School of the Week: Sampson-Webber Leadership Academy

Amidst change, it takes a team to make Sampson-Webber Leadership Academy a daily, consistent positive educational setting for students and families

Sampson-Webber Leadership Academy in the 2012-2013 school year stands out as a learning and supportive environment with remarkable stability and teamwork within Detroit Public Schools.

That’s a remarkable sign for a school that’s been the center of transition for a number of years. The students and families, as well as the teaching staff, have come from many directions on their journeys which have led them to Sampson Academy.

Detroit Public Schools educators with many years of experience are in most cases new to Sampson within the past two years. Students have followed both the route of transition due to family moves and the district’s consolidation of a number of near-west side educational programs.

The 50-year-old, well-maintained, bright and active school displays its heritage and its current mission in overlapping ways every school day. A reinvigorated team spirit among the educators is supported by longtime community and parent volunteers and partners.

Thursday morning, May 23 before 9:00 a.m. is a busy time as students, parents, volunteers and supportive partners arrive at the school. On this morning of the Spring Musical, the atmosphere is even busier as cars line both sides of Tireman Avenue in front of the school bringing participants and guests to the event.

Music, Art…

Music, as well as art, play an important role in the school’s educational model, not only as elective creative activities but in direct support of essential reading and comprehension skills.

The first display case within the entrance hallway showcases band instruments, something not seen in all schools. Academic Engagement Administrator Ricky Jones credits recently retired Principal Coy Lynn Robinson, who nominated the school for the DPS School of the Week feature, for working to include art and music in the Sampson program.

Music teacher and this morning’s Concert Musical Director Teresa Youngblood echoes the importance of music to the students, one-third of whom are engaged in her program. “It’s both an outlet and a means by which students can express themselves better, as well as develop literacy and common core skills.” And students are regularly exposed to additional reading, writing, explaining, revising, and rehearsing educational activities.

Art teacher Jeffrey Ferreri similarly talks about the higher level thinking skills that he is able to bring out in the 300 students who take part in his program. In his room is a poster that states, “Art makes your brain powerful.”

It’s all about Reading.

Putting books in the hands—and homes—of the school’s children at all ages is a mission at Sampson.

Reading Recovery teacher Patti Garbacik distributed more than 2,000 donated books during the recent Camp Want to Read event in the school’s cafeteria, which is transformed into a campground setting for a day with younger children reading together under tents in the morning and the older students moving the tents out of the way but losing no interest in obtaining the books and developing reading skills later in the day.

Garbacik, like many of the teachers who are new to the school this year, brought ideas and programs they developed at other schools, many of which have the common theme of motivating students to read, into the rich atmosphere at Sampson during 2012-13.

Instructional Specialist and School Improvement team member Kim Newell is excited about an upcoming first Family Literacy Night designed to assist parents in understanding reading strategies as well as ease transitions from one grade to the next.

Twenty-one year DPS and second year Sampson teacher Amy Krzyzanowski, a recent Race for the Cure winner, credits the school’s team spirit and family atmosphere for support in her victory. Her classroom, like so many others, is filled with lessons and educational materials on the walls, floor and ceiling. Commenting on the ceiling, she states, “If they need something and I’m working with another group of students in the classroom, they can just look up and get the answer.”

Eighth grader Roderick Martin whose sights are set on attending Cass Tech, Renaissance or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. high schools next year, is the regional winner in the America and Me Essay Contest and, along with his teacher Jacqueline Blakely, is anxiously awaiting the statewide contest results. His essay is about plans to grow up as a successful man and the success his mother has had in raising him.

Families in Blakely’s class have new home Internet access after she was successfully selected as one of eight DPS teachers to win free one year home access for the families. She’s excited about the literacy impact not only on the children but their families.

Want to find great Customer Service within Detroit Public Schools? Look no further than the main office at Sampson Academy

In the main office, the three DPS veteran office staff possess a combined 77 years of service to the district’s students. Their eagerness to serve the families is immediately evident. The largest of several boards in the room displays the word “Compassion” in large letters and offers this definition: “Commiseration, mercy, tenderness, heart, and clemency.”

“We have to be on our P’s and Q’s, and always make the parents know that their children are in a safe and caring environment,” says Verla Taylor. “We’re the first ones that anyone sees. We set the tone. We know that not everyone who comes through that door is having a good day, and our job is to help to assist them and, if necessary, to calm them down.”

Taylor and her colleagues credit their customer service from “learning from the best” among other longtime members of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees.

Elsewhere in the office there are many other signs of compassion, and quite a few pink hearts, as well as reminders to the students that “I believe in myself and my ability to do my best,” and “I am intelligent.”

Jones says the school has been known by a number of names over many years and many have known it as Sampson-Webber School. Merging school programs have brought students from the nearby Sherrill School community and as far away as the Jemison Academy, as well as others consolidated over the years.

Jones credits the teachers, staff and community supporters for keeping an often-negative outside culture away from the hallways of the school, whose culture is decidedly different.

A Webber Wall of Fame overlooking the two-story entrance atrium painted by art teacher Dennis Orlowski and his students features former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Longtime City Council President Erma Henderson, DPS Superintendent Arthur Jefferson and eight others. “It helps to both warm our school and to celebrate the accomplishments of these leaders with our current students every day.”

Volunteers and supporters including longtime community member Mrs. Wells, who helped to coordinate a library makeover and influx of 5,000+ donated books, as well as the Motor Moms and the Yes Foundation, have a longtime presence in the school through its many transitions and are as focused on ensuring these students read as the newer staff. “I am determined to see these kids read,” Wells states.

Martisa Gandy is the parent of four Sampson students in grades 8, 6 and 4 and serves as the secretary of the parent organization. “I’m here every day, just to help keep an eye on all the children.” Gandy recently relocated to the area and transferred her children from a charter school and credits the school for better education, discipline and culture than the previous school her children attended.

Instructional Specialist David Watkins credits Sampson’s positive impact on students and their families on the “togetherness of the team. Staff come and go, but we have to always work as a team. We have to be in it for the kids, and not for ourselves.”

“All of the students have potential to be scholars,” Watkins states. “So when I walk through the door, that’s what I tell them every day.”

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