Detroit Future Schools: Working with Youth to Transform Education

Detroit Future Schools is an in-school digital media arts program committed to humanizing education in Detroit. We work with teachers to integrate media making into the classroom while evaluating and refining core instructional practices. We provide students with the opportunity to explore new media, especially media that expresses visions for a more humane and enriching educational system.

Detroit Future Schools has developed a set of "11 essential human skills" that we aim to cultivate through the learning environments that we facilitate. These includes traits such as optimism and hope, curiosity, ingenuity, empathy, metacognition, and grit. These are essential traits necessary for ethical citizenship, collaboration, and creating social change.

Boggs School
Students from the painted turtle classroom, acting out the classroom agreements

We are currently partnering with two schools: the James and Grace Lee Boggs School and Tri County Educational Center. We are also conducting an "out-of-school" documentary film project with students drawn from various schools across the city.

The current Detroit Future Schools team includes teaching artists Andrea Claire Maio and Alicia Castañeda, and Program Director Nate Mullen. Andrea is a Detroit-based filmmaker whose stories have been heard and seen on NPR, PBS, and at film festivals in the U.S. and abroad. Alicia has a background in creative writing and poetry and also works as a writer-in-residence with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project. Detroit Future Schools’ Program Director is Nate Mullen, who was previously the lead artist and project coordinator for DFS. Nate has worked as an arts educator in classrooms and community centers across Southeast Michigan for the past seven years.

Our Work at The Boggs School and Tri County Educational Center

At the Boggs School we are working with the "Painted Turtle" classroom where first and second grade students are responding to the question "How do I tell my story?" They are using photography, stoytelling, and dance and movement to investigate the purpose and power of literacy.

At Tri County Educational Center, high schoolers are using graphic design to investigate the question "How can we use design to address problems in our community?" Below is a video that documents one of the projects from the first semester of the graphic design class at Tri County. In this project, students chose one of the DFS "11 Essential Skills" that they most identified with and drew their own self portraits.

In the second semester students from both the Boggs School and Tri County Educational Center will embark on research projects about their communities and will convey their findings through public art. The production of these "data murals" is supported through an award from the Knight Arts Challenge.

Systemic Challenges

As we approach our fifth year of operating, we at Detroit Future Schools have realized that in order for our work to thrive we must address larger, systemic barriers to a more "humanized" learning experience for students. In many classrooms excessive standardized curriculum and testing is leaving teachers feeling like they do not have a voice or a choice in their own classrooms. Education has been dehumanized, and it often seems that the only thing that matters are test results, not the students. When test scores decline, schools are punished with defunding and dismantlement. In Detroit, more than 283 schools have been closed since 2000. This creates chaos in our public education landscape.

Although there are many groups organizing around reforming the structure of education, there aren’t enough groups organizing youth and bringing their perspective to the table. In this regard, we see an important role for Detroit Future Schools: to provide dedicated instruction in developing concrete media skills, such as filmmaking and graphic design, while also empowering students to enter the broader conversation about the future of education in Detroit.

OSP banner
Students in the Out of School Project preparing for an interview

The Out of School Project

The Out of School Project (OSP) is DFS’ first extended project beyond our regular in-school programming. The Out of School Project aims to confront the systemic problems in our schooling landscape. It aims to address the lack of youth voice in organizing around school reform. It aims to provide an opportunity for youth to follow their passion to make media.

This six-month after school program brings together a group of ten students ages 13 - 21 from all over the city – including Detroit Public Schools, charter schools, private schools, alternative schools, and even a few college students. Together we are creating media that inserts youth voice into the conversation about the challenges and opportunities facing Detroit’s public education system.

The OSP kicked off in January and involves weekly after school sessions at the Allied Media Projects office with teaching artist Andrea Claire Maio. We are researching our education system and planning out a documentary film. We are learning about filmmaking and gaining hands-on experience along the way: storyboarding, interviews, camera operation, and editing.

We look forward to sharing our progress with you over the next few months. Stay tuned!

This blog was originally posted on the Detroit Future Schools website.

Read next: