Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

The future of education, by Detroit’s design

I sat down with a dozen Detroit high schoolers to envision what public education that centers students’ needs and prepares them for future success would look and feel like. Then we talked about their power to make ideals real.  

Here’s a rundown what the students shared of their vision for our future education system: 

  • Imagine updated curriculum that includes the latest discoveries and advances; Picture curriculum that features thought leaders who reflect the student population, fostering belonging and possibility.  
  • Imagine spaces to get hands-on with the latest technology and where peer collaboration is constant.  
  • Imagine spaces that feel safe, where children and teens are ALWAYS welcome and supported. 
  • Imagine school as a place to express wonderings and ideas without fear, where students feel validated and supported.  
  • Imagine schools focused on total well-being, not on test scores.  
  • Imagine healthy schedules, with awareness that school isn’t the only thing on students’ plate. 
  • Imagine codes of conduct that are written with student input and followed by everyone, including teachers and staff.  
  • Imagine students being part of something bigger than themselves, making a difference alongside others. 
Artwork by Detroit graphic artist Jessica Chairez 

During our session, the teens were forthcoming about their educational experiences that didn’t live up to their vision, nor to any acceptable or ethical standard, but they also gave examples of schools, afterschool programs, and specific education leaders who are responsive to student input and are getting some things very right.  

Their vision for the education system is not pie in the sky. It’s just pie, with a clear list of ingredients. 

Dream along with us   

This is the storytelling exercise we used to help the high schoolers envision what public education would look and feel like in an ideal world. Let us know what you imagine by commenting below! 

This Beau. Beau is the beautiful baby boy of my colleague, Terry, and his wife, Shea.  

Beau is 11 months old. He loves spinach, being with family, and playing with his dog sister, Sophia. 

Now, imagine Beau at 14-years-old.  

Imagine Beau as a freshman in the BEST high school in the world. Imagine Beau walking into the school. Imagine what he sees and hears.  
Imagine Beau in a classroom. Imagine what learning looks like. What is in the classroom? Who is in the classroom? Who is talking? What are they discussing? Who is doing?  

(Close your eyes and picture it. See Beau moving through his day at the best high school in the world. Then take a few minutes to write down what you see.) 
Now, let’s go back to Beau one more time This time, imagine Beau as a teenager engaging in activities outside of school. See him exploring his interests, bonding with new friends, being supported by mentors. Imagine the perfect environment for Beau to learn and explore and grow and become. 

(Again, take a moment to close your eyes and picture it. Then take a few minutes to write down what you see.) 

What did you imagine?  

Use the comment section to share your vision! We’re building a collective vision of what education should look like in Detroit and beyond and want to include your thoughts.  

Here’s what the students want for Beau:

The power to make ideals real  

In this community conversation, we sought the input of Detroit teens to contribute to a collective vision of what an “equitable education system” looks and feels like.

This was also one conversation of many that helps us understand young Detroiters’ feelings of agency—to what extent they feel equipped and supported to enact changes within their school and across the city and state’s education system.  

Students at this session had mixed experiences with enacting change. It largely came down to their ability to catch the attention and prioritization of a school leader, be it a principal or superintendent. Walkouts and rallies were at the top of the success barometer. Student petitions seemed to be hit or miss. Emails garnered the smallest likelihood of success. A correlation rose between the energy put into a call for change with the response it received.  

Students praised school leaders who are proactive, having open-door policies and actively seeking student input in decision making. 

At The Skillman Foundation, we partner with people to transform education systems, nurturing the brilliance and power of Detroit youth. We want Detroit youth to have schools and out-of-school programs that inspire and support them to pursue bold destinies.  

To get there—to recreate Michigan’s education system into one that imparts knowledge and skills and encourages creativity and leadership—Detroit youth must be involved in the vision-setting and policy creation. 

Read why young Detroiters are the dreamers we need to reinvent education.

Comments (1)

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  • Monique Bryant

    I find it ironic that Skillman has been a great financial supporter of DPSCD, yet there has been no real demand for the district to address needed and tangible outcomes for students.

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