“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
I’ve heard this over and over again, so much that at times I completely ignore the message within it.
Over the past four years, I have taken a keen interest in Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Throughout this time my wife, Kaniqua Daniel Welch, served as the supervisor of media/new media. By actively taking an interest in the work that she does, I was able to see some amazing things. Things so amazing I was a bit embarrassed that I didn’t know about them. As an avid Detroit resident and booster, I felt as though I should have known most of these things.
Growing up in Detroit, I attended St. Scholastica School (K-8) and St. Martin de Porres Catholic High School. For years I heard so many things about DPS. Some true and some of my own imagination. Unfortunately, I never took the time – nor did I really care – about what was going on within the district. Once I was able to take a peek at what was going on, I became interested.
I remember when Kaniqua first started with DPS. One of her first assignment was to ride in a plane with a 17-year-old student pilot from Davis Aerospace Technical High School . My first thought was, “DPS has a school for kids who want to become pilots?” I have to admit, I was extremely nervous for her. Plus we were engaged at the time, which meant I wouldn’t receive any life insurance benefits (Kidding, but you would have thought the same thing.) I asked her over and over again if this was something that was considered safe. With her confident response “of course!” she left for her journey. After she finished her student-led aerial tour of Detroit, she called me with pure excitement. The student took such great care of her while in the air and she was really impressed by what she had experienced. After watching some video that she captured, and viewing never-before-seen photos of Detroit’s skyline, I was amazed.
Quite often, Kaniqua would invite me to open houses at schools or to attend various showcases. So many of the students within the school system are extremely gifted and talented beyond measure, and they deserve the same positive feedback that their peers receive in other districts.
Did you know that there are elementary students within DPS that are national chess champions? I can recall a DPS performance at the Fox Theatre a few years ago and my mouth literally dropped. The dance department of a particular school was performing a piece that truly rivaled the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York.
And we cannot forget about the many dedicated teachers and staff who sacrifice so much for the benefit students. A few weeks ago, Kaniqua coordinated media coverage of a story where a DPS teacher donated her kidney to one of her students. As much as I loved the schools that I attended, I’m not so sure how many of my teachers would have done that.
Over time, I’ve witnessed multiple Gates Millennium Scholars, met inspiring teachers and devoted administrators. Honestly, some of the most gifted people I know are DPS alums. I know of DPS graduates who are tabbed as business leaders, teach, run amazing nonprofit organizations, lead successful campaigns and work within the federal government.
Yes, the district has its issues. But you can feel confident sending your child to a school within DPS and take comfort in knowing he or she will come out doing well due to a combination of hard work, supportive staff and an enriching academic environment.
Over the past few years, what I was able to learn is this: If I take a valid interest within DPS, I can really find some amazing opportunities. As I stated previously, the district has a number of issues, and I’m not saying that we should ignore them. DPS isn’t unique to many of those issues. What I am saying is that despite what we may think, students can and do thrive within DPS.
So let’s do the district a small favor. Instead of constantly looking at what’s not working, let’s examine what is. Let’s celebrate the many students, teachers and administrators who continue to rise despite some of the things we say about them.
Let’s remember that when we make assumptions like I did for so many years, not only do we hurt the district, but also our kids. And it takes away from the constant efforts of those who consistently sacrifice for the benefit of their students.
One last note… I did not write this piece for DPS. I simply wrote this blog because I believe in what I saw for myself.