I’m still playing catch-up, trying to get the most recent episodes of the Saturday Six Pack posted here. I’m sorry that it’s been taking me so long, but other projects keep getting in the way. [Speaking of which, we’re set to close on that building I was telling you about by the end of the month.] The episode I’m posting here tonight was our 41st, and, if you like hearing people talk about cancer, improv, journalism, arson, playground design and early childhood education, I suspect you’ll really enjoy it… If you get a chance, check it out. Here, in the meantime, are my rough notes.
The Opening of Ypsilanti’s New International Baccalaureate Elementary School
During our first segment, after a wonderful opening theme song written by Linette’s cousin Andy, we got right into things with Karla Graessley, the director of elementary education for Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS), and Cassandra Sheriff, the future principal of the as-yet-to-be-named International Baccalaureate elementary school that will open this September on the edge of Prospect Park, inside the school we presently know as Adams.
Graessley, Sheriff and I discussed the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy, and the circumstances surrounding the Ypsilanti Board of Education’s decision to launch an elementary program. [Graessley noted how the high school and middle school IB programs had both successfully pulled families back to Ypsilanti, and how there has been a great deal of interest on the part of new parents to expand public school options for local children entering school.]
We talked about the decision to close Adams, as opposed to another school in the district, and why it was that this new school didn’t just open inside of one of the district’s many already vacant buildings. [The district, as I suspect most of you know, has been shrinking and consolidating for some time now, as parents have been moving to charter schools, taking advantage of openings in Ann Arbor Public Schools, etc. At present, I believe, there are six vacant former school buildings in the district.] Grassley explained that part of the reason Adams was chosen was because student achievement, at least as reflected in test scores, wasn’t improving at the school. Furthermore, she said that their analysis had shown that most students attending Adams don’t live in the neighborhood surrounding the school, and, as such, have better performing schools that are closer to them. Much of the work now, Graessley told us, will be ensuring that the current students at Adams are transferred to schools that will serve their needs. [As the new IB school, at least the first year, will only go from pre-school to second grade, there won’t be an opportunity for most students currently at Adams to enroll at the new school. The parents of first graders currently at Adams, however, will be given information as to how their children can apply for positions in the 2nd grade class at the new school.]
Sheriff [pictured above] and I discussed her history, and her plans for re-setting the culture at the school. We talked about what she’s looking for in teachers, and how they plan to get everyone trained in the IB philosophy over the course of the summer, and ready to start teaching around interdisciplinary themes, which as the heart of the IB philosophy. [Some teachers currently at Adams will apply for positions at the new school, but the YSC administration is opening the search to any qualified teachers, and they’re hopeful that they may get applicants with IB experience.] Sheriff and I also talked about what resources are available to her, given that she’s never before worked in an IB environment. [As I mentioned during the show, the situation was somewhat different when the high school, and then the middle school launched, as Principal Okma came to Ypsilanti not only with years of experience, having run an IB school in Southfield, but also a core team of teachers and administrators familiar with the system.] Sheriff and Grassley noted that, as IB schools are proliferating across the state, there’s a relatively strong network now, even for the elementary programs, which are still a bit less common. And they assured our listeners that teachers and administrators would be engaged in intensive training all this summer. [While we’re on the subject of Adams, I meant to ask why the school, which was relaunched not too long ago as a “STEM” school, hadn’t achieved what they’d hoped, but I guess I have to save the question for the next time Superintendent Edmondson in in the studio with us.]
We also talked a little bit about the district’s decision to launch a tuition-based IB pre-school alongside the K-2 program, and what it means for the district to venture into something so completely new. And, of course, we talked about how interested families would go about applying, how many classes they’re planning to have, and their plans for reaching out to families of young children. [below: Karla Grassley]
The Motor City Muckraker’s Steve Neavling on His Mission to Keep Investigative Journalism Alive in Detroit
At the 29-minute mark, we called independent investigative journalist Steve Neavling at his home in Detroit, where he was waiting for us with a Moscow Mule in hand. We talked with Neavling about the journey that brought him to Detroit, the forces that kept him here after he lost his job as a reporter at the Free Press, and the year of his life that he dedicated to reporting on every single structure fire in the city of Detroit. We talked a great deal about the “pursuit of truth,” and why it is that, instead of just leaving Detroit and doing something else, he decided to turn his life over to the Motor City Muckraker, working endless hours for no pay, to break stories about everything from unsafe conditions within Detroit’s schools to instances where, because of antiquated equipment and shrinking maintenance budgets within the Detroit Fire Department, lives have been lost.
By the time Neavling joined the Free Press, the paper was already a shell of its former self, he told us, and it’s only gotten worse since. In spite of the enormity of the problems faced by the people of Detroit, the press presence continues to fade. And that, said Neavling, is why he chose to stay. He felt as though he needed to be in Detroit, to “uncover the problems that are keeping things from improving.”
We talked a lot about the current state of journalism, and the forces at play which are keeping good investigative work from happening… the fact that those who still remain in our local newsrooms have to write new stories each day, and are forced to jump from one subject to the next, unable to develop sources and deep subject matter expertise in any one area. It’s no surprise, Neavling told us, that local journalism has become little more than a regurgitation of who said what, without any real insight into why things are happening, or what the impact might be. This, as he said, is a “critical time” in our history, and people aren’t being given the information they need to make informed decisions at the polling place, or in their own lives.
[above: Photo of Neavling courtesy Doug Coombe.]
We also talked about Neavling’s plans on transitioning the Muckraker into a non-profit, so that perhaps he can attract funding from a foundation with an interest in Detroit, and expand coverage even further, filling the void left by our rapidly shrinking traditional papers.
And, of course, we discussed the situation on the ground in Detroit, how it got to where it is today, and what it’s likely going to take to get people around the United States interested enough to demand action… like what we saw recently in relation to the Flint water situation.
Tori Tomalia on the Successful Launch of Pointless Brewery & Theatre and Living with Cancer
And, at the 1:00-mark, after a song from our old friend Pete Larson in Kenya, we were joined by Tori Tomalia, the co-founder of the improv comedy space Pointless Brewery & Theatre. In addition to just catching up on how things have been going at Pointless since we last spoke with her, we talked about her upcoming 40th birthday, and how she planned to celebrate it by hosting an event to raise money for research into the rare cancer subtype that she has. [The event took place a few days ago at Pointless, and I’m told that it went really well. Sadly, I couldn’t attend, as I was sick with a cold.]
Here’s Tomalia telling us how, when she and her husband decided to launch Pointless a few years back, shortly after she was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, she didn’t know if she’d be around to see the space actually open. Not only has she made it to opening day, though, and continued to expand programming and create a thriving space in our community for comedy and performance, but she’s working with other individuals with cancer resulting from ROS1 gene mutations to organize, fund research, and find a cure… It’s super awesome, inspiring stuff, and you should just listen.
The Campaign for a Playground in Ypsi’s Riverside Park
And, at 1:22, we were joined in the studio by two representatives from the Play Riverside Task Force – Cara Talaska and Teresa Gillotti – who brought us up to date not their campaign to get a playground back in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park. We discussed the steps they’ve taken thus far, the feedback they’ve received from community members, and why it is that, in their opinion, it’s so imperative that Riverside Park have a swings, a slide, and a bunch of metal tubing for kids to twist themselves around. Here’s Talaska telling us how a playground would not only make it easier for parents to interest their kids in a trip to the park, but also demonstrate to people coming to the park for events like Beer Fest and the Color Run, that Ypsilanti is a family-friendly city.
According to Gillotti [pictured below], who, up until a year or so ago served as Ypsi’s City Planner, there’s not much debate as to whether or we should have a playground in Riverside Park. The idea has come up over the past decade, she told us, every time there’s a public planning meeting where input from the community is sought. We’ve tried over the years to see it accomplished with grant dollars, she told us, but those attempts have been unsuccessful. So, this time, a group of interested community members just decided to do it themselves. They got two playground designers at the University of Michigan to help with a design that would work in harmony with the park, they launched their task force, and now they’re setting out to raise the nearly $50,000 it’ll cost to build it out. [Their estimates range from $45,000 to $48,000.]
If you stick around to the end, you’ll hear a great conversation about Europe’s so-called adventure playgrounds, where children are encouraged to set things on fire, build structures from rusty metal and leap from bone-breaking heights. Gillotti and Talaska don’t go so far as to endorse my idea for incorporating these elements, and a bar for parents, but they come close.
Here, in case you’re interested, is what they feel they first phase of the playground build-out will look like.
Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything with her camera, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper and bleach stays stocked. [All photos above come courtesy of Kate.]
If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.
Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.
[Episode 41 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on March 5, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio.]