We Are Crew!


We Are Crew are words you hear the students of Detroit Prep chanting during an infamous Light Leader ceremony.  Students are excited to say it.  Students say it with pride.  Students understand what it means to be a crew. What does it mean?

Being a part of a crew means that everyone is working together.  We are on the same boat.  We are going to the same place; A place where learning occurs, a place where sharing happens, and a place where students and parents feel welcome.  Students begin to understand that traveling to the place where learning and sharing happen, cannot be done unless the whole crew is onboard.  Unless everyone is willing to use cooperation, take responsibility, show compassion, and persevere.  It takes a community full of students, teachers, parents, and school leaders to get the boat moving, traveling, and safely docked.  But… how do you get students onboard?  

We start and end every day with crew meetings.  Monday mornings and Friday afternoon crew meetings are spent with the entire Detroit Prep community.  School leaders and teachers collaborate on ideas to get students excited for crew.  Other days, crew takes place in the classrooms.  Teachers plan intentionally to help students understand how to work together and why it is important.

Each morning crew meeting begins by greeting one another (in a fun, engaging, and creative way).  Our crew enjoys the various animal greetings best!  Next, students get a chance to share about their weekend adventures, family, or their favorite things.  Our crews favorite share topic is The Mystery Bag.  One student choses something from home and writes down three clues.  The next day, the clues are read, guesses are shared and the object is revealed.  The child gets to share what they brought and other students ask questions.  Then, we all do an activity.  Activities challenge the crew in different ways.  Sometimes an activity will challenge us as a team or sometimes individually.  Some days the activity could challenge us physically, other times mentally.  (Ask a Detroit Prep student what their favorite crew time activity is!)  The last part of a morning crew meeting is shared reading.  In the beginning of the year, I wrote a special morning message to read.  In the middle of the year, students read with me.  Now students are reading the morning message independently.    

Our afternoon crew meetings consist of a reflection on our day together.  We reflect on the Habit of Character we are working on.  Other days we reflect on our learning targets.  Next, students give appreciations or amends to their crewmates.  Students acknowledge each other for modeling Habits of Character.  Students notice when their crew shows compassion, uses cooperation while working and playing, or shows responsibility.  That person gets shine from their whole crew. After appreciations are completed, we share announcements and say our goodbyes.  

What does it mean to be a Crew?  It means that we are all in this journey together and we cannot get to where we are going alone.  How do we get students to value this idea?  Simple and intentional meetings together.  Once in the morning, once in the afternoon.  They do not take up a ton of time, but the purposeful activities help students see their peers as a crew.  We take time to say hello, share and play together.  We take time to reflect, appreciate, and say goodbye to each other.  These simple ideas are often forgotten about or deemed unimportant in a hectic world, but they make a world of difference.

Learning Targets

Learning is serious business at Detroit Prep for both students and staff. While evidence of student learning might be readily apparent to any visitor to our school, evidence of professional learning might be a little harder to spot; you would probably have to snoop in the back conference room or stay late on an early release day to really get a glimpse of the work our team does!  Even though it’s behind the scenes, the team at DP works hard to continuously improve our teaching practice and our students’ learning experiences. Throughout the year, the DP team works both on common learning goals (mostly during professional development(PD) time on Friday afternoons) and on individualized learning goals (during one-on-one check ins with Jen, our school leader). To give you an idea of what this actually means, let me share with you a little of what we have worked on as a team and what I have worked on as a teacher. 

Recently, the instructional team finished an in-depth study of how to use learning targets (the EL version of learning objectives) with students. Using many of the same protocols we use with students, we worked during our Friday PD time to write and improve learning targets. We then progressed to discussing how to unpack (explain) and debrief (reflect on) learning targets with our crews. After about a month of study, we are now observing each other teach to see how effectively learning targets are being used. 

Personally, I have recently been working on helping my Kindergarteners become more independent and proficient writers. Together with Jen, I created specific goals for my crew during writer’s workshop. The goals are for students to write a sentence or more and to operate as independent writers who persevere without teacher prompting. Each week Jen and I have been working on small steps to improve my teaching practice and to get my students closer to these goals; we have analyzed student work, reviewed lessons and co-planned.

As a teacher, I feel incredibly grateful to work in a school community where professional learning is prioritized. We truly practice what we preach in that we not only ask students to “grow their brains” and work hard to learn new things but we also do the same. Our crew is committed to learning and growing together. 

Incorporating Art Throughout the Day

At Detroit Prep we work with kids to set goals all year long. As teachers, we set personal goals to push our practice and help our students. One thing I have been working on this year is incorporating art into my daily instruction. It has been really powerful to watch my young students express themselves and their ideas through art. The focus in primary education tends to be on literacy and speaking skills; providing another mode of expression has allowed all my students to access higher order thinking in multiple ways. Here are a couple examples of ways we’ve used art throughout the day:

Close Read Aloud

With every expedition, we guide students through a few close reading cycles. We teach a text that is a few grade levels above their comprehension level and guide students through the text. This structure allows them to learn content, access complex texts, and build literacy skills they can transfer to other books. At the end of the cycle they produce a culminating task where they answer a focusing question and show what they learned. For this task, after reading A Seed is Sleepy, their job was to use figurative language and watercolor painting to describe something a seed does during its life cycle.

Expedition Products

For our soil case study students made soil layer diagrams to teach about soil. We made mixed media collages for each soil layer and then put them together (with writing on the back) to show what it looks like when you dig down into the earth.

Painted Reflections

At the end of a case study we guide students through some sort of reflective process so they can articulate what they learned and experienced. Typically this is done through writing. I pushed my students to think about reflection in a different way at the end of our soil case study. They did a silent painted reflection to think about all the things we did to learn about soil and how they felt during and after each experience.

Partnering with Families

pasted image 0.png

At Detroit Prep, we believe that the families are a crucial part of our crew. We understand that parents are our students’ first teachers and will be our students’ life-long advocates. We hold community meetings regularly and share ownership of many things in our school - of everything from recess duty to curricular decisions. How parents get involved with individual crews at the school varies to meet the needs of each crew and crew leader.

In this post, I want to share about how families have been involved with my crew this year. At the end of the day, my crew has a block of choice time. During this time, students either participate in learning activities of their choice or meet with the teacher individually or in a small group for remediation or enrichment. 

This year my crew decided to invite parents to participate in our choice time one day a week. We asked our parents either to come in and join with pre-planned activities or to prepare an activity to share with us. Some visitors have come in and played tens frame war or read books with us. Others have gone above and beyond and brought us new, exciting learning activities. One family brought an interactive book about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and taught us about the many instruments that compose an orchestra. Another family treated us to a healthy pancake party. We showed cooperation in groups to prepare the pancakes, set the table and assemble fruit skewers!

Having family members join our crew is an amazing experience! The crew is grateful for the knowledges shared and the time given by guests. As a teacher, I immensely appreciate the compassion and cooperation Detroit Prep families. Working together - teachers and families - we can offer DP students enriching and impactful educational experiences. 

Field Work at Detroit Prep

The past three months Kindergarten and First Graders at Detroit Prep have explored the world of garbage and recycling.  Students discovered that garbage is a problem in their local community.  They explored what happens to garbage after it’s thrown away through nonfiction literature, movie clips, photographs, and field work!  

In November students visited Green Living Science in Detroit and walked around Detroit’s incinerator.  At Green Living Science, students experienced separating recycled materials and sorting them into the right bins.  Next they worked with a partner to create a garbage machine using recycled materials.  Each pair shared what they created and explained to their peers how it worked.  At the incinerator students were able to walk around the outside and use what they’ve learned to explain what was happening inside.  Students watched numerous garbage trucks drive in and out.  Once students were back on the bus, they used a see, think, wonder graphic organizer to draw pictures and write about what they saw, thought, and wondered during their field work.

After learning more about recycling, students visited Arts and Scraps located on Harper in Detroit.  Students began at their warehouse.  They used recycled (never been used and clean!) sock pieces to create anything they wanted.  Students used their curiosity and creativity to create glasses, necklaces, keychains, and more!  We hopped back onto the bus to head over to their store.  Students created “Friends of the Earth” using recycled materials.  Soon students will work with Ms. Beth in art to create something new with their leftover materials!  Last they were able to “shop” in their store.  Each student got a small bag to fill.   

Field work is an important part of the learning process.  In both field work experiences students were able to experience what they have been learning about in school.  As we move forward with our garbage and recycling expedition, students have even more personal experiences to reflect on and learn from.  

Exploring Human Rights in 1st Grade

This February we had a two week break our Celebration of Learning and starting our next expedition. I took that extra time to explore human rights, and specifically, children's rights, with my first grade crew. This project lived within our opinion reading and writing unit, so we incorporated literacy standards to create these final products. Read below to learn more about the process.

To build background knowledge, we spent a month reading about civil rights leaders and social justice. With each read aloud, students practiced reading skills and standards while they made connections between the concepts and content of the books. Here are some of the books we read:

Peace is an Offering by Annette LeBox
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
Malala Yousafazi: Warrior with Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Finally, we read I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres. While we read this text, an illustrated version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, kids made connections between the rights in the book and rights that were violated in other stories we’d read. Then they decided which right was most important to them and thought about why. They chose colors to illustrate the way this right makes them feel and created their silhouette to add their images into the product. Watching my students take ownership of their learning, rights, and artistic ability was a powerful way to spend January and February.


What is crew? What does a strong crew look like?

In an Expeditionary Learning (EL) school, there are not classrooms or teachers; there are crews and crew leaders. “What does that really mean though?” is a question you might ponder (and one I certainly did at the beginning of the year as a new EL teacher). EL Education explains the concept of crew often with the turn of phrase “We are Crew, Not Passengers.” By calling groups of students crews rather than classes, we imply that the only way to go forward and to progress is together. We value collective and individual social and academic progress. We find joy and value in operating as a team.

At Detroit Prep, crew is more than what we call our team. Crew is also a dedicated and structured time at the beginning and end of each day. We circle up, greet one another, engage in purposeful games and readings connected to our Habits of Character and reflect on our progress toward individual and collective goals. Time in crew is not a nice add-on to learning but rather a necessary precursor; students of any age need to first feel accepted and safe before they are willing to engage in deep, rigorous learning and take academic risks.

Though crew is off to a strong start at DP, we still have room to grow. After a recent visit to Polaris Charter Academy (DP’s mentor EL school in Chicago) my mind is brimming with ideas. As we move toward the coming year, I am actively contemplating how to improve our sense of crew. How can structures be set up to facilitate group goal setting and celebrate group progress toward goals? If these structures were in place, could students have more ownership of our school community and be more responsible for keeping one another academically on track? How can crew time be strategically utilized to teach about culturally-relevant figures who exemplified strong character? If we grounded crew in a historical understanding of our current identities, might we be better poised to equitably interact and fulfill our school’s mission/vision? Luckily I, like the students, am not alone to grapple with these big questions and with the large task of building our crew. We are a DP crew, and we will work together to build an even stronger community and sense of crew for our second year.

Ready, Set…. Explore

Our second expedition was kicked off with our BBK (building background knowledge) mystery boxes!  Students were split into small groups to explore the mystery boxes and try to make connections between them.  During mystery box exploration, students used post it notes to write down predictions and stick them to our classroom anchor chart: I can guess our new expedition topic. Students were so excited to play and predict.

So what was in the mystery boxes?  Great question! Mystery box number one contained a horizon soil diagram.  The diagram was unlabeled so students were left to question; what could this be?  Students enjoyed being detectives.  There were many guesses: inside of the Earth, planting, and roots just to name a few.

Mystery box number two was one of the crew’s favorites… Dirt! Students played in the dirt using their five senses (minus taste!) to figure out why a mystery box would contain dirt.  Post-it notes began to fill the anchor as crew members moved from box to box.

What could be better than a box full of dirt…WORMS!  There were a lot of feelings at mystery box number three.  “I’m scared!” “They poop a lot and they stink!” “They are soooo cute… Hi little fella!”   Students watched the worms as they moved through the soil.  Soon students will learn that worms help compost the soil.  Worms are not just gross, stinky and cute but they are helpful to our Earth.

The fourth mystery box contained a tray full of different seeds.  This mystery box helped students make connections between all of the boxes.  Our expedition isn’t just about dirt or worms or plants.  Our expedition is a combination of all of these things.  More and more post-its began to fill the anchor!

After we rotated through all of the mystery boxes, we reflected on our learning target for the day: I can guess our new expedition topic.  We read through our predictions from the anchor.  Then students were left in suspense to ponder what our expedition topic was.  The next day the topic was revealed: Farms and Gardens!  We jumped right in by learning all about dirt!

Fieldwork to Arts and Scraps

The kindergarten and first grade students at DP have been hard at work learning about GARBAGE! In December we got to push our thinking on a fieldwork trip, one of my favorite parts of EL expeditions. Our fieldwork, as opposed to a typical field trip, is grounded in our expedition content and grade level standards, includes teaching from experts, and almost always has a service learning component. These are some of the most memorable experiences for both the students and teachers.

We traveled to Arts and Scraps, a non-profit on Detroit’s east side that “reimagines recycled materials to help people of all ages think, create, and learn.” First we visited their warehouse space, where we learned that many of their materials are leftover from various production facilities. We helped sort materials so that the next group of visitors could use them easily. Kids got creative while they made headbands, bow-ties, superhero masks, and necklaces out of old sock loops.

After our work in the warehouse everyone practiced making their own recycled art creation. The kids had a blast working together to make their recycled art creatures (come see them on display in the hallway!). Finally, everyone got to go shopping in the materials room - kids picked out recycled materials to take with them. We’ll be using these things to create 3D sculptures with our amazing art teacher, Beth. Come to our Celebration of Learning in February to hear more and see some of these recycled art products!

Pizza Kits = Enrichment for our Students

In our very first year at Detroit Prep, we are working hard to create a community that serves the whole child--which includes access to high-quality enrichment activities built into the school day and a rigorous, hands-on learning environment. We're excited about our progress so far, and need your help to continue to serve our brilliant and curious students. 

We are selling Little Caesar's Pizza Kits to raise money for DP, so our students have awesome things like:

  • Musical instruments to allow students to build on their vocal music skills from the fall term and incorporate instruments,
  • Field work excursions that are connected to our spring expedition on farms and gardens to give students hands-on, place-based learning experience, 
  • Foreign Language instruction for the 2017-18 school year, and 
  • Other school-wide needs!

The best part is that not only will you be giving our students a holistic and well-rounded education, you'll also get the most delicious pizza (or cheesy bread...or cookie dough...) to make at home.

Want to eat yummy pizza and support DP?

  1. Create an account at http://www.pizzakit.com/fundraising-products?shop=1&f=327961&s=229274
  2. Enter our fundraising ID 327961
  3. Order your pizza!
    • You can choose to have it delivered to Detroit Prep for pick-up, or
    • Have it shipped right to your house!

Want to support our amazing kids in lots of other ways?