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 Article of Interest

Educational Summits Should Feature Those in the Trenches
by Betty DeRamus, Detroit News, August 24, 2002

If this were my kingdom ...

Local parents, teachers and children would be the stars at any future Detroit summits on urban affairs and education.

No, I'm not knocking the 35 mostly national celebrities -- all heavyweights in their own arenas -- who spoke at the State Theatre on Tuesday.

However, nobody understands a city's strengths and weaknesses like the people who live, work or struggle there.

I'm talking about people such as Jerome Smith, who taught in Detroit for 39 years before retiring last year. Smith, like other teachers, developed his own approach to improving reading and helping youngsters battle temptations.

I can't vouch for his reading or character education programs. However, Smith -- his Web site is www.reading -- believes his methods work.

"I discovered that character education was ... important to secure success for my students," he says. "I created a calendar of proverbs and quotations and shared one quotation each day. These quotations were arranged in one- or two-week topical units. At the end of each week, I furnished my students with writing topics related to that week's theme.

"... I could tell by what the students wrote to me in their compositions that the quotations were having their intended effect. Their lives were being turned around."

Then there are parents such as Detroiter MaryAnn Sparkman. Had Sparkman been invited to speak at the educational summit, she would have talked about the need to make it easier to rid the school system of teachers and administrators who are "bad apples."

"I would be one of the first to admit that being a teacher in today's public school system is more than a notion," she says. "However, that does not justify teachers who come to school prepared to do nothing more than intimidate, harass (or) literally curse out school-aged children."

It also might have been interesting to have Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins sit on the dais at Detroit's urban crisis summit.

Watkins recently announced that he will give his entire annual salary increase to an Inkster-based children's charitable organization. He already has donated $1,000 to Inkster High School graduate Anthony Cheathem, who begins his studies at Grambling State University this fall.

At a recent press conference, Watkins challenged others in positions of power to give salary increases to worthy causes, especially causes that benefit children.

"If we truly believe that children in our classrooms today are the leaders of tomorrow, we all need to give them our best effort," he said.

"I encourage leaders to go into their communities and meet these children as I have done to understand their needs and put a face on these crucial issues."

"There are many students out there like (Cheathem) -- he inspired me by succeeding in the face of great odds."

A creative teacher, a disgruntled mother and a caring public servant. They are just a few of this region's voices, all searching for ways to better prepare urban youngsters for a more demanding workplace and world.

Betty DeRamus' column runs in The Detroit News on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Call her at (313) 222-2620 or e-mail


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