Although arts education in Michigan may have room for improvement, there are a few schools that are paving the way to a more innovative arts curriculum. Take the continuum of creative education offered by Public School Academies of Detroit’s Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies (HFA: SCS) and Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School in Detroit.
Starting at the elementary level, the schools engage all students through project-based learning; equip students with design thinking as a process for innovation and creativity; and provide a strong foundation in art and design. It’s an educational model brought to Detroit by Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), a non-profit launched in 2003 as a partnership between Ford Motor Company Fund and The Henry Ford.
Such an approach is exciting, considering the workplace that awaits our young people, said Mike Schmidt, Director of Education and Community Programs, Ford Fund. “Success requires employees that are able to think creatively, work in teams, innovate, create, solve problems and adapt existing knowledge to new and unprecedented circumstances.”
Students who complete the 5th grade at the new Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School are eligible to enroll in the 6th grade at Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies, an existing public charter middle/high school, developed in partnership with and located at the College for Creative Studies (CCS).
Together with CCS, HFLI decided to focus the college preparatory middle/high school around visual arts, which is considered a core discipline. “We know that a well-rounded student who demonstrates confidence and expresses him- or herself in a variety of ways can excel in the core disciplines,” Deborah Parizek, HFLI’s executive director, said. “It’s also good for motivation and morale. Students who struggle with academic performance may find success in art, even if they were previously turned off by school because of their reading or math proficiency.”
Arts expectations at the Henry Ford Academy schools are much more rigorous than students or parents may be accustomed to. While the elementary school has no performance requirements (and focuses instead on exposure and participation), the middle and high school curriculum includes a mandatory art or design class every year in an intentional sequence. Beginning in the 10th grade, electives ranging from fashion design to painting to crafts also are offered, often in collaboration with CCS.
“Seniors must complete a portfolio of pieces drawn from their junior and senior projects as well as individually chosen efforts, which combine to share a personal narrative or vision,” Parizek explained. “Our goal is to help the student create a high quality portfolio that a selective college will take an interest in.”
“By partnering with HFA:SCS, we are ensuring that some of the city’s talented young people are given every opportunity to contribute to Detroit’s creative economy by pursuing art and design study,” said College for Creative Studies Provost Imre Molnar. “We, at CCS, are proud of the school’s progress so far, and we are especially excited about the new direction under Principal Faisal’s leadership.”
The schools also stand out because they use design thinking as a creative problem-solving process, adapted to K-12 education by HFLI in partnership with Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the d.school).
With design thinking, students in each grade must get involved in a different hands-on project, a design challenge, with local partners every quarter. One recent example was the Woodbridge Pub. Teachers helped 7th graders apply their artistic skills and what they had learned about plants, geometry, industrialization and community gardening to improve the garden adjacent to Woodbridge Pub. Their process included visits to community spaces, including the Heidelberg Project, to develop a first-hand understanding of the concerns. They deepened empathy through video interviews with community members, narrowed their focus to specific needs, “ideated” their responses to those needs and tested their prototypes, installing stepping stones, picnic tables, wind chimes and a new garden layout.
“It’s a learning experience for students that allows us to bring to life our educational strategy,” Parizek said. “It helps us make learning authentic.”