I did not come to work in education through traditional means. I never pursued education; education pursued me. When my daughter was in the second grade a teacher at her school lost her. At first, I thought the teacher was joking, but I soon realized she was serious. She told me, “Victoria is already gone.” This situation turned serious in an instant. We found Victoria 15 minutes later, but the damage had already been done. From where I was sitting, I knew I only had two options: end up in jail over this or change this broken system. No parent should come to pick up their child from school to find out that their child is missing. Something ignited in me that day. The education system is flawed and broken in general, but even more so for Brown and Black kids. I knew I had to do something.
“No parent should come to pick up their child from school to find out that their child is missing.”
I started working for AmeriCorps where I became a National Service Volunteer. From there I served my community and even helped that school engage more families by making sure the voices of the families were heard. After doing that for one year, I decided to close my hair salon inside an independent living facility. Although I still had the living facility, I began doing this volunteer work full time. I saw a greater need and I was asked to do another year as a part of AmeriCorps Vista. With AmeriCorps, you are doing direct service with families. In America or Vista, you are helping to build systems that benefit those families.
There, I became the Outreach and Engagement Director for Excellent Schools in Detroit. We fought for choice and would advocate for family’s needs around education. It was in this role that I realized I wanted to do this work for myself. I knew I was good at engaging families because I was keeping families’ voices at the front of every decision. I have worked in multiple engagement programs such as My Brother’s Keeper, Teach for America, and Youth Detroit Resource Connection. Then in 2020, the pandemic hit, and we watched education being shred apart. It was already held to too low of a standard for families of color, but now it’s in catastrophe. That is when I decided to start Engaged Detroit.
Engaged Detroit started out as a conversation around homeschooling during the pandemic. The families and I understood that it needed to be different, it could not just be one “cookie-cutter” approach. I use the example of Pre-K education. The teachers in Pre-K are trained to navigate children’s creativity into an educational experience. Kids in Pre-K can be creative, but once they reach K-12 they are suddenly limited by an overabundance of rules. Students are expected to use new hand signals, stand in a straight line, and follow the rules like robots. Teachers are not really allowed to be teachers anymore, they become dignitaries.
So, with that in mind, we started hosting live sessions with professional homeschool moms. They have been doing this for years and they could answer questions parents had about homeschooling. The parents would seek help from these teachers who kind of became their coaches. I was then contacted by the Midwest delegate of the national parent union; they asked me if I had funding to go down this path of homeschooling how it would look.
I immediately thought, why not giving parents coaches? Most people start homeschooling by themselves with no guidance. If we were to give parents a long-term homeschool coach that can help them tailor teaching to their child, homeschooling would be an even better option. From there, we started to prepare ourselves for the possibility that funding may not be constant. So, we went back to the drawing board and came up with a coach-to-coach training model. What that means is a parent who is coached also ends up becoming a coach. That is what we ended up doing.
We have three coaches that each cover their specific area of expertise. The coaches cover birth through second grade, third through eighth grade, and ninth grade through college. In about two days we got 32 families who expressed interest in our program. As an advocate for choice, my goal is to never encourage parents to leave one system for another, my goal is to make sure parents have the tools they need to be successful in whatever system they are in. This all happened because as a parent I was not okay with what my daughter experienced, and neither were the 32 parents that applied to our program. My pastor used to say, “First comes the pain, then comes the passion, then comes the purpose.” I am now at the purpose which is helping families know their path in education.
For students in Detroit who are in third grade and under, only 16% of them are on reading level. Poor performance often gets to the point where kids start seeing themselves as the problem instead of the system. We had a town hall meeting where the superintendent was responding to the need for technology so students could learn from home.
I live just four blocks away from the richest community in the state of Michigan which is called Grosse Pointe. The kids in that district went home with tablets and tools to make sure that they were going to be prepared for school during the pandemic. Our kids went home with nothing. The superintendent made a comment that basically came across as, “families are too poor and illiterate to homeschool their kids.” He suggested that during a pandemic we should send our kids back to their facilities. I decided that I could show him he was wrong better than I could tell him.
I used the connections I have made in my career over the past 10 years to help fund our program. With their help, we were able to provide free music and engineering classes. The Skillman Foundation even donated $15,000 to buy homeschooling materials. With that help and clear goals, we have been able to achieve so much. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to explore new educational options and now parents are wondering why they did not do it sooner. Learning is no longer limited to a desk; it is intentional everywhere you go.
“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to explore new educational options and now parents are wondering why they did not do it sooner. “
My advice for those who are thinking of founding their own school or starting to homeschool is to not be scared. Of course, your first concern is your child and how well you are going to do as a parent, but that should not scare you away. It is definitely a mindset shift. The change from a strict learning environment to one centered around the child takes some getting used to. However, you will find that they start to seek out learning. Do not be afraid to reimagine education.