Students bring parents on board
May 16, 2007
The Detroit ninth-graders who pledged two months ago to graduate from high school on time, attend college and then return to help rebuild their city have taken the next step in their campaign.
The students gathered again Saturday at their school, University Preparatory Academy, this time bringing their moms and dads to sign contracts supporting their pledge.
Then the students had their teachers sign a contract to support them.
Finally, they asked their superintendent what he intended to do to help. And Doug Ross, who has run the 512-student charter high school since 2003, told them he would see to it that every student who graduated and earned at least a 20 on the ACT would get a full scholarship to college.
And that's when the parents and grandparents, who had been sitting in proud and appreciative silence, began to shout.
"This is excellent!" said Rachel Gaddy, mother of 15-year-old MaLia Gaddy, one of the student leaders who is helping to enlist every ninth-grader in Detroit to this movement.
"This means that she will have the opportunity to go to college and reach her goals because right now, I don't have the money to really help her to get to school. She wants that so much, and I want that for her. She's striving. She's doing all she can, doing community things, trying to make money and save what she can.
"It's like a miracle!"
UPA's 128 freshmen, who call themselves Detroit's Greatest Hope, reiterated the message with which they began their campaign: We are the future.
At the breakfast meeting where students took the podium to address their parents, they were as passionate as when I met them on the March day they first announced their plan. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick applauded them that day and promised to host their citywide summit, reminding them that "no revolutionary change ... has ever happened in world history without young people being at the genesis or nucleus of it."
"I made a pledge at 13 that I would be part of this city's history" after college, he said then. "We need some help, because too many people are dropping out, and we need some more people accepting the responsibility of making this city great. And I think that the right folks are in this 128-member class."
Students seek to recruit others
The charter school students' campaign comes as the mayor is seeking to establish more charter and private schools in Detroit to offer parents a choice between district schools that aren't meeting their goals and a better future for their children.
Detroit's problem isn't that the entire Detroit Public Schools system has failed. It is that only some of its schools are effective, and parents don't have an alternative when their kids are stuck with schools that don't work. Too often, they choose to leave the city.
Over the next year, the mayor has said he will meet with teachers, union leaders and parents to find a way to better meet what parents want and the city needs from its schools.
On Saturday, University Prep freshman David Miller updated parents on the campaign, telling them how the class has created a Facebook page online that tells other kids nationwide about their commitment and about the citywide summit they are planning so any ninth-grader can join the campaign.
Asia Bonney read the letter the students are sending to the student councils of every public, parochial and private high school in Detroit:
"Dear Class of 2010 Student Council Leader:
"Have you ever thought about living in a city without poverty, graffiti, litter, abandoned buildings and (with) schools where students don't drop out?
"We are the University Preparatory High School Class of 2010, and we are ready to lead Detroit in a new direction.
"As you may or may not have heard, University Prep's ninth grade has pledged to graduate from high school, steer clear of gang activities and violence and go on to college. Our purpose? To become Detroit's Great Hope.
"We are regular Detroit schoolkids like you. We are concerned about Detroit's future because it's part of our future as well. We are dedicating ourselves to our city in order to make Detroit a positive place to live. We can't do it alone. That's why we are inviting you to join us in our pledge to initiate Detroit's transformation."
These kids are making history. What they are doing, these 14- and 15-year-olds, makes them leaders. They deserve the promise that Ross made to them Saturday.
"I will commit to raising the money to make sure that every member of the Class of 2010, after they have received all of the scholarship money they are eligible for, receives a Great Hope Scholarship from UPA that covers full college tuition for four years to any public university or college in Michigan," he said. "If this class achieves an average score on the ACT of 20 or higher, which is higher than Cass's (Cass Technical High School) average, I will do that.
"I know you can do it."
Changing lives, changing the city
The UPA high school opened four years ago with a daunting goal of graduating 90% of its freshmen and sending at least 90% of its seniors to college.
"Next month at our first graduation," Ross told the students, "we are going to meet that goal."
If the UPA students follow their contract, the school should have that success every year.
The student contract requires each student to come to school prepared in material and attitude; manage his or her time well by using a planner; commit to do two hours of homework each night; dedicate themselves to become leaders, and stay focused on college and the high performance standards needed to get there.
The parent contract requires parents to get their kids to school on time every day; participate in all parent meetings; make sure their children have a quiet place to do homework and to check that homework every night; get their kids involved in extracurricular activities, and praise good work.
Ross frankly told the parents that they had to make the choice that day whether the new mission was for them.
"If this sounds like more work than you want to do, if you'd rather forget the Great Hope Scholarship to avoid the pressure of getting a high ACT score, if you're not sure you can get here every day on time and turn in homework every day on time, then you may want to find another high school that demands less," he said.
"This class is in the process of making history," Ross told the parents. "They are in the process of transforming public education in this city. And I think it will be a life-changing process for every student who stays and makes the commitment."
It will be a city-changing process, too.
Contact ROCHELLE RILEY at 313-223-4473 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.