Grand Haven Tribune: Magnet school in Ypsilanti draws multicounty enrollment
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Magnet school in Ypsilanti draws multicounty enrollment

By ALEXIS STARK/Grand Rapids Press (AP) • Apr 21, 2019 at 4:00 PM

YPSILANTI — Kylie Lee drives 45 minutes from Novi to Ypsilanti to attend school every day.

Lee, 18, makes the commute because she wants to go to a school where teachers care about quality over quantity when it comes to academics, she said.

"Every single drive is worth it," the Washtenaw International High School senior told MLive.com.

With a global academic focus and some unorthodox processes, the tuition-free International Baccalaureate school draws students from Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Livingston counties.

"Teachers put their relationships with students at the forefront, so the students can feel comfortable having conversations in the classroom about how they learn," WIHI science teacher Alyson Thompson said about the school's approach to education.

When new teachers are hired, students are involved in the interview process, said Principal Nhu Do. Prospective teachers perform a teaching demonstration in a selected classroom and students are encouraged to offer feedback.

Students even have a say in curriculum.

While there is a list of required classes, students and teachers work together to create lessons that inspire creativity and conversation, Do said. The collaborative approach encourages student voices, creating a classroom environment that challenges social inequities, she said.

"Inclusion and equity have to be embedded in our teaching," Do said. "It's not a secret. We do it deliberately."

The school's uncommonly sharp focus on social issues and inequality has at times rubbed some observers the wrong way.

WIHI students are taught to take the initiative to create platforms for student expression and community outreach, resulting in a daylong, school-wide event earlier this year dubbed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Day, Do said.

It involved students discussing power, privilege and issues of inequity and injustice in their own communities, she said.

The event was subject to some negative backlash from some in the community who argued over social media about the misinformation that the event forced white students to apologize for their privilege, which the school confirms did not happen.

But having discussions about social issues affecting students is a key part of public education, Do said.

"The day inspired pride in the students for their school and issues of equity," she said. "Students, parents and teachers rallied positively and informed the community of its true purpose.

"We know it's going to be uncomfortable, but we know it's not OK to ignore. Students are desperate to talk about these issues prevalent to their lives."

WIHI, is one of three high school programs participating in the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium, which is supported by the nine traditional Washtenaw County public school districts and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

Its building is also home to the Washtenaw International Middle School, previously part of Ypsilanti Community Schools.

Washtenaw International Middle Academy will no longer be part of Ypsilanti Schools, but it seems likely the school will otherwise remain virtually unchanged.

International Baccalaureate standards keep the school focused on intercultural understanding and respect, Do said.

"Some students don't like their school, so I talk up my school. I am genuinely happy to be here every day and wouldn't want to be anywhere else," said WIHI senior Nadine Mohsin, 18.

WIHI's curriculum is engaging, inclusive and reflective of student interest, teachers said.

"In literature class my freshman year, we addressed religion and challenging false perspectives. We took a step back from talking about the books to discuss our own beliefs and experiences," WIHI senior Sarah Raza, 17, said.

WIHI senior Chase Wilder, 17, looks to his future with confidence.

"Here, I learned how to learn. Because of WIHI, I am better prepared to study in college and continue learning beyond," Wilder said.

A school is successful when it produces students who think for themselves and feel like their voices matter, Do said.

"We want to teach students to carry an agency for change in their pockets." Do said.

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