School of the Week: Renaissance High School

A ‘Renaissance State of Mind’

Confidence. Balance. Intellectual superiority. Exposure. And above all others: Prepared.

According to three talented students who attend Renaissance High School on the city’s west side, if the ‘Renaissance State of Mind’ had to be summed up in five phrases, these may suffice.

Notably ranked as the No. 1 high school academically within Detroit Public Schools; the No. 1 high school in the City of Detroit, according to U.S. News and World Report; and the No. 35 ranked high school overall in the state — Renaissance is “a pretty big deal.”

“When you come to Renaissance High School, you will be prepared for college,” said Treasure Roberts, a senior who has secured more than $60,000 in scholarships and plans to attend Michigan State University in the fall to double major in finance and broadcast journalism. “I will go into college like, ‘ahhh this is nothing really’ because Renaissance has given me the amount of work (comparable) to college. At Renaissance, you have homework every day. And you have to learn how to balance that with afterschool activities. So I’m prepared. I’m really prepared for college and my career because of Renaissance.”

After transferring from a charter school to attend Renaissance in the ninth grade, Roberts said she immediately noticed “Renaissance did things differently.”

“Everyone is very open and helpful. The small population allows for one-on-one interaction, and I feel like my teachers and counselors have made it their mission to make sure I succeed,” Roberts said. “This is why I’m going to a wonderful college and why I’ve been able to receive scholarships—because of the help I’ve had in mentors here at Renaissance.”

In 2013, Renaissance students earned more than $24 million in scholarships adding to the district’s overall total of $146 million in scholarships and grants. This year’s total hasn’t been finalized, but Principal Anita Williams is confident it will exceed last year’s amount.

Two Renaissance seniors, Syed Mahdi and Ariel Ragin, have been awarded the “Gates Millennium Scholarship” and will have all of their college expenses covered through graduate school.

Shantell Williams, a senior boasting a 3.9 grade point average, will attend Harvard University in the fall, thanks to stellar academics and scholarship dollars.

“Coming to Renaissance as a freshman, I expected very hard academics, and I was scared to make that transition into high school,” Williams said. “But they do a great job of making sure students have the opportunities they need… The people here at Renaissance are so focused and driven that I really knew I belonged here.”

Williams said students at other schools often question if Renaissance is all about tough work, or if students also have fun.

“Everyone says, ‘You go to Renaissance? It must be so hard.’ And I want to say to them, yes it is hard, but it’s also fun. And I’m prepared,” Williams said. “At other schools, you may not be challenged. But here at Renaissance, we’re challenged to truly become better students, become critical thinkers, become better learners. At a lot of other schools, it may be easy to just coast by and get good grades. But at least I know when I leave here; I have some substantial knowledge — something that I can bring to the table. Any table.”

One thing is for certain: Renaissance students aren’t lacking confidence.

“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of, is our students feel like they have received a quality education and they are confident and prepared for life beyond Renaissance High School,” Principal Williams said. “One of the best compliments that I’ve received from a number of college coaches is Renaissance students are ready.”

“We are pleased that we’re producing well-rounded students,” she added. “We’re producing student athletes who are scholar athletes, and that’s our No. 1 Goal – academics. So our students get the cultural, artistic and academic side. It’s not just athletics. It’s not just academics. They are prepared for anything.”

To balance the advanced curriculum – which is offered in a rotating schedule similar to collegiate courses – students enjoy over 100 organizations and clubs and a full range of athletic programs including soccer, swimming, tennis, golf, basketball, football and more.

Student Senate, Youth in Government, Swim Team, Debate Team, Class President, German studies, NAACP Youth Representative, and Prevention Radio Host to promote positive peer pressure are just a few of the programs Williams is involved in. Her fellow classmates also enjoy an award-winning choir and jazz ensemble, orchestras, piano classes, dance, sculpture, photography courses and just about any other extracurricular offering one could imagine.

And if there isn’t a certain program onsite that students are interested in, they can create their own organization. Principal Williams feels this is one of Renaissance’s best attributes: being a student-led school.

“We’re teaching them to be leaders,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of changes to the curriculum and our policies and procedures that are more conducive to a high-performing school.”

Brandon Bailey, junior, is the DPS Teen Leadership Institute President for the 2014-2015 academic year, a member of the Student Senate and a student instructor in the JROTC program. He also enjoys the school’s music program, internships and the Midnight Golf mentoring program.

“Coming to Renaissance, I didn’t know what to expect. I was shy, I didn’t speak up much, and I was just really nervous as a freshman,” Bailey said. “All of that has changed. I knew the expectations here were high. And they are. But all of the programs that I’m involved in have helped to mold me into a leader.”

Support from community organizations has also been instrumental in Renaissance’s success. Hartford Memorial Baptist Church has donated more than $56,000 in the last four years to support performing arts and summer enrichment. In the summer of 2013, Renaissance students visited the University of Michigan Ross School of Business to learn how to create their own businesses. The school also has a strong partnership with the Wayne State University GEAR UP Program (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs).

“Renaissance is No. 1 for a number of reasons,” said Principal Williams. “We have a great faculty. We have a dynamic teaching staff. We have the most supportive community partners. And we have the best students that the city and suburban area have to offer. It just works very well together when you have such a great dynamic of people working toward the same goal.”

“Most schools have that one thing that they’re really, really proud of. And they use that as a selling point. But we’re good at everything,” she said with a smile. “We really are the total package.”

Something you didn’t know…

Principal Anita Williams, who has been an educator for 26 years with Detroit Public Schools, was recently recognized by the Michigan Chronicle as a 2014 Woman of Excellence.

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