On a chilly November morning at Maybury Elementary, Ana Jimenez leaned over the desk of her second-grade daughter, Fernanda, slowly running her fingers across the words on a math worksheet between them.
Their two bowed heads formed a steeple as they worked together on the math problems, their tongues weaving in and out of English and Spanish phrases as they discussed the equations.
Jimenez’ visit was not unusual. She comes to the school four days a week for three hours each day. She was also one of three parents in the class that day, and among 15 throughout the school, working with their children through the English Language Learners Program (ELLP) offered in partnership with the non-profit Southwest Solutions. ELLP is a literacy initiative for non-English-speaking families with children in grades Pre-K-3 that helps teach parents English at the school while allowing them to tutor their children in their classes.
“This program is so valuable because parents get a sense of what school is really like and what their children are learning in the classroom,” said Maybury Principal Norma Hernandez.
Mother and daughter agree.
“She is helping me when I’m not understanding English,” Jimenez said, practicing her new language carefully.
“And I like it because she is helping me with my homework,” said Fernanda, proudly.
ELLP is just one of the many programs and services that form the familial, community atmosphere at Maybury Elementary, which is recognized by Excellent Schools Detroit as one of the top schools in the city. The recognition is no small feat considering many students are not native English speakers (86% are Hispanic). Even more families, many who originate from the same small town in Mexico, don’t speak English and therefore struggle to help their children at home.
To Maybury’s staff, those challenges present opportunities to meet their mission of creating a community that is driven to provide rigorous academics in a caring, familial environment.
Small School, Small Community
“We are a small school, which allows us to be more personalized,” Hernandez said, adding that the school’s offerings and academics are highly tailored to meet the needs of their community. “We have always had a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and we think of ourselves as a small community where it’s everyone’s job to take care of our children.”
That starts with the school’s staff, who created a School Improvement Plan centered on a college-bound mindset. The plan includes regular upgrades to school technology so students can compete with their more affluent peers. In stark contrast to Maybury’s historic 103-year-old halls, the library/computer lab is gleaming with 27 new Mac computers. Teachers in two classrooms also have access to carts brimming with mini iPads.
“Our staff embraces technology,” Principal Hernandez said. “We know that our students need access to those tools to compete in a global society.”
On the horizon for this year: Classrooms skyping with students in Mexico!
Staff members also engage in hands-on activities that cater to children’s different learning styles, said Irma Arias, a third-grade bilingual teacher, who recently engaged her students in a fun science lesson on fossils that involved Play-Doh, glue and tiny plastic dinosaurs.
“At this age it is very important to do hands-on activities,” Arias said. “And it’s very important to take into consideration how we can make connections for them….We want to make it fun, too.”
Maybury is also a Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) school, which means the entire staff is trained in best practices to work with English Language Learners. Prekindergarten classes incorporate Spanish literacy, while first and second grade classes experience Spanish immersion.
“Our staff is up-to-date on the newest and boldest strategies in English Language Learning,” Hernandez said.
Wrap-Around Services for every child
The school, which has a playground and gymnasium, also offers many extra-curricular activities that families and students desire, including Book Club, Cooking Class and a new Flag Football program. Maybury also makes use of sprawling Clark Park across from the school.
Being a community-oriented school means drawing in dozens of partners to support the school’s mission. For instance, the Sphinx Overture program offers a free music lessons to 60 children as a way to introduce young students to classical music; the University of Michigan college students offer free after-school dance lessons; and Wayne State University Fellows tutor Maybury’s early childhood students three days per week.
Through Detroit’s federally-funded Clark Park/Osborn Promise Neighborhoods initiative, a partnership with the Skillman Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Black Family Development and other organizations, Maybury fosters a “cradle to college career” atmosphere.
As part of that program, the organizations work with 20 Maybury families, their students and their siblings under age 5, to ensure they are able to create a college-bound pipeline.
Parents also are able to access a wealth of needed services through the school’s Resource Coordination Team, which includes a Department of Human Services social worker on site, a psychologist, speech pathologist, Henry Ford Hospital nurse that visits three days per week and attendance agent.
These wrap-around programs are paying off.
In addition to being recognized by Excellent Schools Detroit, Maybury was recognized by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the school’s attendance rate is 94%.
Maybury’s successful formula encouraged parents to request – and the school district to agree – to add a grade so that Maybury now incorporates grades Pre-K to 5. The school even beat its enrollment projections.
Hernandez said the school’s motto says it all: “Your children, my children, our children.”
“We are a community, sort of like in the old-fashioned way when somebody’s child was doing well or not in the neighborhood and anyone could bring it to their family’s attention,” Hernandez said. “Everybody’s child is our child, and we embrace that child.”