tennessee in April and placed 3rd in its division.

“Academic Games is my passion; it’s the thing that I’m going to do even after I retire because I know how beneficial it is to our students to complement what they’re already learning in the classroom,” Thomas said.

Enhancing the school’s vast STEM offerings, Cooke was one of three schools selected to receive new interactive whiteboards, surface tables and award-winning ActivInspire educational software from Promethean in November of 2013. Promethean invested a total of $40,000 in interactive technology and professional development for Cooke, Chrysler and Bagley.

Although known for its strong STEM programs, Principal Van Hooks said he’s constantly working to expand and improve the learning experience at Cooke. Van Hooks plans to implement a creative writing and media arts program for upperclassmen and has already launched a theatre arts program where all students in grades K-6 must participate in school-wide performances each semester. As the theatre arts program grows, he hopes to add more drama courses, music production, and video production.

“We have a legacy of excellence here in the community, so we’re constantly looking for ways to become better,” Van Hooks said.

And his creative thinking doesn’t stop in the classroom. To ensure Cooke is educating the whole child, Van Hooks and his team of administrators have created the Books to Bodies program, which incorporates physical activity into the school’s daily curriculum. Each student must complete 1.5 miles of walking or running, a specified number of push-ups, sit-ups and other physical activities daily based on their age level.

“Our goal is to transform the playground into the Cooke School Muscle Beach,” Van Hooks said. “It’s important to educate the whole child. You can’t fuel the mind if the body is fighting against you. Our students are taught to eat and exercise properly for a healthy body and mind.”

Cooke has partnerships with the Alliance for Healthier Generations; the NFL Fuel Up to Play 60 program, where students are encouraged to play vigorously every day for 60 minutes; Gleaners Community Food Bank to provide fresh fruits and veggies daily to students and parents; and offers cooking courses to parents to ensure students have access to low-cost, healthy meals at home.

Something you didn’t know…

Cooke also offers a strong music program for its young geniuses. More than 50 Cooke Choir members recently performed at the Detroit Children’s Choir 8th Annual Spring Concert on May 31, 2014 with musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

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