When Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School families gathered to remember and celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 13, 2015, it was clear that students were the stars of the event.
“At the beginning of the school year, we asked ourselves how me might design a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and memory that is relevant to our children,” said Dr. Kimberly Elyse, president of the Parents as Partners Organization at Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School in Detroit’s greater Boston-Edison area, which serves 386 students in grades K-5.
The answer came in the form of Design Thinking, the same creative problem solving process Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School students use to identify and develop potential solutions to challenges. Teachers facilitated a design thinking challenge with the parents that put students at the center of the intended experience. They helped parents “ideate” a celebratory event and essay contest that would engage and empower their children and continue Dr. King’s legacy of social change through spoken word.
The school community came together to implement the plan and make the event a reality. Parents worked with social studies teachers to identify grade-level specific essay topics. The school’s two art teachers worked with the students to create powerful self-portraits. Participants in Mentoring Through Music, an after-school club for boys, prepared a rap performance. Parents and teachers supported students as they developed essays that provided a clear vision of how they would use their voices to effect social change.
When the day of the celebration arrived, it proved to be a joyful expression of students’ voices for change through spoken word, artwork, and music. There was a silent reverence as the school community viewed Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech together. Top essayists in each grade were invited to read their work at the event, while the top three in each grade received an award.
Haylyn S., 4th grade, shared her ideas for community collaboration and detailed a letter writing effort to all levels of government that would move the readers and effect social change.
Meanwhile, Khyaire S., 1st grade, took a more introspective approach, “I make sure that I am the best student that I can be by being a leader and not a follower. Being a leader in school is the beginning of being a voice for change. I can make a change in the community if I am a leader and believe in myself.”
The planning process was time consuming, but it was well worth the investment and school staff members marvel at the dedication of the school’s parent group.
“By using the same creative problem solving process our children use, we did it the ‘HFA Way’,” said Dr. Elyse. “Our students do have a voice, and they can make a difference. We are so pleased with the way we were able to come together to honor Dr. King’s legacy.”