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‘Children are Solutionaries’ school opens in Detroit

Students on the first day of school at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School  COURTESY PHOTO

Students on the first day of school at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School COURTESY PHOTO

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The morning of Sept. 3, I participated in the opening ceremony of the new James and Grace Lee Boggs School at 4141 Mitchell on the east side of Detroit. It was a heart-warming affair, full of the love, sense of continuity and commitment to place that goes into the building of families and community.

It’s all coming together.  Twenty years ago we founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural intergenerational program to involve young Detroiters in rebuilding, redefining and re-spiriting our city with the same commitment and imagination that SNCC activists used to rebuild, redefine and re-spirit the Jim Crow South. Sixteen-year-old Julia Pointer was our first volunteer.

Today Julia, wife of Peter Putnam, mother of William and Lucy, is a co-founder and the principal of the new charter school where the children are viewed, first and foremost as Solutionaries.

Folk singer Joe Reilly led us in a sing-a-long about the friendliness of trees and animals.

From my wheelchair, I showed the little ones a picture of myself nearly a hundred years ago when I was their size.

Julia explained the paradigm shift in philosophy that has gone into the new school:

“We’ve been growing our economy and this is where it’s gotten us — vacant lots, abandoned houses.” Since businesses believe they can make higher profits outside of the city, state or country, both companies and jobs have abandoned the city.  “(Then) people can’t afford the houses, so they leave them.

“But what happens if we grow our souls here? What would it look like then?”

Julia said she wants to prepare kids to ask those questions because asking those questions will create the future, rather than “… thinking that we have the answer and then telling kids what they should be doing.”

The Boggs School sits on a quiet residential street in a building that’s more than 100 years old. Just across the street is a well maintained white bungalow with a perfectly mowed lawn. And, as is the case with a lot of streets in Detroit, there are several vacant lots.

The idea of place is a big one for the founders of the Boggs School.  The neighborhood where the school sits is going to be a big part of the school. It’s called place-based education and it’s a model that’s already being practiced in small pockets around country. There’s a K-8 school in Boston called Mission Hill which has become a kind of model/sister school to Boggs.

“I want a kid to graduate from our school and be able to look around and say, ‘I’ve been in this neighborhood forever; I know exactly what businesses will work. I know exactly what the needs are in this community,’” Julia said.

At you can find the names of the scores of community volunteers who spent hot summer days sprucing up the building and the  classrooms,  as well as  the members of the Board of Trustees, and the interns.     


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