Last year, the Lower School chose the theme “Every Drop Counts” to integrate into its curriculum in whatever way teachers thought would be meaningful for students.
Classes, in their look at the importance of water in Michigan, studied lighthouses, the Great Lakes, conservation, sea creatures, pollution and more in all grades and in all disciplines. The phrase “Every Drop Counts” was also used as a metaphor — every little bit helps, every vote counts — that was worked into other units of study.
It worked so well that this year, they are repeating the idea with a new theme “Hub and Spoke — Wheeling Around Detroit.”
Head of Lower School Sheila Chaps said the theme is about Detroit and its surrounding communities. The title stems from Augustus Woodward’s design for the city in a series of spokes fanning out from downtown Detroit.
“What it does, in part, is to unify a continuum of learning in the Lower School,” said Chaps. “It increases the connections in all classes.”
Students are studying the rich heritage and history the Detroit region offers with units on cultures, industry, economics, geography, environment, art, music, sports and more.
It’s playing out in the classrooms in various ways. Kindergarteners are learning about cities and urban areas and will be going to Eastern Market and studying buildings, including some of the iconic Detroit structures like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Renaissance Center. PK4 students created a cityscape on a large cardboard box as they learned what makes up a city. In the second grade, they studied barns and the history of Detroit as an agricultural center. The third grade is studying Michigan history and visited the Mariner’s Church and will be discussing world religions, including those prevalent in Detroit. First graders visited the Belle Isle Nature Zoo during a unit on Michigan turtles and took a riding tour of the city to see some of the better known buildings.
Even projects that have been part of the curriculum for years are being looked at through the lens of the Hub and Spoke theme. The fifth graders, during their unit on the French Canadian trappers known as Voyageurs, studied what Detroit looked like at the time the Voyageurs would have known it, and researched the history of the area’s ribbon farms. Later this year, they will tour the Ford Rouge plant and learn about the plant’s unique green roof and explore Detroit’s vital role in the Underground Railroad.
The lessons are still evolving and more projects are likely to arise, Chaps said.
“We want students to know the history and the importance of the place they call home,” Chaps said. “Because we’re all connected in so many different ways.”
By Ron Bernas