A blog of our week volunteering and learning in Detroit, Michigan.

Fun at the Ann Arbor Hands on Museum!

Halfway Through Detroit…

Today was the midpoint of our trip, and what a crazy midpoint it was.  We spent the morning back at Burns Elementary School as our final day.  We went in there planning on practicing with the kids so that they could perform their fable skits for their classes.  And all of the kids did an amazing job.  They had a blast getting all together and practicing their lines and their acting.  And it made all of the struggles and all of the tensions totally worth it, to see their faces light up when they went to perform.

Afterwards, we took the kids outside to play on the playground as a reward for a week of good work.  And even though things got a little crazy (broken glasses and a bloody eye are no big deal…) I could tell that the kids were having a lot of fun.  And I got the chance to talk to a couple of the kids that I hadn’t met yet.  They were telling me about how much they loved having us here, and how they wished we could come back all the time.  One girl said that she wanted us to be her teacher all of the time.  And another girl told me about how terrible her area of Detroit was, that it was violent and dangerous.  And it really made me sad, knowing that we made these kids’ days a little brighter by working with them for these few days, but when we leave, things are probably going to go back to the way they were.  Kids are still going to be rowdy and get in fights.  Many of them still aren’t going to have good attendance records.  We don’t even know what this school will look like in a year, let alone a month.  But I think that even if we were able to make their week a little happier, then it was completely worth it to see the smiles on those kids’ faces, and to see them excited about learning.

After we left Burns, it was time to pick up the Bagley kids and take them to Ann Arbor for a super fun field trip day!  Which was a little stressful, considering our monster 15-passenger van had stalled in the morning, and it apparently needed jumper cables to start so the kids could be picked up.  Not to mention the incredible struggles watching Ben drive that monster thing down the highway with his left blinker on.  But we made it safely to Ann Arbor, all 14 Bagley kids, 9 Princeton students, and 1 amazing rabbi.

Our first stop was at the Hands-On Museum in Ann Arbor.  And quite honestly, I think that we all enjoyed in much more than the Bagley kids.  There were magnets and music and lights and plasma and bubbles and circuits and gyroscopes and all of these amazing exhibits.  And it was clear that no one really wanted to leave the Hands-On Museum…

From there we trekked to the University of Michigan campus to meet with some of the staff of the Michigan Daily, the campus newspaper.  After seeing the Detroit Free Press yesterday, the kids got a chance to see another newspaper.  We walked over to the campus center, and my group got to interview an IM basketball star about pizza.  Which was pretty cool. And then we talked about photography, and we got to take and be featured in a whole bunch of photographs!  I think that the kids really enjoyed getting to see the inside of another newspaper, and every time someone asks them about their newspaper, they are always really proud of the work that they’ve done, which is amazing to see.

Our final stop of the day with the Bagley kids was to Pinball Pete’s.  Each kid got $5 worth of quarters, and they ran around the arcade, going from game to game trying to collect tickets.  They were having so much fun letting loose and playing skeeball and pool and pinball.  And the kids were smiling from ear to ear when they left the arcade.

When we all returned to the Summer in the City House, we went to a Mexican restaurant, anticipating that we could grab a quick meal, and then head off to the Red Wings game.  But boy were we wrong.  Our food took a good 40 minutes to come out, during which time we ate a lot of tortilla chips with salsa, guacamole, and salsa plus guacamole (which is highly recommended; thanks Jake for the idea!).  And we got in our Jewish learning midweek summary over dinner.  It was a really nice way to reflect on what had happened during the week, what we found meaningful, and who had an impact on us.  It was really interesting to hear about everyone’s stories, especially because a lot of them were relatable.  We could all identify with the struggles we found at Burns, but we could also all identify with how incredible it was when our kids focused and did amazing work on their fables.  It was also really cool to see how each of us could take away so many different ideas and thoughts from doing very similar work.

We finished out the evening by going to a Red Wings game.  And even though the Red Wings were losing pretty badly, it was still a lot a great bonding experience.  Even if Maya still doesn’t why hockey players fight all the time.

Overall, today was a really great day.  It’s crazy to think that we’ve only been here for three days, but we’ve already done so much, and we’ve met so many amazing kids.  So here’s to finishing the week off with a bang, keeping up our energy, and continuing to have an fantastic time here in Detroit!


P.S. Sorry for the length of this post… there’s just so much to say about Detroit! :)

Such Vibrancy: Yes, Even in Detroit; Especially in Detroit

Detroit has definitely been a whirlwind. Wonderful wonderful friends of Rachel’s treated us to a true Detroit dinner - Buddy’s pizza and Saunder’s fudge, and now we’re hanging out in the Summer in the City attic where we’re staying and playing cards, unwinding, and trying not to explode from  too much food and almost explosive generosity. 

Our trip has definitely been exhausting already, but I know that at least I am really invigorated by the pride and spirit the locals have for Detroit. Whether it’s the amazing kids we’ve been working with, or the innovators and investors who are spending so much time and money and energy on revitalizing the city, never have we seen such an allegiance to a community and a legacy as the one we witness in Detroit. It’s really inspiring.

But mostly these kids are amazing. I love seeing these other sides of Detroit, but each of us has the magic moments that pull on our heart strings, and for me it’s these kids, especially when these flashes of hyperintelligence or megacreativity are revealed to us. They are so smart and enthusiastic. We have worked with different schools with varying levels of structural support, and though sadly these things are very apparent in the classroom, each kid has this amazing vibrancy to share, one that mirrors the vibrancy we found in the city despite most Detroit stereotypes. 

Today Jake (the elder/Jackson) and I had a nerd-off with our group of kids from Bagley Elementary School. Man they love learning! At one point one of them was explaining something philosophical to Jake, who didn’t get it, and he said:

"You’re a college student. I’m a fourth grader. You don’t understand what I’m saying?!?" (with heavy sass)

It was really great. They have so much energy and I’m inspired to keep chugging because of them. It’s also incredibly frustrating to see how much they could do if the structures of urban education and other similar factors weren’t getting to them. But there’s something exciting going on in Detroit that may change these structures, even if right now that is more indirect, more through tech start ups and downtown revitalization than through education reform. I haven’t quite put my finger on it, and it’s hard not to give in to the incredibly disheartening feeling that these kids’ bad luck of the draw will prevent them from realizing their full potential. But Detroit is certainly not a city that has been given up on yet. And it looks like it won’t be. So for now, the incredible inspiration these kids have given us to put forward will have to do.

- Maya 


Schedule of the day:

9:00-11:50 Burns Elementary/Middle School

Hang out with some kids, make some puppets, do some fables.  Occasionally, you may need to call in reinforcements.

12:30-3:15 Quicken Loans, The Qube, Compuware Building for meetings with Vadin Avshalumov, Bruce Schwart, and Dan Mullen

Be prepared for seeing some of the coolest buildings in the city.

Addendum #1: Apparently Quicken Loans owns all of downtown Detroit.

Addendum #2: Their cafeteria is better than our eating clubs.  Who wants to work for Quicken? (all of us, but only if we get to stay at the Shuman’s)

Addendum #3: So, I guess we’ll meet Dan Gilbert too.  That’s chill.

4:00-6:00 Work with kids Bagley Elementary on their newspaper.

These are some smart, dedicated kids.  Put your thinking caps on.

Addendum #4: Is it awkward that they’re smarter than us?

6:30-7:15 Meet with Experiencia founders to discuss their alternative charter school.

So…they’re cool.  Mandatory bilingual education and calling parents specifically to say good things about their kids.  That’s cool.

7:15- cook dinner and…

Addendum #5: Nope.  Not eating dinner, going out to eat.  Mexican?

Addendum #6: Nope again.  Patagonian food!  That’s in…Argentina?

Addendum #7: Everyone’s invited!  Ben’s brother, the Experiencia people, the Detroit Tigers! 7:30-8:30

Addendum #8: Aaaaannnnnndddddd now on to Ponyride!  It’s a bunch of hipsters, doing hipster things in a giant warehouse.  They make cool things like coffee with science and bracelets with industrial nails. Also, sleeping bag jackets are really comfortable, and seem to be doing good things for lots of deserving people. 8:30-9:40

Addendum #9: I guess this Jewish learning is going until…11:15.  Maybe a bit of Euchre before bed?

Stay Beautiful, Detroit.

Jake the Elder

Take-away: Detroit has the tallest indoor waterfall in the country!  And a pretty one at that!
peacelovedetroit (as they say),

Take-away: Detroit has the tallest indoor waterfall in the country!  And a pretty one at that!

peacelovedetroit (as they say),


Monday in Motown

Here’s our day in 2 haikus:


Fables in fourth  grade

touring new developments

journalism time!


Charter school talk, then

Patagonian food and

hipsters with coffee.


-Jake the Younger

And the blogging begins!

After our first full day in Detroit, we are excited to let the world know what we’ve been up to!

But first, here’s a brief overview:

- 6 days

- 9 Princeton students (Allie, Amalya, Charlotte, Jake(x2), Maya, Molly, Rachel, and Sam)

- 1 Rabbi (Yay, Rabbi Sara!)

- 7 layers of dip in the 7-layer dip we ate last night (so yummy)

- infinite fun

But actually, this trip is sponsored by the Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University and was expertly planned by Rachel Shuman and Maya Wahrman. (Neither of whom are writing this blog post so I can compliment their planning skills all I want!)  Throughout the week, we will each get a chance to blog about our thoughts and experiences.  We hope you enjoy!

This alternative break is supported in part by Repair the World, weRepair.org.