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K-12 Education

The Skillman Foundation supports DPSCD’s culturally responsive literacy initiative

A $654k grant over two years will help launch the Detroit Perspectives Project for high school students

The Skillman Foundation is partnering with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to launch the Detroit Perspectives Project. Through a critical review of the English Language Arts high school curriculum, the Detroit Perspectives Project will serve to advance the District’s commitment to improve an already nationally recognized ELA curriculum based on the school board’s ant-racist policy.

“School should feel relevant to young people and speak to who they are to become more invested in their learning and their future. We reject the notion that Detroit’s youth and their diverse identities should be merely ‘included’ in education in trivial ways—to the contrary—this should be at the heart of what we mean by education. We hope this investment builds upon and sparks even deeper community interest and philanthropic investment in uprooting racism and inequity in our city,” said Ashley Aidenbaum, who leads The Skillman Foundation’s support for the grant.

“School should feel relevant to young people”

– Ashley Aidenbaum, The Skillman Foundation

The Foundation’s grant of $654,000 will serve to deepen and accelerate the District’s commitment to delivering culturally responsive instruction and materials in classrooms and improve the overall high school experience for students. This type of learning develops students’ ability to be critical readers and writers by providing access to rich authentic texts and tasks that reflect their diverse identities, lived experiences, and learning styles that are relevant to the contemporary societal issues that impact their daily lives and communities.

“In order for DPSCD high school students to realize their full potential and stay engaged in the learning experience, their education has to be culturally and historically reflective of their own experiences and identities,” said Nikolai Vitti, superintendent, DPSCD. “Our ELA curriculum now meets the state standards and provides students and teachers with grade-level content, but our reform work should never reach a dead end. The next phase of our work is to review materials that disrespect or disinterest our students and infuse materials that continue to be grade-level challenging but reflect the interest and identities of our students. This will only make the work of our teachers easier.”

“(It will) infuse materials that continue to be grade-level challenging but reflect the interest and identities of our students.”

– Dr. Nikolai Vitti, DPSCD

As with any curriculum review and adjustment, the project will include an extensive equity review of the current Pearson myPerspectives and EL Education curriculum to identify gaps or lapses in cultural relevance. These audit findings will then be utilized to formulate a strategic plan that addresses these weaknesses by integrating novel selections along with curriculum guidance documents and additional resources that support culturally relevant instructional practices. In collaboration with a panel of literacy and equity experts, a team of curriculum developers, students, parents, and DPSCD district leaders, the Detroit Perspectives Project will deliver instructional resources that reflects the diverse identities, experiences, and cultures of DPSCD students and the Detroit community.

“We are excited and proud to enable this important effort at DPSCD,” said Punita Dani Thurman, vice president of program & strategy of The Skillman Foundation. “DPSCD has been incredibly focused on ensuring all the foundational pieces for learning are in place, including curriculum, training, and supports. The Detroit Perspectives project leaps forward even further. It designs classrooms and curriculum that foster connections between teachers and students, builds critical thinking skills, and helps young people step confidently into their identities. We are grateful for the District’s leadership and commitment to ensure classrooms are supportive, engaging, and reflective of Detroit youth.”

The Detroit Perspectives Project builds on the District’s multi-faceted and comprehensive effort to provide an education that fosters belonging, sparks engagement, and boosts academic achievement. At its core, culturally and historically relevant literacy instruction is an approach to instruction that centers student voice, affirms their identities, and nurtures agency. However, it is not merely a list of instructional strategies; it is an approach to teaching that prioritizes creating a space to listen to and learn from students and then allowing that knowledge to guide teachers’ practice. 

“Ensuring students engage texts that reflect the full, nuanced, and diverse lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color is essential to building a classroom community that is inclusive, equitable, and affirming. Reading stories of resistance and resilience, excellence and achievement, love and connection, beauty, and joy written across literary genres and mediums sparks engagement and has the potential to inspire students to tell their own stories. This is what is most exciting about The Detroit Perspectives Project. The result of this work will provide students the opportunity to not only learn from and about brilliant BIPOC storytellers but it will also equip and empower students to demonstrate that they too are brilliant storytellers and their stories matter,” said, Alisa Ruffin, DPSCD, Detroit Perspectives project lead and 9-12 literacy training and support coordinator.

Read more about the Detroit Perspectives Project, and the current national political debate over educational content regarding race, in the Detroit Free Press article, “As MI GOP tries to banish critical race theory, DPS launches new effort.”

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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