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This text is by Sabra Skutt-Morman and Catherine Watson in their capacity and does not, necessarily, reflect the views of different infinite mile contributors, infinite mile co-founders, the author's employer and/or other author affiliations.  

A Reflection on Teaching at Detroit Public Schools by The Dissertation Detroit

Sabra Skutt-Morman and Catherine Watson

Sabra: The allocated budget to implement the program we designed (creative-based entrepreneurship) was too restrained to introduce exercises important to build in-depth skills necessary of creative fields like painting or computer design programs.  The budget given wasn’t enough to provide each student with paintbrushes, tubes of paint, quality paper, etc. along with other program materials.  However we adapted our plans to incorporate recycled items. At the earlier age level, the kids were quick and eager learners towards creative projects. It seemed the older the age group, the youth had more of a mindset towards creative and analytical thought. However, the program was originally implemented in a school where there is no art class as part of a standard curriculum. Working closely with the kids, there seemed to be times of a lack of individual exploration of ideas, an inclination that some students hadn’t yet established their purpose in attending school or considered options of mastering certain skills and/or apprenticeships geared towards a lucrative career. This can be a issue that most people struggle with at some point or another but the lack of opportunities and hope in the Detroit community may magnetize these issues.

Catherine: There needs to be a more inclusive, sophisticated and diverse image of what success looks like in contemporary media because there is a need for more examples (especially for minority youth) to aspire to or get ideas from.  Students aren’t always shown and exposed to the opportunities that they can make available to themselves, especially by people that are relevant to their current experience. I think a possible aid can be achieved by placing younger teaching mentors in environments around youth, similar to the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.”

We found that students were more responsive to us when we embodied the role of an older sibling/cousin-type mentor compared to us behaving in a dictatorial manner (talking at them as if they are incapable or unwise).

Sabra: Cultivating this relationship isn’t necessarily dependent on age but rather on a type of mind state; you have to have a certain openness, compassion, and comprehension of another person’s experiences and incorporating that into how you interact with them. Students need honest engaged role models as teachers… they need to see themselves in you and you as the teacher have to show them that you, like them, have aspirations or ideas that are bigger than your current situation; yet obtainable because you must think strategically and work hard to obtain them. 

Catherine: The patterns we noticed across age ranges regarding variants in their behavior (i.e. younger kids seemingly more open-minded to creating new experiences) is understandable as the natural behaviors of children become more rigid and habitual as they get older. Art is an important element of society as a vehicle to spread knowledge and opinions in which all people should partake. There would be much more of a “connect” in Detroit if there were more incentives to coach, teach, and mentor but finding the time while supporting yourself financially can be the dilemma. Maybe that’s why it seems to be a disconnect in different communities in regards to resources and opportunities being allocated in unsuitable ways; due to being on the bottom of the trickle-down economics occurring.

fence transparency
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link - issue 04: March 2014