3rd Grade Crew // Building Culture Through Initiatives

At the start of each Detroit Prep day, crew members circle around to hold Morning Crew. Morning Crew is an essential part of each day where crew members participate in greetings, shares, and initiatives. Crews focus on showing six habits of character that are intentionally immersed in language and activities throughout the day. This is a time where crew members can learn about themselves and each other while embracing their differences. 

Initiatives are where crew members play games and participate in activities where they display compassion, perseverance, integrity, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, and responsibility. Detroit Prep’s habits of character are at the core of the work crew leaders and crew members do each day.

The crew builds relationships and trust through morning crew. They look forward to being able to greet their friends and other crew members. Some mornings, crew members are greeted by the entire crew and sometimes, it is their choice of who they greet. It is amazing to see so many crew members greet people they don’t usually play and work with.

Through the daily share, crew members get to think about personal choices, reflect, and share personal information. The crew learns so much from and about one another through  these shares.

The initiative is where the crew has a lot of fun! Playing games like Headbandz and minute-to win-its, allows crew members to play in cooperative groups, use compassionate words and actions, and persevere through obstacles. It really builds a sense of crew when members feel successful as a team.

Morning Crew is the most important 20-30 minutes of the day. Building emotional and social supports with one another and creating a sense of CREW.

Social Work // Teaching Empathy

Empathy is a fundamental component of teaching kids how to be caring and compassionate individuals. It is an elusive characteristic that is difficult to define and a challenge for young minds to comprehend. Empathy drives connection and makes it possible for children to act on the behalf of others. Teaching empathy begins with illuminating shared emotional experiences. It is hard to feel detached or apathetic when you get to know the other person.   

Building a Web of Connections
The Habit of Character group is a club for students in grades 1-3rd that are new to Detroit prep. Each week, the students meet and do a fun activity that is connected to a Habit of Character. During week that we learned about the HOC of Compassion, the group did an activity called Building a Web of Connections. This activity is easy to follow and implement. The main idea of the Building a Web of Connections is for students to exercise empathetic communication through recognizing shared experiences.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.18.10 PM.png
  1. The students begin by standing in a circle.

  2. Students are asked to share a challenge they had that day. It could be a challenge on an assignment, or with a peer.

  3. At the end of sharing, students are asked to think about someone that had a similar experience as them (someone that is not a close friend).  

  4. The leader starts the ball of string by holding one end in their hand, and passing the ball to a person that shared an experience that resonates with their own.

  5. When the student has passed the string, they also share a kind or encouraging comment to the receiver. (Ex: One student shares that they had a difficult time today because hey felt homesick...the kind word could be “we are so happy to have you here at school”)

  6. When each student gets a piece of string, the group is asked to look down at the web they created. The student’s are asked “how does it feel to hear that someone else felt a similar way as you did? Did you learn something about someone that you didn't know? How did it feel to say something kind? How did it feel to hear a kind words?

Students are asked to look at their creation, and see how their end of the string connects to others in the circle. Students can see the interconnectedness of their stories, and experience giving encouragement and kindness through the purview is a shared emotional experience.     

1st Grade Crew // Creating an Authentic Final Product

In first grade, we know that students learn best when their learning serves an authentic purpose, and they know what that authentic purpose is. So, for each of our four Modules throughout the year, we plan our work toward a final product that responds to a genuine need within our school or our within the broader Detroit community.

When Ms. Jackie and I saw a huge shipment of disassembled desks arrive to furnish our new Detroit Prep building, we had an idea.

During our first unit of study in first grade, we learn all about tools. We thought-- it definitely takes some tools to assemble a desk!  What if students used their expertise on tools to assemble these desks for the new building- the very desks they themselves might be writing on in second grade? Assembling desks for the new school would serve an authentic purpose and allow students to do some hands-on work, but we had to ask ourselves, “How will assembling these desks help students achieve the writing skills we need them to by this November? How will this task allow students to expand their understanding on non-fiction texts?” When we opened the boxes and saw the lack of directions, we knew what our final products could be-- student- written and illustrated How-To books explaining the steps in detail to assembling desks. This way, anyone who might help assemble desks for the new school could use our directions. Students could  do hands- on work assembling desks, as well as pushing their cognitive writing abilities while making their how-to books.


Students were thrilled to learn that their help was required with this task. We added further urgency and excitement to their mission by asking our Facilities Manager, Mr. Bobby, to write a letter to first graders explaining the problem and asking for their assistance. During the days we spend writing, revising, and rewriting our How-To books, we continued to write notes to Mr. Bobby updating him on our progress. We cannot wait to see the looks on our students’ faces when they get to present him with their final products!

Each module provides an exciting opportunity for students to build their reading and writing skills and to contribute to their school community by fulfilling an authentic need. We love planning Modules where students serve as experts. We find that students can always do more than they (and we!)  think they can. As one of my first graders said, “I never thought I’d be an author and illustrator already!”


ACE // We Are Yoga!


Character development is ingrained within our culture at Detroit Prep. It is one of the things that first captivated my interest about our school and something that makes me feel so fortunate to be a part of this learning community.

Prior to my time at Detroit Prep, I taught yoga and mindfulness in the Detroit Public School System with Danialle Karmanos Work it Out as well as taught yoga for an after school program for child and teens in Huaycan, Peru. I feel so fortunate that I am able to bring this passion of mine to our Detroit Prep crew.


13 students this fall, grades K-3, signed up to participate in a 10 week yoga after school program. Our 10 week program together stated by reading I Am Yoga by Susan Verde and created an anchor chart titled “We Are Yoga” that we added to each week. We discussed what it meant to embody our yoga practice through different socio-emotional skills and competencies. We discussed things like: ‘being’ yoga meant that in order for peace to happen in our world, peace needed to begin with us. We learned how we can feel peace in our bodies and minds by naming how we feel when we feel strong emotions, taking 10 calming ocean breaths and eventually our strong emotion will pass.

2nd Grade Crew // Mindfulness

Walking into a Detroit Prep classroom after lunch you’ll see and hear students taking full advantage of a time of day called mindfulness.  Detroit Prep students create, explore, and research daily to learn ways they can make an impact on the world around them each day. This imagination, dedication and hard work is no joke!  That’s why it is important to teach the balance of hard work with self care. Teachers at Detroit Prep spend purposeful time with students teaching and modeling different ways we can all be mindful in a busy world.  


You may wonder why we would carve out a time for this during the day when there is so much to learn and do during the school day!  Well, Detroit Prep staff would say that teaching students strategy for mindfulness is preparing them for success. Take a moment to think about your day.  Think about all of the things [your mental checklist] that you have to do. Children at school have just as much on their minds; between learning to read, to write, to add, to subtract, to multiply, to tell time, and cooperate kindly with peers.  Children are juggling all of these new concepts without a plan of what to do when they feel overwhelmed, stressed, scared, nervous, or even excited. We believe it is our job as adults to model and teach mindfulness because let’s face it, we ALL need it!

Mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.  It helps us create a space for joy and gratitude. Students are asked to take a mindfulness break after lunch each day and they are encouraged to take mindfulness throughout the day as they begin to experience emotions they aren’t sure what to do with.  Every Monday morning we begin with community crew where all students at Detroit Prep sit together to greet each other, share ideas and stories, play, and then we learn a new yoga breath. Yoga is one of the many strategies teachers are using to teach mindfulness.  

We believe in enjoying the moments we have with students each day.  In order to truly enjoy the moments, we have to take time to be mindful of the joy.  We have to stop ourselves from running on autopilot, take a deep breath, and observe the magic and joy around us.


1st Grade Crew // ALL the Habits of Character!

If you have ever visited Detroit Prep, and had the pleasure to step into one of our incredible crew rooms, you may have been surprised to hear our students (some as young as five years old) using some pretty impressive language to appreciate friends, discuss how lessons went, or set goals for themselves or their crews. Words like perseverance, integrity, compassion, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, and responsibility are common language used by all of our students and staff because these words represent our six Habits of Character.

At Detroit Prep, our Habits of Character are just as an important as any academic subject. We teach each of them separately and they are integrated through every part of our school today. We focus on developing the habits that will ensure our students meet our mission of being ready to succeed in life and positively change the world in any way they choose!

Every day in our first grade crew, we meet together for our morning crew meeting to develop and strengthen our relationships and practice our Habits of Character. One activity we worked on recently together at crew can be seen in the below photograph. Our crew greeted each while simultaneously creating a spider web with a ball of yarn.

Spider Web.jpg

At the end of the activity, students reflected on how much perseverance this took to keep going even if the yarn was dropped or tangled. Another friend added on that we would not have been able to create our special web without curiosity and creativity and compassion to help each other continue on. Debrief conversations like this one are very common in all crews at Detroit Prep. Students as young as kindergarteners learn to intertwine the world of academics and our habits of character because we place such an important focus on both!

Teachers and staff at our school are passionate about providing opportunities for students to use and practice all six of the habits of character. We want students to be able to dig deep and push themselves beyond what they think is capable. The students at our school are so enthusiastic about utilizing and showcasing their knowledge of these habits and I’m excited to see how much they are able to do with them this year!  

Habits Of Character.jpg

Kinder Crew // Making Learning Authentic and Relevant Even in the Youngest Years

At Detroit Prep, we pride ourselves on being an EL School. As an EL school, we work to make sure our students master rigorous academic content, develop strong character and create high-quality work. Though we follow the EL Curriculum for English Language Arts (ELA) instruction, we constantly strive to make our students’ learning experiences more relevant and authentic to their lives here in Detroit.


The first ELA curriculum module for Kindergarten centers on making students experts on Toys and Play. This year the Kindergarten team decided to make the task of becoming a Toys and Play Expert more authentic by involving our students in a service learning project. We introduced students to the idea of donating toys to children who might not have access to them in our launch week via sharing videos and texts. Then in our second unit of the module, we got our students in touch with a real live expert - the volunteer coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. She generously gave her time and let us interview her via Skype about what toys the patients at the hospital need, how they like to play with them, et cetera. After our interview, we decided to host a toy drive for the hospital in the month of October.

We will be collecting donations of toys at our school then making tags for them; the tags will let our students showcase the drawing and labelling skills they have been working to master in the first weeks of Kindergarten. Involving community partners and creating an authentic purpose for learning gives students a drive to acquire new skills and brings joy to the classroom even at the youngest age!

1st Grade Crew // High-Quality Work Protocols


It’s important for students to have rubrics when completing a project. We have known this for a long time -- I’m sure all of us can think of countless rubrics that we received when completing a book report or a science project in school. The teacher hands you the rubric describing what excellent work means in this context and you try to match it. This process has become so automatic that it’s shocking when someone suggests, what if students created the rubric? What if allowing students to develop their own definitions of excellence and high quality in writing, social studies, science, and math were an essential part of the learning process?

As an EL Education school, we believe that high quality work protocols can powerfully impact a student’s competency on a given topic and help them develop academic mindsets that push them towards a disposition of continual growth and revision. Here’s how it works. At the beginning of one of our units of study, students analyze a student-made example of a product they will create by the end of the unit. For example, for our last unit, students made a scientific drawing of a bird and a riddle describing some of its adaptations and attributes as their cumulative task. As our first lesson in the unit, students observed one of these drawings and riddle cards and made a list of it’s high quality attributes. “I noticed that they used adjectives to talk about the bird,” one student said. “They had neat handwriting,” said another. As a crew, we used these student observations to create a “High Quality Work Checklist” that students would use to analyze and revise their own writing throughout the course of the unit. When it came time to create our own bird riddle cards, students were well versed in the criteria list they had created for themselves at the beginning of the unit. They were already fluently using the criteria that would make up the rubric for the final product. So, the rubric was not handed to them as the teacher’s expert, adult definition of excellence, but created by created for students, by students, about work done by other first graders. By creating rubrics of excellence themselves, students develop a sense of ownership over their work and the quality of it. They begin to see themselves, and not just their teachers, as the holders of knowledge, and when students feel this level of competence, their investment in high quality work skyrockets.

Restorative Practices: Responding to Off-Culture Behaviors

Creating a strong culture in which every member of our crew embodies the habits of character is an ultimate goal for our school. What do we do when a member of our crew isn’t using the habits of character? What do we do when a member of our crew is causing harm?

Our responses to these off-culture behaviors are grounded in restorative practices. Our aim is to respond to the off-culture behaviors in a way that builds community, fixes the harm that was done, helps students learn from their mistakes and empower students with the skills to resolve conflicts.

Daily Crew and Community Building

Every morning and afternoon we circle up. This is part of our intentional community building.

Our morning crew starts with a greeting, followed by a share, and lastly an initiative.

The greeting is a way to say good morning to the crew. This could be a one minute greeting-- where each member of the crew greets each other with a handshake, a high five or a hug for one.

Next up would be a share. Often times shares are grounded in our habits of character [link to blog post outlining the habits of character]. We will turn and talk or share out to the whole group about certain topics.

Lastly is the initiative. Initiatives are team games designed to create teachable moments surrounding our habits of character.

In the afternoon, we circle back up for announcements and appreciations.

The idea behind these circles are intentionally building community and teaching social-emotional skills. This is preventative work and is truly a foundation of our school.

Harm Was Done: Now What?

Inevitably students will have some actions that are not aligned with our culture. Members of our crew will hurt other members. Harm will be done. So, how do we respond when harm is done?

Restorative Conference
When students have conflict we bring them together to fix the harm that has been done.
A series of questions are asked, for example:

For offenders:
What happened?
What were you thinking at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who was affected by your actions?
How have they been affected?
What can you do to make things right?
How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?

For Victims:
What did you think when you realized what happened?
How has this affected you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What should happen to make things right?
How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Guiding the students through this restorative practice allows them to be a part of the solution, feel heard and take ownership over the school culture.

Peace Path
Another avenue to empower students is a peace path. This is a process that can be taught to students. After a few rounds of the peace path students should be able to walk the path by themselves!

The path goes as follows:

Student A: I feel _________ when you _________ .

Student B: I know you feel _________  when I _________ .

Student B: I feel _________  when you _________ .

Student A: I know you feel _________  when I _________ .

Student A: Next time, I need _________ .

Student B: Next time, I agree to _________ .

Student B: Next time, I need _________ .

Student A: Next time I agree to _________ .

Student A and Student B agree on a handshake, high-five or hug.

Giving students this framework empowers them to solve issues other members of the crew.

Restorative circles allow students to speak freely and openly while working towards resolving a problem.

A circle views of-culture behavior as a teachable moment, separates person from the deed, focuses on fixing the harm done, encourages authentic participation and allows for successful reintegration.

A few elements I find are common in highly successful circles are:

  • Use of a talking piece to allow for equal voice

  • Speak from the heart

  • Listen from the heart

  • No need to practice or rehearse

  • Without being rushed, just say enough

  • Work is ongoing, things won’t be fixed after one circle

Restorative practices take more time and effort than more traditional discipline models. The reason they are worth the extra time and effort are because they create students who are empowered by being a part of the process, enable crew members to restore and build community.

Art // Tracking Student Work in the Art Room

Screen Shot 2018-07-17 at 12.36.31 PM.png

Crew leaders help students track their progress in core subject areas such as math and ELA, allowing students to reflect on their own abilities and track their progress and growth in an area, while also providing teacher perspective and feedback.

Assessment in the art room has not been my strong suit thus far. While I often assess from  my own observations and have students offer feedback to one another, I have struggled to find meaningful ways for students to self-assess and measure their own progress over the course of a unit.

I decided to try tracking in the art room with a weaving unity I designed for first grade. Knowing that I wanted students to be able to measure their growth, I would need to provide a gradual progression of skills under the umbrella of weaving. Yardsticks tell us that first graders are work-oriented at this point in their development. They are less concerned with perfecting the outcome of their work and more focused on the process (How ideal! If only things could always be this way.) This provides a great opportunity for creating units in the art room that focus on a single skill, as students are less likely to tire from repeating the same techniques over the course of several projects. No one ever complained when I announced that we would be embarking on *another* weaving piece.

Our unit unfolded like this:

  • Learning the basics with paper weaving.

  • Preparing for loom-weaving with radial weaving.

  • Creating a small loom-woven piece of wearable art.

  • Using needle and thread to create basic embroidery stitches.

At some point along the way, students were also taught how to finger knit. Little did I know how popular this would become and doesn’t seem to be losing steam, as students are frequently asking for yarn, or bringing in pieces they’ve made at home :)

Overall, the goal was for students to master the “under/over” weaving technique that ensures fibers are binding together in such a way that they won’t come undone from one another. This is one of my favorite media to teach, and I was happy to find that students seemed to enjoy it as much as I did! Tracking student progress through this unit helped me see how much students truly progressed over the course of the projects, some tremendously!