More than 250 volunteers from across the Detroit region  came together Saturday to celebrate a new YMCA charter school with a bang — a new “KaBoom!” playground courtesy of the Washington, DC based non-profit.

The YMCA Detroit Leadership Academy, near Telegraph and I-96, will welcome some 300 Detroit elementary age children on Sept. 7, marking the second charter school started by the YMCA in the last 14 years.

According to school superintendent and principal of the school, Shawn Hill, the YMCA’s roots go 100 years deep in elementary and secondary education.  

“Education is second nature for the YMCA, and a perfect reflection of the YMCA’s mission to build spirit, mind and body for all in all our communities,” said Hill.

The YMCA Detroit Service Learning Academy, started in 1997, served 1,100 K through 8th grade students in northwest Detroit until spinning off from the Y in 2004.  Regularly sited among the Top 10 charter schools in Michigan, exceeding city and state averages, the YMCA is now turning its focus to serving the Brightmoor community and eventually expanding to several elementary, middle school and ultimately one day feeding a YMCA high school.

“It is our expectation that all our Y students attend and graduate from college,” said Hill.  “Spirit – we expect our children to believe in themselves and what they can accomplish.  Mind – we expect high academic achievement and a support system to ensure our children succeed in the classroom.  Body – a healthy body is crucial to feeding the mind and growing the spirit.  That is what a YMCA education will be all about.”

Those words regarding high achievement are what Principal Hill cites when talking about recruitment of her teaching staff from kindergarten through physical education.

She explained,  “We are an educational team – not just during the school day, but after school as well.   Our focus is on the student as an individual.  How do they excel?  Where do they need help?  Where can they show leadership and responsibility?”

This past Saturday, the schoolchildren and the Brightmoor community were joined by hundreds of area volunteers to erect a brand new playground, outdoor classroom, teaching garden and a beautification project paid for through YMCA donations, a grant from Forester’s Insurance and led by a team from KaBoom!, a not-for profit dedicated to building safe playgrounds across the country.

Over the summer, the YMCA completely rehabilitated a former parochial school funded through private donations, according to Detroit native Harold Curry, treasurer of the YDLA School Board and district president of Michigan Commerce Bank. 

“This school is a reinvestment in the Brightmoor community, but also an enormous investment in the future of our children,” said  Curry. 

As a charter school, the YDLA is authorized by Central Michigan University and overseen by an independent board of volunteer Detroit leaders.

Among the features of the school are a fully-equipped media room, special services to students requiring additional support, after-school YMCA programming and access to the YMCA Metro Youth YMCA (MYY) programs.

In their third decade of service in Detroit, MYY programs provide support to youth outside of the classroom through mentorship, job programs and ultimately college preparation courses designed to ensure students a path to a four-year college degree and 21st century careers.

The current school will serve kindergarten through 5th grade initially with plans for expansion to 6th through 8th grades in the fall of 2011.   Initial enrollment is targeted at 300 and classes are filling rapidly as the new school year approaches.

“Certain classes are filling faster than others, but if we can make room for a student, we will do our very best to accommodate every single child possible,” said Hill.

She also noted that hiring of teaching staff went “exceedingly well” and that the YDLA was selected to receive four “Teach For America” teachers as part of  the federal government’s effort to “eliminate educational inequity in America.”  The highly prized teachers are selected from thousands of applications across the country.

“This is a huge boost in the arm for our teaching program,” said Hill.   “It is rare to even receive one ‘Teach For America’ instructor, but to receive four will certainly get this school off to a right start.”

To learn more about the YMCA Detroit Leadership Academy or to inquire about enrollment information, parents can call (313) 223-2803 or visit www.ydla.org.

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