School of the Week: Chrysler Elementary School

At high-achieving Chrysler Elementary, the focus is on family


Being a top school is as much about STEAM and STEM, Robotics, chemistry and technology as it is about a more significant educational phenomenon at Chrysler Elementary School: being family.

Chrysler successfully bridges the young households of its students as well as the surrounding community, along with its star educators in a tight-knit family environment that transcends its small school and campus setting.

“It’s the way we treat each other,” says Principal Shirley. “We share our ideas and implement them.”

The famous, ever-present Dad’s Club

One idea, implemented many years ago and going strong as ever, emphasizes safe passage onto Chrysler’s compact location and entrance on busy E. Lafayette and involves a highly committed cadre of volunteer fathers.

Orange cones to coordinate traffic may be a common sight at bell times at schools across America, but here they are monitored and manipulated by the eager and committed Chrysler’s Dad’s Club whose presence is felt beginning at 7:45 each school day morning. This particular Friday, Chrysler’s midday Spring concert means an additional shift for these gentlemen, and it’s pretty clear that their role spans far beyond traffic duty. Their smiles, greetings, handshakes and waves are the first faces of Chrysler Elementary School.

The dads are not the only active volunteers of course. A sea of volunteerism floods the school, with parents and community members staffing after school and Saturday programs, helping out in classrooms, serving on Open Doors Days, and leading Chrysler’s Daisies, Brownies, Girls and Boy Scouts, as well as coaching the school’s soccer, flag football and basketball teams. Parents have also made significant donations to the school’s technology and other programs.

“We don’t go by titles,” Shirley says, “We all consider ourselves family.” Staff, too, fill in in various ways to make the school work. For instance, with the well-utilized multipurpose room filled with rows of chairs for the upcoming afternoon concert, new school nurse Kristie Walker recently assisted with ensuring students received their lunch before returning today to classrooms to eat.

Chess is everywhere

Being a top school also means the tallest trophy sitting among many others in the main office is for chess. In this case, the three-foot blue/gold United States Chess Federation May 2014 honors from Dallas, TX signify Chrysler’s National Elementary Championship a year ago.

Veteran school secretary Ms. Thomas who, like other staff have followed the principal from previous posts together at other DPS schools, sits behind the counter just past this chess trophy and the row of additional scholastic honors. She says that students constantly use terms like “amazing” and “awesome” to describe the opportunities that chess has created at the school. The prior day’s front page daily newspaper spread featured fifth grader Canaan Thomas in practice with the local club. In one classroom, Tiago, one of four kindergartners active with the afterschool team, says of chess, “You can learn a lot.” That enthusiasm even extends to pre-kindergarten students.

National Board Certified, additional excellent Teachers, the latest educational technology, partnerships and many unique experiences

Chrysler’s small staff includes two educators who have undergone the voluntary, prestigious certification process offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

National Board Certified Science Teacher Joan Sheehan offers her students immersive opportunities in STEAM and STEM through the Robotics and chemistry clubs, the Greening of Detroit, partnership with the Wayne State University Pre Professional Medical Society as well as rocketry, simulated space shuttle work and aerodynamics through participation in the national Starbase program offered locally at the Selfridge Air National Guard base.

Sheehan says of these unique experiences for her students, “Once a mind has experienced something new, it can never be the same.”

And fourth grade teacher Kristen Friess, who also followed Shirley from a prior school, oversees one of the many classrooms stocked with technology, including two SMART Tables, two portable Promethean Boards and Apples, many from private donors. She says the SMART Table assists with all aspects of her classroom including the Success for All reading program and produces a more interactive way of seeing things with faster results.

Expanding opportunities

The school opened its first-ever pre-kindergarten classroom for the 2014-15 school year, where the active, hands-on, interactive learning and social skills environment has brought families into DPS who plan to stay.

Chrysler is working with nearby Ralph Bunche Preparatory Academy and others on further extending academic and scholastic programs for students matriculating from fifth grade to ensure families have an exceptional Detroit Public School choice for middle school grades.

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